Emotional Eating and Food Addiction
Do you eat only when hungry? Or do you eat even if not hungry?
Satisfying physical hunger isn’t always the reason why we eat. We sometimes use food to feed a different sort of hunger: to fill a void, to relieve stress, to satisfy emotional needs, or to cope with unwanted emotions of sadness or insecurity.
It isn’t a bad thing to occasionally celebrate something or reward ourselves with food. But when eating becomes your default emotional coping mechanism –where your first impulse is to reach for food when angry, feeling insecure, bored or exhausted– you'll get stuck in an unhealthy cycle, while never addressing the real problem.
You cannotfill an emotional void with food. Eating makes you feel good in the moment, but the emotion that triggered eating is still there after you ate.
Causes of Emotional Eating
There’s not one known cause of eating disorders, but there are a number of factors that influence the development of this health issue. These factors, or a combination of them, are: social-cultural, like past traumas from sexual/physical abuse; biological abnormalities, like irregularities in hormones; and psychological, like low self-esteem or body dissatisfaction.
Triggers for Eating Addictions
Emotional eating happens when youhabituallydo it to soothe yourself or suppress negative emotions, like sadness, loneliness, impatience, anger, stress, and fear. Take note that it’s "habitual". Common triggers can include: relationship issues, work stressors, financial worries, fatigue, and health problems.
Food may also serve as your distraction. If you worry about an approaching event or there's a brewing conflict that you don't like to face, you may focus on eating comfort foods instead.
Signs of Compulsive Eating
Here are some of the emotional signs and behavioral symptoms of food addiction:
storing up food to be eaten secretly at a later time
eating normally when with others, but gorging when alone/isolated
eating continually even if already full
inability to control what's eaten (and can't stop eating)
feelings of anxiety/stress are only relieved by eating
lack of sensation (or feeling numb) when binge eating
never feeling satiated or satisfied, no matter the amount of food eaten
Whatever it is that drives you to overeat, it often ends up the same way: the relief is short-lived, the negative emotions return, and you feel guilty for overeating. This then leads to an unhealthy cycle of eating to hide from the real problem, beating yourself up for getting off your weight loss goal, feeling bad, and overeating to soothe yourself again.
But no matter how powerless you feel over your feelings or food, there’s hope for change. It IS possible. There are healthier ways to deal with your emotions. Learn to eat mindfully, regain control of your weight, and finally put an end to stress eating.
How to feed your feelings
It would be difficult to control your eating habits for very long if you don't know how to manage your negative emotions in a way that doesn't involve food. If you're following a diet program, it will sooner or later be hijacked by these emotions. You'd always resort to immediate relief being offered by food.
Here are steps you can take to abate the demanding cravings that help curb stress eating:
1) Do a hunger-reality check.
Is your stomach really hungry? Or is your hunger emotional? If your stomach isn't rumbling, wait. Give the craving some time to pass.
2) Find distractions to take your attention away from food.
If lonely, call a friend, play with your pet, or look at a cherished memento that makes you feel good. If anxious, try to tame your stress by engaging in stress management activities like deep breathing or meditation.
If exhausted, take a warm bath and treat yourself with a hot cup of tea. If bored, explore the outdoors or do an activity you enjoy like scrapbooking or woodworking.
3) Learn to tolerate negative feelings.
In our culture, we've learned at an early age to avoid unpleasantness or inconveniences. Unfortunately, over time we've developed avoidance habits that aren't in our best interest.
You can gradually practice and teach yourself to experience difficult feelings. Emotional eating is rooted in the feeling of powerlessness over your emotions: you don't feel capable to face them head on, so you avoid them with food.
Letting yourself feel uncomfortable emotions can be frightening, but if we DON'T suppress these emotions we will soon find that, no matter how painful or difficult they are, they subside and lose their power to control us.
When to get help
If you've tried self-help approaches and you still can't control compulsive eating, consider doing therapy with a mental health professional. Here at Jarvis Hypnotherapy we can help you understand why you're addicted to food and learn coping skills.