Emotional eating. It's a sticky subject. While many of us have displayed some of the behaviours at some point in our lives, it is actually considered a clinical condition.
It can be described as the connection between mood, food and weight loss.
Emotional eating is used as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions such as stress, anger, fear boredom, sadness or loneliness. Certain life events which impact us greatly, or the grind of day to day life can be enough to trigger negative feelings that lead to emotional eating and derail your weight loss efforts.
What are some of the triggers?
Now this isn't an exhaustive list, I'm sure you can think of a few more based on your experience to throw into the mix? Everyone is effected differently by challenges which trigger strong emotions, there are some people who actually eat less when confronted with overwhelming emotions and stressors.
With emotional eating, your emotions become so deeply tied to your eating habits that you automatically reach for that treat whenever you are stressed or angry, you don't even think about what you are doing. In some cases food can serve as a distraction, where you comfort eat rather than dealing with a painful situation. This is quite common too.
Whatever your own unique reasons may be, the result is often the same. Relief is short lived. Those uncomfortable emotions resurface and with it come powerful feelings of guilt, self hatred, anger or shame. Here is where the danger lies.
Burdened by these feelings you run head on into automatic eating habits to temporarily ease the pain, but end up sending you into a spiralling vicious cycle.
Is any of this familiar to you?
A lot of people think that overeating is simply due to a lack of discipline or will power, however this is rarely the case. But there are 5 other things (or what I call "traps") which can contribute to emotional eating. Take a look
Emotional eating is often a direct results of not being aware of why or what you are eating. This is where you unconsciously eat. Let me give you an example, when you have finished your meal or all you intended to eat, yet you continue to pick at the food left on your plate until its finished. It can be as simple as putting nuts, crisp, or food in your mouth simply because its there in front of you.
2) Food As Main Pleasure Source
When that bar of chocolate, pizza or ice-cream is "all I have to look forward too". When we've been stressed out, had a hard working day, in a challenging relationship or trained for a competition and food becomes your only source of pleasure, then this can become problematic.
Food can become addictive. Not only from a psychological standpoint, but research has now indicated that some of these highly processed foods, known as "hyper-palatable foods" light up the same opiate receptors in the brain utilised by drugs. For some people it is akin to a drug addiction. Research is still being done into this controversial area.
3) Unable To Tolerate Difficult Feelings
In western culture, especially here in the UK we are told to "Keep a stiff upper lip". We learn from a young age not to express those uncomfortable or messy feelings. When we choose this path, the ways in which we tend to deal with these uncomfortable or difficult emotions it not always in our best interest. This can make you more susceptible to emotional eating.
4) Body Hate
Yes, I know this may sound odd. But believe it or not body hate can be one of the biggest factors for emotional eating. Here's why, many people start their weight loss journey because they hate their body and the way they look, Its these powerful negative emotions that can act as a driver in the spiralling cycle I spoke about earlier.
The common belief is that once you have achieved your ideal weight that you will stop hating your body (i.e yourself). More often than not, chances are even if your body does change and you lose the weight you will still find something to dislike about your body (i.e yourself) and continue with the emotional eating cycle. This is where yo-yo dieting occurs. But here's the simple truth.
It's essential to learn to stop hating your body first, before you can stop the emotional eating cycle.
Sleep deprivation and waiting until you are starving to eat is a winning combination for emotional eating. Research has shown that certain areas of the brain responsible for telling us when we are full are compromised, unable to effectively tell us when we are full, while at the same time other areas increase our desire for food.
Now put yourself in a emotionally demanding situation to top things off and its no surprise that you will emotionally eat is it? When you stop to think about it, emotional eating is actually a very effective temporary method for you to deal with life's challenges (otherwise who would do it?).
The problem is that emotional eating is not a long term solution and poses many potential threats to your health, and can impact all areas of your life dramatically.
As you can probably tell, emotional eating is a very complicated subject, and that's why its important to identify your relationship to food and steadily unravel it into manageable chunks, before starting on any sort of "diet" or "healthy eating plan". Work with a coach or other qualified suitable professional to help put the right strategies in place for you.
It's why I consider emotional mastery and mindset two of the cornerstones of The 5 Pillars of Health.