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Emotional Eating: What To Do About It

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Stress, anger, loneliness – unpleasant feelings can lead to us reaching for food more often. This habit is also known as “emotional eating” in English. With the right strategies, you can change this pattern.

Aside from being physically hungry, there are many reasons to go to the refrigerator. We often use food to compensate for negative emotions. However, this only works for a short time and many feel worse afterwards than before. Guilt and remorse play a huge role in emotional eaters.

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating means eating out of certain emotional states. The English term Emotional Eating has meanwhile also established itself in our country, as it is much more common than most believe. So the good news: you are not alone.

Emotional Eating – How to Recognize It

Eating when feeling uncomfortable

When you are hungry, this can be indicated by various signals. A growling stomach, lack of concentration, or physical weakness, for example, indicate that your body needs food. Even if you are “hangry”  (when hunger is depressing the mood), this is a clear sign that something edible is needed as quickly as possible.

In emotional eating, the motivation to eat is not hunger – at least not superficially. Negative emotions such as boredom, stress and frustration lead to the fact that you mainly reach for sweets, chips and other comfort food. Natural foods such as vegetables and fruits serve this purpose far less often.

Emotional eating doesn’t fill you up

Emotional eating
Emotional eating

While with genuine hunger after eating a sense of saturation occurs, you are tired of never really the emotional food. Sure, because you don’t eat out of hunger either. The inner emptiness that emotional eaters often feel cannot be filled with food and therefore ensures that they consume large quantities. In the long run, this can also lead to obesity. In many cases, dissatisfaction with one’s own figure is a factor that further encourages emotional eating. So you can get caught in a spiral of food, frustration and guilt.

How does emotional eating come about?

Emotional eating can be very different. Some people make themselves comfortable on the sofa with plenty of goodies in the evenings on days when they were particularly stressed, sad or frustrated. Others use comfort food every day to calm down.     

How to Stop Emotional Eating

Consolation in childhood

Emotional eating is rarely something unique that arises out of a whim. Rather, it is a habit that you have made a strategy for yourself over the course of your life to compensate for negative feelings. You may have learned in childhood that food is a good consolation.

For example, if your parents consoled you with ice cream, chocolate, and candy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise if, as an adult, you also reach for sweets when you’re sad. However, it may just as well be that you discovered eating as a compensation for yourself in your youth or adulthood – for example, when you are stressed at work, loneliness or an argument with your partner.

Strategy becomes a habit

Once you have found that eating has a calming effect on challenging emotional states, you will probably use this remedy again in similar situations. The more you use this strategy, the more it solidifies and becomes a fixed habit after a while.

By the way, it can also be that you eat out of positive feelings, for example out of joy, euphoria, but also out of pure boredom. Those who tend to eat out of negative emotions are also more likely to use food as a reward.

Which strategies help against emotional eating?

Emotional eating stop strategy
Emotional eating stop strategy

First of all, getting to grips with emotional eating is not a to-do that needs to be done. It’s a process that takes time. Instead of discipline, rigor and willpower, self-compassion, understanding, mindfulness and patience are required.

1st step: the right mindset

If you judge yourself and punish yourself with additional negative feelings, it is hardly possible to change your behavior. On the contrary: it is the best prerequisite for continuing to grab unintentionally consoling foods. Only when you bring yourself into a positive mindset towards yourself is it possible to develop alternatives.  

Understanding instead of rigor

The most important thing: Don’t judge Emotional eating isn’t bad, undisciplined, or weak. It is a logical consequence of given circumstances and arises for understandable reasons. Therefore: understand and do not punish yourself additionally by feeling guilty.

Emotional Eating Is

Justified Also make yourself aware that emotional eating is justified – otherwise not so many people would do it. Unfortunately, the effect only lasts for a short time, but basically eat calmly. When food intake is secure, we feel safe and secure, everything is okay. So it is not at all absurd to eat when you are feeling bad. 

Positive Self Talk

What would you say to a good friend who tells you how stressful her emotional eating is? You would probably talk her through and tell her that she is still lovable. Talk to yourself like you would a good friend. This helps in every situation and even if it feels unfamiliar at first, you will quickly notice how good it is. 

Step 2: Identify the trigger

If you want to avoid emotional eating, learn to become a good observer. The same applies here: With a positive mindset, observation and reflection are much easier.

Reflecting After Your Meal

Instead of feeling bad after your emotional meal, see it as an opportunity to learn. Do a self-study and reflect. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • How did I feel before I ate?
  • How was my today
  • Did I get enough food for the day or did I starve?
  • When exactly did the strong cravings for food develop today?

Identifying and avoiding triggers

Once you have identified the triggers, think about how you can avoid or reduce them. Is there some way to reduce stress at work? Can you hand in assignments? Maybe it makes sense to have a more relaxed view of things? Why are you sad and what can help?

3rd step: sharpen perception

Emotional eating is a lot about self-awareness. If you can learn to recognize that an emotional binge eating is looming, you can take action in time.

Meditation, Yoga, Chi Gong You will become more mindful

through regular meditation , yoga or Chi Gong. You can observe feelings better and see them from a more neutral point of view. In addition, you get an inner distance from things and thus a little time to consciously decide how you want to react to certain situations or feelings.

Practicing

the role of the observer Try to take on the role of the observer over and over again. This is a matter of practice and it works out better and better over time. Think of what is happening around you as interesting and exciting. This makes it easier not to slip into unpleasant feelings or to judge your own actions.

Enduring Feelings

When you feel the need for an emotional binge eating, think of  it as a wave that goes over you. It builds up slowly, gets bigger and bigger and then disappears again. Practice enduring and accepting this feeling without reacting to it.

4th step: alternatives to eating

Emotional Eating What To Do About It
Emotional Eating What To Do About It

Easier than enduring the urge is to take an alternative act. It is best to have concrete ideas for this. Instead of: When I want emotional food, I don’t eat. Dear: If I want emotional food, I call a friend. There are tons of options here now, and you should find the options that suit you and that work for you. These can be different strategies in different situations, such as:

  • Call girlfriend / boyfriend
  • make sport
  • To go for a walk
  • Read
  • Write journal
  • Meditate
  • Gardening
  • listen to music
  • To dance
  • Creative occupation

Knowledge to take away

Eating out of certain emotional states such as sadness, loneliness, or anger is called emotional eating. More people have this behavior than most people think.

Often in childhood, when there is ice cream or chocolate as a consolation, the experience arises that eating helps with negative feelings. The perceived relief usually only lasts briefly in adults. Often times, a bout of emotional eating is followed by guilt and remorse.

In order to refrain from the usual behavior, self-compassion is necessary. Only when you treat yourself with understanding is it possible to change. With a positive attitude, it is then important to recognize and reduce the triggers of eating. You can find new solution strategies with the right alternatives such as conversations, sports or creativity.

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