Weight loss is certainly not an emotion but it can definitely be affected by our emotions. When we are in a weight loss program, we don’t always eat simply to satisfy hunger. We also turn to food for comfort, stress relief, or as a reward. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. But once you’ve identified your emotional eating tendencies, you can change the habits that have sabotaged your diet in the past.
If you’ve ever make room for dessert even though you’re already full or dove into a pint of ice cream when you’re feeling down, you’ve experienced emotional eating. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better—eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach.
Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re upset, angry, lonely, stressed, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed. You beat yourself for messing up and not having more willpower. Compounding the problem, you stop learning healthier ways to deal with your emotions, you have a harder and harder time controlling your weight, and you feel increasingly powerless over both food and your feelings.
Emotional hunger vs. Physical hunger
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.
Physical hunger comes on gradually.
Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly.
Physical hunger can wait.
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods.
Physical hunger is open to options—lots of things sound good.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied with a full stomach.
Physical hunger stops when you’re full.
Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame.
Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.
Here are some suggestions to combat emotional eating during your weight loss journey. If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento. If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk. If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket. If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
Exercise, sleep, and other healthy lifestyle habits will help you get through difficult times without emotional eating. The Genetix Program can assist you during these emotional times. Call your weight loss counselor any time you feel your emotions steering you to food and they can talk you through it.