The definition of emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better. It occurs when you eat to fill emotional needs, rather than to satisfy your appetite or fill your stomach. You’ve likely experienced emotional eating before if you’ve eaten ice cream when you feel depressed or made extra room for dessert.
Using food occasionally as a reward, celebration, or pick-me-up isn’t a problem by itself, but if eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism, then it becomes a problem. If you automatically go to the fridge or cupboard every time you experience a negative emotion, you’re experiencing emotional hunger that can’t be sated.
Overcoming this kind of emotional eating can be challenging, but it isn’t impossible. Even if you’re stuck in a cycle of emotional eating, it’s possible to make a positive change in your lifestyle. With help from your family, friends, and possibly medical professionals, you can find healthier ways to deal with emotions and eat mindfully—and stop emotional eating.
What are Some Symptoms of Emotional Eating?
Emotional hunger can be very powerful, which can make it difficult to differentiate from physical hunger. Here are some signs that your hunger is emotional rather than physical.
Your hunger comes on suddenly. If your hunger hits you suddenly and feels overwhelming, it’s likely emotional hunger. Physical hunger is a slow buildup and doesn’t feel as demanding—it doesn’t need to be satisfied immediately.
You crave something specific. When you’re physically hungry, usually anything sounds good. That’s where the phrase, “hunger is the best sauce,” comes from. Emotional hunger usually causes a specific craving for junk food, sugary snacks, or something else specific. You need a fast food burger, fried chicken, or ice cream—eating a healthy meal won’t work.
You turn to mindless eating. You’re not even paying attention to how much you eat—you’ve likely eaten an entire bag of chips or a pint of ice cream without noticing. With physical hunger, you’ll usually stop when you’re full.
You feel regret, guilt, or shame afterward. When you’re eating to satisfy physical hunger, you likely don’t feel negative emotions afterward because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel negative emotions after eating, it may be due to deep-seated emotional reasons, not because of hunger.
What Can I Do to Solve It?
Emotional eating can be a complex condition, but you can begin by asking yourself what situations, locations, or emotions make you want to eat more than you should. Emotional eating is often connected to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be the inverse, related to positive feeling. Common causes of emotional eating include stress, stuffing emotions, boredom or feelings of emptiness, childhood habits, or social influences.
Examine what factors are contributing to your emotional eating symptoms and discuss them with a therapist or other licensed health care professional. It’s important to find alternatives to feeding your feelings. Replacing food with talking to a friend, expending your nervous energy, or just doing another activity can help.
You can also gain control of your appetite with help from the experts at Diet Doc. Diet Doc medical weight loss doctors can help provide professional medical counseling and a diet plan for you to follow, and may prescribe an appetite suppressant or other medication that will help you in your path to overcoming emotional eating.
Emotional eating is a difficult burden, but with knowing more about how to treat and utilizing the right tools, such as your loved ones and the experts at Diet Doc, you can meet your goals and stop emotional eating.