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The Psychology of Emotional Eating

By Joe Szilagyi (Flickr: Andi and her alligator) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia C

Emotional eating is described as eating in response to a stressful or negative situation. A lot of people have a hard time expressing their emotions and will turn to food as a way to cope with feelings. However, emotional eating can be a detriment to someone being healthy and having a strong sense of well-being.

Do You Eat When You Are Bored or Sad?

If you are one of those people who turns to food for comfort, don’t worry because it is something many others do too. When someone eats out of emotional reasons and not because of hunger, it can be a genuine problem. Obeying the urge to eat more than you need is a definite way to gain weight and it can create problems like obesity, diabetes or high blood pressure.

Differences between Emotional and Physical Hunger

To overcome the effects of emotional eating, it’s important for a person to recognize the difference between real hunger and emotional hunger:
• Being physically hungry means a person will feel full after eating. Emotional hunger cannot be satisfied even after eating until physically full.
• Physical hunger does not make a person feel guilty, because eating is done to satisfy what the body needs. Emotional hunger generates undesirable emotions that are related to eating.
• When you are physically hungry, you can be satisfied with a variety of foods. Emotional hunger on the other hand wants specific foods and types of foods, especially something that will give a person energy and fill a craving.
• Physical hunger comes on gradually, while emotional hunger is most often out of an emotional response.

If you are someone who eats out of emotion, there is good news because you don’t have to remain that way. There are a lot of ways you can stop emotional eating, but it requires a number of changes including the following:

• Find out what emotions make you want to emotionally eat. Instead of running away from problems or ignoring stress, a person must learn to deal with these issues head on. The more comfortable an individual becomes dealing with emotional challenges, the less likely they are to reach for unhealthy foods out of trying to fill a void.

• Feed your emotions, but not with food because there are healthier ways of coping. A person should adopt a new hobby, get out and take a walk or do something relaxing when experiencing moments of stress or anxiety. By replacing the habit of emotional eating with something healthy, you will not be tempted to only eat to fill a psychological void.

• Exercise is a great way to dispel the urge to emotional eat and it releases endorphins, which are feel good hormones. If a person feels like running to the refrigerator after a stressful day, opting for a walk or engaging in some sort of physical activity will help them reduce stress and quell the triggers that drive emotional eating.

When you wish to curb emotional eating in your life, it can help to follow some or all of the recommendations listed above. However, if you find it’s impossible to stop yourself from emotional eating, it may be beneficial for you to find a support group or to seek professional assistance.