Everyone knows that we need to eat to survive. It’s just a fact of life. Just as we need oxygen and water, we also need food. Some of us may consume more than others for a variety of reasons- and that’s okay.
When we’re eating sensibly and being mindful about what we consume, we’re on the right path. But, when we use food as a coping mechanism; that’s where we might run into problems. Eating as a method of dealing with stress can be incredibly unhealthy and may lead to additional health related problems.
Today, I want to talk about how to overcome emotional eating because we, as women, do tend to deal with this issue more often than our male counterparts.
What causes emotional eating?
Have you ever considered yourself a “stress eater?” Or sometimes it’s labeled as “emotional eating.” Turning to food when your stress levels increase is a common occurrence.
It’s a root cause for many obese men and women. The simple fact that our lives are full of stress – and we increase our calorie consumption during those times – is enough to pack on the pounds easily.
But researchers now say that highly stressed individuals actually have a harder time utilizing the foods they eat. There was a study conducted specifically regarding caregivers and how the stress they endure affects their bodies’ ability to process the foods they eat.
The University of California’s San Francisco Department of Psychiatry wanted to find out how chronic stress and eating affect the body. They took a sampling of women who were caregivers to a parent or partner suffering from memory loss and measured how their bodies reacted to the increase of more fat and more sugary foods.
They compared that to women who were eating the same foods, but not under the same stressful long-term conditions and they found that those under extreme stress didn’t handle the junk food as well – it led to larger waistlines and insulin insensitivity.
This particular study was for women over the age of 50. It revealed that the high stress group had metabolic changes – the kind that lead to disease, while the lower stressed women did not.
If you’re a man or woman (of any age) who is experiencing chronic stress and notices that you eat your worries away, then the key isn’t in trying to diet, but in trying to get a handle on the stress levels you experience.
There are many ways you can alleviate stress in those circumstances. It’s all rooted in self care. You have to take time for yourself and allow others (such as hospice workers) to take over while you rejuvenate yourself during these tough times.
You’re not just doing it for yourself and your own health, but for the loved one that you’re caring for. And if you have chronic stress that doesn’t involve care-taking, you can still engage in self care to stave off metabolic changes that might harm your body, too.
Everyone has good days and bad days.
How we deal with the bad ones brings emotional eating into play. You look for comfort for your hurts. People who turn to food for comfort find a coping mechanism that won’t judge them, hurt them or tell them “no.” To complicate the issue, eating pleasurable foods can stimulate the release of endorphins just like exercise. So, after you eat, you feel better.
The Warning Signs of Emotional Eating
There are warning signs that can tell you if you’re an emotional eater or not. One of the first signs is that when things pile up on you at home or at work, in response to the accompanying stress, you want food to make you feel better.
Instead of thinking about going for a walk or doing something else to de-stress, you think of what you can eat. Stress causes a variety of emotions and if you crave food when you’re mad or hurt, when you’re feeling lonely or tired – that’s a sign that you’re an emotional eater.
The reason that emotional eating is so prevalent is because it’s not something that you plan to do. Emotional eaters have a subconscious drive to seek food when their emotions kick into high gear.
Food is the release from the emotions. Just like some people reach for alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to calm themselves, emotional eaters reach for food, especially food that’s not good for them.
Eating things like a piece of cake or a handful of cookies brings solace and after eating them, you feel better, even happy. But the problem is that the comfort the emotional eating gives you will not last.
Another warning sign that you’ve used emotional eating to the point where food has become your friend is when you are incapable of giving up food. The thought of not eating, of restricting yourself, makes you feel upset.
If you’re overweight, the thought of cutting back on food or eliminating certain ones is an impossible thought to entertain for long. You find yourself thinking about food even when you’ve just finished a meal or a snack.
Eating when you know you’re not hungry is a warning sign that the way you see food isn’t healthy. So is eating when you’re so full that your stomach is hurting yet you can’t walk away without eating the last bite.
You think about food to the point that if you have to, you’ll make an extra trip to the grocery store to get something. You begin to develop a close relationship to food. Relying on it to make you happy.
To comfort you when you feel down. To love you when you feel lonely. It’s also a warning sign if you associate food with positive emotions. Emotional eating isn’t just about the negative emotions such as eating when you feel down.
You can crave food when you’re feeling good, when you’re happy as well. Because you feel happy, you want to celebrate with food because it has become a friend to you. Obsessing about food is a warning sign of emotional eating.
You might have just finished having a big meal but you’re already looking forward to what you’re having next. You can’t wait until a certain time of the day or night if you spend that time with food.
For example, some people de-stress by watching TV in the evening. Along with watching TV, they eat. They associate eating the food with helping them to relax. Instead of dealing with whatever emotions make them feel, they bury those emotions under food.
3 Key Steps to Overcoming Emotional Eating
There is help for emotional eaters.
The first step is recognizing that you have a problem. You’ll experience feelings of helplessness and guilt. The guilt is over potentially ruining your health and the helplessness lies in the fact that you don’t see a way out.
Secondly, seek counseling. There are many types of counselors out there that can meet your need. Emotional eating has nothing to do with dieting or changing your eating habits but gaining control over your emotions.
A counselor might suggest things like visualization, practicing problem solving skills, relaxation techniques and family support. Visualization helps you to see your problems in a realistic way and not blown out of proportion. You will also learn to see food as nutrition for the body and not an emotional crutch.
Thirdly, your family can learn your triggers for stress and be on the lookout for changes in your eating habits. They can help you be aware of the foods you are eating, assist you in making healthy food choices and exercise along with you.
Proper diet and exercise increases immunity, blood flow and positive thinking. Yoga enhances the mind/body connection so you don’t eat when you aren’t hungry.
Finding new ways to solve your problems and deal with stress will push food out of the equation. You’ll feel good about finding solutions which will replace the dependence on food.
What other ways can you think of to overcome emotional eating?