6 signs of emotional eating, its causes and how to deal with it

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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Dealing with emotional eating? If you wish to recognise the triggers, signs and solutions of stress eating, here’s some food for thought.

Do you find yourself raiding your refrigerator for food whenever there’s a little discomfort in your life? Dealing with troubles is common, but finding comfort in food is not! If you’ve been in situations where you’ve devoured a whole pizza by yourself right before an interview or a tub of ice cream just because your boyfriend dozed off without that ‘good night’ text, you may need help! There’s a term for this condition known as emotional eating or stress eating.

People who indulge in emotional eating, soothe their emotionally-wrecked situation with food. This frequent habit of eating to suppress sorrow can cause negative effects on happiness, health, and even weight.

Deekshaa Athwani, Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, Mumbai spoke to HealthShots to elaborate on the subject of stress eating.

“Food can be soothing. Hence, individuals finding comfort in food is common. It is a practice usually referred to as ‘emotional eating’. You may use food as a reward or eat when you are bored, sad, stressed or even lonely. Eating emotionally means that you eat for reasons other than hunger and you may not listen to your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals”, says Athwani.

While this problem is more common than we know. A lot of people around us are suffering from stress eating but don’t know about it yet. There are certain triggers that can cultivate the immediate urge of turning to food. According to Athwani, these triggers can be both physical and psychological.

Triggers for emotional eating

  • Habits:

    Some people associate their own habits with emotional eating. A certain habit like eating a chocolate bar everyday on your way back home or eating candy floss whenever you see a child eating one can also trigger stress eating.

  • Boredom:

    The pressure of living a fulfilling life has consumed us more than ever now. All thanks to the fast-paced and perfect social media streams! People tend to feel bored most of the time and turn to food to fill that void.

  • Social influences:

    People fall under the trap of peer pressure when it comes to making food choices. A friend recommending buying a pizza before that football game or getting drinks with food every time you order are some of the instances that can lead to stress eating.

    emotional eating
    Yes, even boredom can make you want to indulge in emotional eating. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

  • Fatigue:

    At times, feeling less inspired to do a chore can make a person kill time by munching on food instead. A person tends to eat mindlessly until his/her reward system steeps and he finds the task worth doing.

There are many misconceptions about the issue. A lot of people mistakenly believe that emotional eating is not a psychological issue, but a reason to overeat. But physical and emotional hunger is absolutely different.

People turn to food, especially, to suppress negative emotions due to many reasons. Negative emotions that one goes through may lead to a feeling of emptiness. The person indulging in stress eating looks at food as a way to fill that void and feel better about the temporary wholeness or feeling of fullness it gives.

emotional eating
Stop giving into the urge of ordering a pizza every time you feel low! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Here are 6 signs to look for if you or someone you know can be affected by stress eating:

  1. You feel a sudden and urgent need for food or snacks.
  2. As physical hunger may progress gradually, stress eating can differ from that. It causes an abrupt feeling of hunger, making you break into your kitchen pantry.
  3. Even a minor feeling of inconvenience can make you feel impatient for digging into food.
  4. You only crave for specific comfort foods
  5. We all have our list of comfort foods. When a person is looking to achieve a feeling of contentment and fullness through food, he/she may often side towards the foods that can comfort them
  6. You eat at an unusual time
  7. If you find yourself going into the kitchen more often than you’re needed to and at odd timings, you can be dealing with stress eating. Ordering food and delving into your kitchen pantry at odd times can also be a sign of understated emotional eating
  8. You tend to eat more than you normally do
  9. When you’re stress eating, you forget to keep a tab on portion control. You can eat despite the feeling of satiety when undergoing a personal problem or you’ve been worrying about something
  10. You get a feeling of guilt after eating
  11. You may feel a sense of happiness and gratitude when eating after a natural hunger. Meanwhile, a person dealing with stress eating may often experience guilt and unhappiness after eating. This is also a definite sign of emotional eating.
  12. You have experienced a big jump in your weight.

    emotional eating
    Watch your weight and tummy! Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Stress eating diminishes our judgement for the nutritional value of food. With no portion control, overeating is inevitable. These factors combine to make the person gain weight and get out of shape. This drastic change in the way one’s body changes can also be responsible for that guilty and unhappy feeling.

If you recognize yourself as someone who is dealing with emotional eating, here are a few steps that can help you out:

It is essential to recognize the triggers that cause the urge of eating for you. These factors may be physical and emotional. Maintaining a mood book can be of help by telling you how your mood has changed all day and what caused you to pick up that bag of chips.

  1. Keeping a tab of what you eat during the day can help you in some way. Make a food journal to take notes of your hunger level. Rate your hunger level on a scale of 1 to 10. Align this feeling of hunger with your mood. For instance, note if you feel hungry when you’re angry or anxious.
  2. If you’re getting bored and about to order some food to kill that hollowness, try calling a friend instead. This can divert your thoughts of hunger into a rather interesting conversation.
  3. Find other ways to cope up with stress. Write a journal, go for a jog, or read a book to distract your thoughts.
  4. Some people find comfort in meditation. Mindfulness and calming techniques can provide you ease in dealing with stress eating.
  5. If these tips don’t work for you, visiting a doctor will be the best idea for you. An expert opinion on your situation can give you a good insight into the issues at hand.

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