Do you find yourself looking for a bite when you’re feeling down? It’s a familiar scenario: you feel stressed, you grab a quick snack. You feel sad, you go through the drive-thru to get some comfort food. Even if you’re just bored, you might sit in front of the TV with popcorn in hand. But why? What causes us to eat when we’re not hungry to cope with these feelings? Everyone has engaged in emotional eating at one point, which could present itself as mindlessly munching on a bag of chips or eating a candy bar after a hectic day at the office.
There’s some truth to the phrase “eating your feelings” when it comes to a pattern of emotional eating. The reason why people turn to food rather than other coping mechanisms is that they’re subconsciously seeking to fill a void, and the fullness that comes from food creates a false sense of doing so.
The Importance of Mindful Eating
Mindful eating is the practice of evaluating your emotions and food-related behaviors. It emphasizes eating slowly without distraction, listening to physical hunger cues, only eating until you’re satisfied, distinguishing hunger cues, and learning to cope with negative emotions about food. The basic difference between mindful and mindless eating is making conscious, healthier decisions. Research shows that mindfulness is a good way to avoid binge eating and emotional eating.
The Difference Between Physical vs. Emotional Hunger
But we know humans must eat to live, so how can you distinguish physical versus emotional hunger? There is some overlap between physical versus emotional hunger, but there are still key distinctions between each. By paying attention to how and when you started feeling hungry and how you feel after eating, you may be able to control bouts of hunger.
The Mayo Clinic provides several important differences that can clue you into the differences between physical and emotional hunger.
- Develops slowly
- You feel full and take it as the cue to stop eating
- You don’t experience shame about eating
By contrast, emotional hunger:
- Comes on suddenly
- You may crave certain foods
- You can binge without feeling satisfied as quickly
- You feel ashamed of eating
Alternative Ways to Cope Rather than Eating
By finding other ways to cope with your negative emotions, whether it’s boredom or stress, you can curtail emotional eating. There are many ways to cope with negative emotions than have nothing to do with eating, from writing in a journal, listening to an audiobook, taking a hot bath, or finding another way to relax from a stressful day. Some people find relief in physical activity, as well, such as taking a brief walk around the block. When all else fails, simply wait 10 minutes before grabbing a bite.
Seeking Support for Emotional Eating
If your first instinct is to isolate yourself from others in moments of negative feelings, try to resist it. Even making a quick call to a loved one may improve your mood. If you find you need more extensive help, a formal support group such as Overeaters Anonymous can help you with emotional or compulsive eating. You may also ask your doctor for a referral to a coach or counselor who can help you identify the emotions that cause you to feel hungry. Without addressing emotional eating, it could lead to an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder.
Ready to get serious about cutting emotional eating out of your life? Contact us at Soza Weight Loss today at (504) 475-9817.