Feeding Your Feelings: Overcoming Emotional Eating

Feeding Your Feelings: Overcoming Emotional Eating
By M. Sunset Sealy
[edited by Narkissos]

NarkSideSept 14th, 2009

I had a pretty rough week last week. In between family emergencies, personal trials and business difficulties, I felt just about ready to kill someone.


My gym routine failed all week, and my eating habits were a complete mess.

If I ate three good, solid meals all week, I ate a lot.

When my appetite did choose to rear its head, I realized that I was craving things like ice cream, chocolate, or lasagna.

You know what I mean: the comforting, fattening, feel-good crap.

Luckily for me, time, money or situations did not allow me to indulge… but the entire experience really got me thinking about how easy it is to “feel hungry”.

It REALLY made me realize how moods and emotions, influence (and/or control) how and what we eat.

Heck, by the time you calculate how much time you’re going to have to spend on the treadmill to get rid of that stupid indulgence, you’ve already had 1000 depression, heartache, anger, or boredom-lace calories.

AND, top it off, you feel guilty to boot.

Good going.

“Yay me!”


Many of us (and I’ll be honest here, I’m mainly addressing women even though men are at fault as well) fail to realise that food not only fills our stomachs… it satisfies our feelings.

And, if we don’t pay close attention to this, we are liable to eat the wrong things whenever we feel like.

Major life events — such as unemployment, health problems, the death of a loved one, relationship issues and divorce — and daily life hassles — such as a stressful work commute, bad weather and changes in your normal routine — can trigger emotions that lead to overeating.

But why do negative emotions lead to overeating?

Some foods may have seemingly addictive qualities. For example, when you eat enticing foods, such as chocolate, your body releases trace amounts of mood- and satisfaction-elevating hormones. That “reward” may reinforce a preference for foods that are most closely associated with specific feelings.

Related to this is the simple fact that the pleasure of eating offsets negative emotions.

One thing we must always realize however, is that these good feelings are only going to last a short while… and then the negative feelings return. Along with them comes a real and pressing hunger… because you have eaten nothing substantial.

Food can also be a distraction.

If you’re worried about an upcoming event or rethinking an earlier conflict, eating comfort foods may distract you. But again, this distraction is only temporary. While you’re eating, your thoughts focus on the pleasant taste of your comfort food, and then, when you’re done overeating, your attention returns to your worries. You now bear the additional feeling of guilt as I mentioned before.

“Yay me!” part 2!!!

*double sigh*

It’s something that we become introduced to at a very early age. Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland states: “Oftentimes when a child is sad, we cheer them up with a sweet treat. This behavior gets reinforced year after year until we are practicing the same behavior as adults. We never learned how to deal with the sad feeling because we always pushed it away with a sweet treat. Learning how to deal with feelings without food is a new skill many of us need to learn.”

So how do we combat this? First of all, it is important to recognize the differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger.

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.
Physical hunger doesn’t just jump out and attack you like a stealthy ninja. Physical hunger is something that builds as time goes by. If at any point you are ‘suddenly’ hungry or ‘suddenly’ need to have a certain thing, this is a craving, driven by emotions.

Shut. It. Up!

2. Emotional hunger tends to be specific.
“I’m so hungry. The only thing that can fill me now is a double chocolate chip ice cream sandwich!”

Well if that’s the only thing that can fill you now that you’re ever so hungry, you’re just eating to quiet down whatever it is that’s really nagging you.

When you are eating to fill a void that isn’t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream… and only that food will seem to meet your need.

I’m sure you’ve experienced it.

You may even have tried eating something else, but only when you eat that one particular thing, are you honestly ‘satisfied’.

When you eat because you are actually hungry, you tend to be more open to options.

3. Emotional hunger is impatient.
You want it, and you want it now. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Physical hunger has a limit.
Even when you are full, if you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to keep eating. Your brain almost ‘disconnects’ from your stomach and emotions, and only when your feelings have settled will you stop.

When you’re eating because you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.

5. The guilt. Oh God, the guilt.
Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt: Immense, intense guilt.

Eating when you are physically hungry does not.

Now that we know how to identify the sneaky bastard, how are we going to manage the emotional eating?
One of the most important things is to try to recognize what triggers this kind of eating in is.

Try to pay attention to what you’re going through at the time you decide to drown yourself in a tub of rocky road.

Keep a food journal: Write down what you eat, when you eat and why you eat it.

As time goes by, you may begin to see a pattern emerging that will tell you where the emotions kick in and therefore where you start losing your head for the sake of your stomach.

Try to find other things to do to occupy your mind. Instead of unwrapping that kit kat, take a walk, go see a movie, listen to music, read a book, play a video game or call a friend.

If you think that stress relating to a particular event is nudging you toward the refrigerator, try talking to someone about it to distract yourself. Make a list of things that you can do instead of eating and try to stick to this list.

Call in the troops if you have to: Make your friends aware of your goals and stick together. Sometimes a little help can go a long way.

As hard as this next tip may be, you’re just going to have to suck it up and do it:

Yes, I said it. Stop picking up that tub of ice cream “just in case company comes over”.

Stop buying bags of candy “for the kids”.

Who are you trying to fool? The fact of the matter is that if it’s not there, you won’t eat it.

Go do some knitting while the urge passes. Don’t go grocery shopping when this feeling hits you either. If you feel hungry or upset, postpone the shopping trip for a few hours so that these feelings don’t influence your decisions at the store.

Don’t skip meals!
When you miss your regular meals, you’ll find it much easier to binge, especially if something is bothering you. Eat at your regular hours as much as you possibly can.

After all this is said and done, it really does just boil down to being focused, staying in control of yourself and making a conscious decision not to fall off the wagon. It’s never worth it in the end.

Stay Strong!

Client of:
Apollo Fitness Barbados

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