Eating an entire chocolate bar just because you had a bad day……there usually is more behind it than just a lack of willpower.
Eating and happiness often come together, think of an ice cream on a sunny summer day, a cake to celebrate a special occasion, a nice candlelight dinner for two. But where do we cross the line between enjoying food and eating away you sorrows? How can you recognize that you are physically hungry or emotionally hungry? And how can you control emotional eating?
We all know that when we are going through hard times, we tend to crave for sweet and unhealthy food. After a bad day at work, a fight with a friend or when you are going through a difficult moment in your relationship, many of us long for candy, chips, cookies or a glass of wine to make us feel better. Research shows that more than 40 percent of people with weight problems, are emotional eaters. It is much more accepted to eat because you are not feeling well, then to eat too much without any reason.
Unfortunately, if you tend to relate your feelings to food, just one piece of chocolate probably won’t be enough to comfort you. You tend to relate you emotions and negative feelings to junk food all the time and this is where you cross the line and you have to consider yourself as an emotional eater.
No one is happy all the time, every day we encounter difficult moments or stress. Sometimes your problems may get so overwhelming, that you cannot oversee them anymore and before you know it, you’re grabbing for comfort food again and it will turn into a (bad) habit. You think that eating the chocolate bar will make you happy, but that happiness will only last for a minute. Right after eating it, you’re feeling guilty already because you could not control yourself. So it actually does not solve your problems.
Where Does Emotional Eating Come From?
There are different reasons for emotional eating. You might link it to negative feelings, to a certain memory or a difficult situation you have to handle. Everyone has a personal history behind it.
Often it starts during our childhood. Did your parents comfort you with a treat when you fell of your bike? Or did they tell you to finish you plate otherwise you would not get your desert? Then the chances are big that you have learned this kind of behavior from a very young age. When parents themselves are emotional eaters, children tend to pick up on that and copy the same thing when growing up.
It can also be a result of boredom or tiredness. It is much more difficult to refuse yourself something when you have nothing to do or when you had little sleep. Your brains give the message that this food will make you feel good and you have little resistance to refuse it. I often have the experience when I am lying awake at night, worrying about all the what ifs that might happen, the next day I have zero resistance and can eat anything that crosses my path. These are the worst days!
Then there is the eating away the emotions. Your relationship has ended, you have lost a loved one, your relationship with your mother is difficult, you do not get along with colleagues at work, you or someone dear to you is struggling with sickness, …..there are many reasons we grab for comfort food to forget about our problems.
How Do You Know If You Are Physically Or Emotionally Hungry?
Ask yourself the following questions to see if you are an emotional eater:
- do you tend to eat when you feel bad or when you are stressed?
- do you continue eating even when you are full or right after a meal?
- do you eat fast, mindless and without thinking and enjoying?
- does it “get to you” all of a sudden and you cannot think of anything else but eating?
If all these questions are answered with yes, then I can welcome you to the club of emotional eaters. The hunger is not located in the stomach, but in the head. Even when your stomach is full, the head tells you to continue eating. It is very difficult to satisfy the emotional hunger.
When you are physically hungry, the symptoms are not the same:
- hunger comes up slowly
- you could eat something healthy and be satisfied by that
- you stop eating when you are saturated
- you are enjoying your food and you are taking your time
The Differences Between Men And Women
Men are triggered mostly by visual elements. When they go to the grocery store and see a candy bar in front of the cashier, they all of a sudden “have to have it”. Or when they go to the market, they need to buy an ice cream. It is not anticipated. These external elements could be controlled if they really wanted to .
We women are triggered by emotional elements. These are much more tricky and cannot be set aside for a moment. When you are feeling bad, you are feeling bad. When you are sitting in front of the TV and there is a commercial about chocolate, it is very difficult to resist not going to the kitchen and get yourself some chocolate. We know it is not good for us, nor for our behinds, but it is stronger than us.
How To Control Emotional Eating?
When you want to control emotional eating, the most important things is to control the emotions behind it. This requires some time and especially self-discipline and reflection. We have to be kind to ourselves. Do not talk yourself into a guilty feeling because you are eating (“…you see, you cannot eat just one piece of chocolate, you have to eat the whole bar…”), but try to figure out where this feeling is coming from. And when you have found out why you are feeling like this, ask yourself what you can do to make the feeling go away.
We tend to solve all of our problems ourselves, we think we are responsible for everything that happens to us. When we had an argument with a colleague, we grab for a bag of chips. But what if you went to see your colleague instead and you confronted him or her with the situation?
It is the same thing with losing weight. We often say to ourselves; “if I would lose some weight, I would be much happier”. But why don’t we turn it around? When you are happy, you will probably lose weight with less effort. It does request a strong willpower to want to change your mindset.
3 Tips To Conquer Your Cravings
Have conscience of what is going on inside your head. As said before, emotional hunger is not in the stomach, it is in the head. Figure out why you are eating and handle the problem at it’s source. If you really want to eat chocolate, then do it, it is OK. Just make a pact with yourself how much you will eat of it, put away the rest and Enjoy Every Piece Of It!
2. Get Distraction:
When a sudden crave is coming up, do not give into it immediately and do something else first. Most cravings go away after a couple of minutes. When you feel like eating comfort food because you want to relax, ask yourself if there is anything else that could relax you just the same without stuffing yourself and feeling guilty afterwards. Think of taking a bath, going for a walk, doing your laundry.
3. Keep a Food Journal:
Write down everything you eat for a while. Do not cheat! You cannot fool anyone else but yourself, so be honest. Every time you write down something, write also how you felt at that time. This way you can see if you have made the right choices at that moment or if your habits were linked to certain (negative) feeling or situation.
I admit it is not easy changing habits that might have developed over many years, but it is possible as long as we understand the reasons behind them.
Do you have experience in emotional eating and have you figured out maybe some any other tips to overcome your situation? I would be happy to learn more about them, so please share and leave a comment below!