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.

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