Emotional eating

Do you feel powerless against your overeating in times of stress? Why do we tend to eat our emotions and how can we permanently fix the problem?

Our relationship with food

It is a fact: most of us tend to associate food with pleasure. Since childhood, we celebrate all the important events with an impressive buffet of delicacies, we get rewarded for our successes with large doses of sweets and we just can’t imagine going to the movies without the traditional bag of popcorn and candies. Food, therefore, plays an important role in our lives and provides a familiar feeling of comfort and happiness that is hard to beat and too easy to indulge in.

The problem starts when you use food as a systematic reward for all your good deeds and as instant therapy to all your problems. But why is it so hard to stop this emotional eating?

The emotional process

When something positive or negative happens to us, we always feel emotions in relation to these events. When we feel good, we are happy and want to enjoy it while if we’re feeling a little down, we try to find ways to feel better. These emotions create needs that we try to meet with a variety of strategies we developed to manage our emotions. When we manage our emotions with food, it tends to worsen the situation because it makes us feel guilty and powerless in front of this behavior, and we also worry about the long-term risks of overeating.

According to the Heart & Stroke Foundation, 75% of children who overeat do so because of their emotions. It’s therefore very important for parents to help their children develop healthy strategies to manage their emotions by showing them good habits and by being an example to follow.

The foods that comfort us

You’ve probably noticed that when you feel most vulnerable, you comfort yourself very rarely, if not never, with celery. But, you have a tendency to throw yourself onto salty snacks like chips or sugary foods like chocolate. Why? First, because it somehow seems easier and faster to grab that chocolate bar than it is to peel and cut carrots, but also because these foods taste good and in the case of sweets, they deceive our body into giving us a false sense of well-being that encourages us to repeat the experience as often as we can.

How to differentiate between real hunger and emotional hunger?

As hunger is a physiological need, we have to eat to stay concentrated and maintain good energy levels. Real hunger can be distinguished by physical symptoms that you will be able to easily observe and that generally appear between 4 to 6 hours after a healthy and balanced meal:

  • Your stomach is growling
  • Your stomach feels empty, sometimes accompanied by small cramps
  • You have a lower energy level and can’t concentrate

If you are not experiencing these symptoms but find yourself completely unable to resist that ice cream in the freezer, and that you often find yourself obsessing about eating without actually feeling hungry, it is very likely that you are eating your emotions to fulfill your needs. But what can you do to resist the constant temptation?

Address the real problem

You know it as well as we do: that bag of candy you just engulfed will provide only temporary relief. Your emotions will end up coming back to the surface and may even be more intense as you’ll feel guilty for indulging and the real problem will not have been addressed. It’s therefore essential for you to learn to recognize and accept these emotions as you go through them, but also to develop new techniques and strategies to manage your emotions so you can replace the ones that prevent you from moving forward. If you think you can’t do it alone, we encourage you to consult your family doctor or a dietitian so you can get the help that is adapted to what you are going through.

Do you know Overeaters anonymous? It’s an association of people wishing to recover from compulsive eating by sharing their personal experiences, strengths, and hopes with others experiencing the same issues so they can offer and receive support.

Tips and tricks to help you change your habits

Managing your emotions is not something you can learn overnight, of course, it’s a process that requires some time before it becomes natural. In the meantime, here are a few things you can do daily to help you:

  • Don’t eat alone: according to Best Health Magazine, Canadian researchers conducted a study in which they asked some people to eat alone and some people to eat with another person. The results speak for themselves: even though they had the same amount of food on their plates, the people who ate alone consumed 30% more food during their next meal than the ones who had company.
  • Don’t eat whenever you feel like it: if you don’t feel the physical symptoms of hunger, don’t eat. You could chew gum to distract you or engage in an activity that relaxes you.
  • Eat at the table: If you tend to eat sitting comfortably on your sofa while you are watching TV, or in your car between two errands, we suggest you try changing these habits. Indeed, if you make a habit of eating anywhere, your brain will associate these places with food.
  • Listen to your hunger: If you are feeling real hunger, don’t wait to eat since we all tend to overeat when we feel excessive hunger. So plan your meals, try to always eat at the same time and eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Avoid temptations: That goes without saying; it’s much easier to resist a crazy urge for chocolate if we don’t have any in the house!
  • Exercise: Sports are your best friend as physical exertion releases endorphins that give you natural relief against stress.

Sources : 6 trucs pour ne plus manger ses émotions, Trucs pour éviter de manger ses émotions, Défi : Je me prend en main par Nautilus Plus, Institut de recherche clinique de Montréal : Document je mange mes émotions, 5 conseils pour éviter de manger vos émotions, Fondation des maladies du cœur : les aliments réconfortants?, Passeport Santé : Problèmes de poids.

Image de Mariem Melainine

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