Is Emotional Eating Toying with your Emotions?

Did you know that hunger can actually be a (tacky) disguise for undesirable emotions? This means you might not be hungry, you could actually be stressed, bored, lonely, or anxious to name a few. Yikes! Annnnd, this type of hunger can be damaging to your health and wellness for more reasons than just unnecessary consumption. It can lead you to make poor decisions about what you put in your body. So not only will you eat when your body doesn’t need food, you’ll eat something lacking nutrition, feel guilty about it and the emotional void your body was tricking you into filling will remain empty.

But don’t fret, there’s a fix!

Mindful eating takes practice but once you create healthy eating habits, the destructive ones you used to do unknowingly will disappear.

First things first, how do can you tell if it’s ‘emotional’ hunger or ‘real’ hunger. Here are some quick tells:

  • Emotional hunger usually comes on rapidly. All of a sudden you need food now and you can’t stop thinking about it. Real hunger generally comes on gradually, you start to feel a bit of a grumble, then maybe your energy drops slightly, you start to think about food but aren’t panicked to eat immediately.
  • When you’re truly hungry, any food will satisfy you. When negative emotions are demanding attention, you’ll crave foods junk food, sugary options that’ll spike your blood sugar, and nothing else will do.
  • Emotional hunger doesn’t get full. Remember that time you looked down and realized you’d eaten an entire bag of M&M’s AND Swedish Berries without realizing it? That was your emotions making food decisions for you.
  • Signs of real hunger shows up in your belly and energy levels. Emotional hunger is largely in your head. You crave specific things, so much so that you can vividly image how they’ll taste and smell.
  • You don’t feel good about what you ate after giving in to emotional hunger. Guilt, remorse, shame, these yucky feelings show up when your mind tricked you into thinking that a tub of ice cream was exactly what you needed.

Mindful eating is a great combatant to emotional hunger.

Getting in tune with how your body feels when you consume different foods and paying attention to the differences mentioned above about emotional hunger vs. real hunger can help you make healthier choices and ultimately feel better.

Mindful eating tips:

  • Don’t stray from your grocery list. If it’s not accessible you won’t eat it. If salt & vinegar chips are your weakness don’t buy them. Instead, fill your fridge and pantry with healthy options that you like.
  • Eat without distraction. No phones or Netflix. Pay attention to what you are doing; taste your food, take a pause for a minute every few bites to let the food settle and to determine how satiated you are. Chew slowly, taste your food, take smaller bites.
  • Start with a smaller portion knowing you can go back for seconds. Take pause before you head to the stove for more, different foods can take various amounts of time to send signals to your hunger hormones about whether your body needs more or not.
  • Eat when you have an appetite, don’t wait until you’re starving. Coming to the table with extreme hunger can cause you to eat more than your body needs and to make unwise food choices.

At the end of the day be real and be kind to yourself.

Sometimes you just want Swedish Berries because you like them. As unhealthy as emotional eating can be, restricting yourself isn’t healthy either. Treating yourself is pleasurable, do it mindfully by putting a certain amount on a plate vs. settling in for a full season of House of Cards with an XL bag of Miss Vickies.

Lastly, when you observe emotional hunger, seek out tools for working through what’s causing it outside of the kitchen. It could mean talking to someone, exercising, relaxing with a good book and hot bath or having a dance party. Try out different methods until you find something that works for you!