For many people, food is tied to emotions. Whether we turn to food when we’re happy, sad or stressed, we don’t always eat to satisfy hunger. Sometimes, our food cravings are for emotional needs rather than physical. After all, it’s called “comfort food” for a reason. While using food as a pick-me-up occasionally isn’t always a bad thing, it can turn into a very unhealthy habit called emotional overeating.
Emotional overeating causes you to feel powerless over your food cravings. You eat to fill an emotional hunger, often leading to consuming large quantities of food in short periods of time. This action is followed by feelings of guilt, shame or regret for eating so much. Queue the emotional food cravings, and the cycle continues. Sound familiar?
This condition isn’t fun for anyone, but it is especially hard for people with chronic diseases, like diabetes, that limit or exclude certain foods from a person’s diet. People with diabetes can’t eat the foods that are “comforting,” like ice cream, chocolate or even certain potato chips. This can lead to depression and anxiety because their emotional needs aren’t being met. But there is hope!
Overcoming emotional eating
The best way to combat emotional overeating is to understand it. Here’s how to tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger.
- Comes on suddenly
- Craves specific comfort foods
- Isn’t satisfied once you are full
- Leads to mindless snacking
- Isn’t located in your stomach
- Results in guilty, regretful or shameful feelings
- Occurs when you are feeling especially stressed, sad or bored
- Occurs gradually
- Doesn’t crave specific foods
- Leads to aware and mindful eating
- Feels satisfied when your stomach is full
- Results in a growling belly or twinge in your stomach
Now that you understand the difference between physical and emotional hunger, you can recognize which type you are feeling and act accordingly. Here are a few options for the most common causes of emotional eating:
For anxiety and stress, try moving your body instead of eating. Try dancing, going for a run or walk, squeezing a stress ball or other physical activities.
For depression, try calling a friend or spending time with a pet. This can help you feel better without turning to food for comfort.
For boredom, try busying yourself with other activities. Watch TV, read a book, work on a hobby, go for a walk or invite a friend out for coffee.
Most importantly, be mindful of the food you put in your body. You can do this by keeping a food diary, getting support from loved ones and taking away food temptation. Remember, we eat to live rather than live to eat. If you are concerned about overeating, contact our office to schedule an appointment.