What Is Emotional Eating?
We don’t always eat because of physical hunger. Often food is used in response to emotions such as a celebration when we’re happy or as comfort when we’re sad. While this is normal behaviour in moderation, for some it can turn into a problem. Resulting in weight gain and unwanted health conditions like type two diabetes or elevated cholesterol.
When emotional eating, it’s not the nutritious foods we tend to turn to. Instead, it’s the sweets and high fat options like cakes, donuts, lollies, fast food or chocolate. As registered dietitian’s we are advocates for a balanced diet that incorporates ALL foods however when emotional eating happens too often, it can throw out this balance.
In this blog post we are going to address why emotional eating is bad and how to beat it. Plus, we have some clear next steps you can take right now to end emotional eating forever.
Why Is Emotional Eating Bad?
Eating for non hungry reasons is not always a bad thing. For example, a desert at your favourite restaurant or a biscuit with a coffee ‘just because you feel like it’ is a part of normal and healthy eating behaviour. It becomes a problem when these behaviours happen too often and without thought or control.
It’s this lack of control around food that is most characteristic of emotional eating.
When we work with clients for emotional eating we like to use the 80/20 rule. This means that 80% of the time food should be consumed to satisfy real physical hunger and be nutritious choices to fuel the body. The other 20% of the time its completely fine to eat for non hungry reasons such as a piece of cake at a birthday party.
When this 80/20 rule is broken and emotional eating occurs more often, an increase in consumption of ‘sometimes’ foods such as sweets, cakes, fried foods and ice-cream results.
This leads to excess sugar and fat in the diet that over time can cause weight gain, elevated blood sugar levels and excess cholesterol – a combination of health conditions called ‘metabolic syndrome’.
The good news is, all of these conditions are preventable and can be avoided with the right steps to reduce emotional eating.
Further to this is the negative feelings and emotions that develop around food. These can be just as detrimental to mental health as the conditions mentioned earlier can be to physical health.
The Emotional Eating Cycle
Emotional eating manifests in much the same way for everyone and it often looks like this…
- Something happens to upset you (or similar negative emotion such as stress, fear, anxiety, worry)
- You feel an overwhelming urge to eat in response to that negative emotion
- You choose foods with low nutritional value and eat more than you know you should
- You feel a sense of guilt and powerlessness over food leading to more negative emotions and fuelling the cycle
As you can see in this cycle, it’s not uncommon for the emotional eating itself to fuel more emotional eating. This makes for a tricky situation to break free from when the cycle has been practiced for a long period of time.
So what can you do to take back control and end excessive emotional eating forever?
3 Steps To Stop Emotional Eating forever
Stopping emotional eating forever is going to take some time and practice. Just like with any habit change, the success comes in time so stick with it and you will reap the rewards. Here are the three steps we recommend you start with:
1. REFLECT & RAISE YOUR AWARENESS
The first thing you need to do is understand what is actually happening. It’s so important to know what your current habits are so you can put the right actions in place to change them into more helpful ones. The best way to do this is to keep a Food and Feelings diary for at least 3 days.
In a notebook (or grab a template from our dietitian’s) record down everything you eat during the day including the time and your feelings before & after eating.
It’s best to include 2 weekdays and 1 weekend day so you get an accurate snapshot of a ‘typical week’.
This data can then be used to find trends, triggers and behaviour patterns that are driving your emotional eating and need to be addressed. This is worthwhile showing to a dietitian so they can hep you to put the right plan in place.
2. GET IN TOUCH WITH HUNGER CUES
One of the most common areas that need addressing is the identification of hunger and fullness. So many of us have lost touch with what it really feels like to be hungry, full, satisfied and everything in between. It’s so easy to become lost in society’s norms of portions and speed of eating, that we forget to tune into our own internal cues.
A hunger / fullness scale can help to regain that connection with your body and help you to eat more intuitively so you can stop emotional eating in its tracks.
The best place to start is to picture your hunger/fullness on a scale of 0-10. With 0 being starving and 10 being stuffed full. Five is satisfied and where we should aim to be after a meal (note this is not yet full, it’s merely an absence of physical hunger).
Have a go at ranking your hunger fullness on a scale like this before, during and after eating. Add these numbers to your Food and Feelings diary to discuss with your dietitian.
3. MAKE A PLAN
The final step is to put a plan in place so you don’t have to think on the spot when the urge to eat emotionally strikes. Having a list of alternative things to do (that don’t involve food) is a great way to shift attention and focus on something else. So when you next identify that you are not physically hungry and you don’t want to eat emotionally, try engaging in one of these activities:
- Go for a walk
- Ring a friend
- Play with the dog
- Pull out a book or magazine
- Do some housework
- Answer emails
- Scream into a pillow
- Write in your journal
- Surf the web
- Plan a holiday
For a customised plan to suit your needs, schedule a free 10 minute discovery call with one of our dietitian’s today, we’re here to help click here now to book online or in our Albury rooms