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Emotional Eating: What Is Emotional Eating and How Do You Stop?

Emotional Eating

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Story At-A-Glance
  • Emotional eating is the act of eating to cope with or suppress extreme emotions. This can be a very challenging problem to deal with, as it frequently leads to more extreme feelings, which then encourage you to eat more. 
  • It can feel like being trapped in a loop, and it can be a challenge to learn how to not feel hungry.
  • If you struggle with emotional eating, you aren’t eating when you feel hungry, and you might have anxiety after eating.
  • Another problem is that when you're relying on food so heavily, you might not even know what to do instead of eating.
  • If you’re wondering how to stop emotional eating, then read on for an explanation of why exactly you’re doing it and some tips and tricks to help you stop for good.

What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is exactly that—eating when your emotions are heightened as a way of coping with these extreme feelings. This type of eating is not motivated by hunger, and many people who are emotional eaters tend not to feel any hunger at all and eat well past fullness if they are eating emotionally. 

In fact, for people who are emotional eaters, eating is used to fulfill feelings rather than any type of hunger.

Because emotional eating is caused by intense emotions, it can be hard for emotional eaters to stop. But if you try to stop eating emotionally, these feelings grow stronger as your coping mechanism disappears. As they get worse, you might be driven back to emotional eating, entering a loop that feels endless and impossible to get out of. And, as you rely more on eating, you might not even know what to do instead of eating.

If you tend to eat when you’re in extreme emotional situations and don’t pay much attention to your actual hunger levels, you might be an emotional eater. You might be feeling frustrated by your inability to stop eating and that trying to break the habit only results in eating again. 

You might also feel a lot of anxiety after eating.

But if you’re an emotional eater, there’s good news. There are ways to stop and to break your cycle. But if you want to know how to stop emotional eating, you first need to understand why you are doing it.

How Emotional Hunger Differs From Physical Hunger?

The first step to overcoming your emotional eating habits is to first learn the differences between eating because of your emotions and eating because you’re truly hungry. Once you know this, you can learn how to not feel hungry because of your emotions.

It might seem like an easy distinction to make at first. Emotional eating is when we eat because we feel intensely about something, and hunger eating is because we need sustenance.

But for a lot of people, making the distinction can be hard. The problem is that emotional eating is an extremely powerful urge that blurs the line between healthy eating out of intense feelings and eating out of actual hunger. So how exactly are you supposed to tell the difference?

If it is emotional eating, you’ll find that you’re craving certain foods more than others. These foods are likely to be sugary snacks or carb-loaded food over fruits or vegetables. If you’re feeling genuinely hungry, you likely won’t have these intense cravings for junk food.

sugary snacks

You’ll also find that emotional eating urges come on suddenly. It will be an overwhelming feeling of needing to eat these unhealthy foods. Normal hunger will come on gradually.

If you’re eating emotionally, you’ll likely be eating well past feelings of fullness too. If you’re eating and you’re not sure whether it’s driven by your emotions or not, consider how full you feel. If you already feel bloated, stuffed, and uncomfortable, you won’t be able to stop if it is emotional eating. Normal hunger will be satiated as soon as you feel full.

Finally, the last sign that you’re an emotional eater is that when you’re finished eating, you’re left with feelings of shame or guilt. If you’ve just eaten out of hunger, there’s no reason for you to feel shame. You were giving your body what it needs, after all! But if you feel strongly that you are guilty or ashamed, that’s a huge sign that you’ve been emotionally eating.

Emotional Eating
  • Cravings for junk foods that are high in sugar or carbs, “comfort” food.
  • Comes on suddenly with no warning. An intense “need” to eat these foods.
  • Eating continues even after feelings of fullness.
  • No attention being paid to what you are eating, or how much.
  • Feelings of guilt or anxiety after eating.
Physical Hunger
  • No particular cravings.
  • Comes on gradually.
  • Once full, you can stop eating.
  • You can identify what you’re eating, and you are fully aware while you’re eating.
  • Ends with feelings of satisfaction.

Common Causes And Triggers Of Emotional Eating

Now that you know what emotional eating is and what the signs are, let’s go over some of the common triggers of emotional eating. Knowing your triggers will help you learn how to stop emotional eating.

Several things can keep you from having anxiety after eating. One of the most common causes of emotional eating is stress. When you get stressed, your brain secretes a hormone called cortisol. This hormone makes you crave foods that in high in carbs or sugar, which give you feelings of pleasure when you eat them. 

Another factor about stress and cortisol is that this is the hormone that helps your body prepare for its fight or flight response.

If your body starts to feel like it is in danger, you’ll start craving these sugary, high-carb foods, which would provide you with the energy needed to perform your fight or flight response if you were in real danger. If you find that you’re eating more when you’re stressed, then cortisol is the reason for your emotional eating.

Avoid Sugary

Some people also find that boredom is what drives them to emotional eating. Eating gives you something to do with your mouth and your hands, not to mention something to fill the time. Even feelings of emptiness can drive you to emotional eating to fill this perceived emptiness.

Another very common trigger for emotional eating is being in a social situation. When you enter social gatherings, consider how you feel. Do they make you feel nervous or stressed? If so, that might compel you to start eating emotionally, especially if there’s already food involved.

Even if social gatherings don’t make you feel anxious, they may still be a trigger for your emotional eating. If the food is already laid out, you might start eating it without even thinking, purely out of habit. Being around other people might distract you enough that your mindless emotional eating just kicks in.

Be mindful as you figure out your triggers and pay attention to how you feel after eating too. Anxiety after eating is a big sign of emotional eating.

Once you know your triggers, you’ll be able to learn how to stop emotional eating.

How To Stop Emotional Eating?

Well, you know what exactly emotional eating is, and now you know what your triggers are. If you’d like to know how to stop emotional eating, here are some tips and ideas for what to do instead of eating.

Ending your emotional eating can be difficult, and it will require a lot of work on your part. But know that you can stop it and that the very first step is practicing mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the things you’re feeling and experiencing at the moment in a calm, non-judgmental way. Doing this allows you to help process your feelings better and turn to healthier coping mechanisms than emotional eating.

The more you practice mindfulness, the more you’ll know what to do instead of eating. Help yourself practice mindfulness by keeping a food diary.

Write down what you eat, when you eat it, and how you felt immediately before, during, and after you ate. By keeping a record of your eating habits, you’ll be able to more clearly see what exactly your triggers are.

As you’re keeping your food diary, remember not to be judgemental about yourself or your habit. This might only make your problem worse. Just look at your diary, make note of how eating made you feel, and accept it.

You could also try doing more physical exercise if you’re feeling very emotional. Even a short walk up and down your street can help burn off some of your anxious energy. Exercise can be a preventative method of coping with your emotional eating, too, because of its usefulness as a stress reliever.

By practicing these tips, over time, you’ll have learned how to stop emotional eating.

Stop emotional eating

What To Do Instead Of Eating

Here are a few things to try doing in moments of extreme emotion, so you know what to do instead of eating.

  • Go for a walk or practice yoga.
  • Call a friend or family member to talk through your feelings.
  • Meditate.
  • Before you eat, make yourself wait 5 minutes. Check-in with how you’re feeling during these 5 minutes to determine whether there are better-coping strategies you could use.
  • Read a book or watch a movie to keep yourself from eating out of boredom.
  • Accept what you’re feeling, even if it is unpleasant. Fighting negative emotions will only drive you towards emotional eating. Understand that you feel the way you feel for a reason, and accept it.

Pro Tip: How To Not Feel Hungry

If you just can’t seem to shake your feelings of hunger, there are a few ways you learn how to not feel hungry.

The first is to make sure you are getting enough protein in your diet. Eating enough protein will keep you feeling full for longer, which means you will feel hungry less.

The second thing to do is to drink more water. Drinking water before you eat will help you feel fuller faster, which means you are eating less overall.

Drinking coffee can also act as an appetite suppressant. It does this by releasing a hormone called peptide YY, which is secreted when you eat and encourages feelings of fullness.

Finally, remember to eat slowly and mindfully. Put away any distractions while you’re eating so that you can focus purely on the food. This will allow you to pay closer attention to your body’s fullness signals, and you’ll be able to stop eating once you’re satiated. 

Doing all of these things will help you learn how to not feel hungry.

Conclusion

Emotional eating can be a difficult problem to deal with. It can make you gain a lot of weight fast and give you feelings of guilt and anxiety after eating. 

It can be very hard to know how to not feel hungry because of your emotions.

Luckily, there are ways to deal with emotional eating. Following the tips above will help you overcome your emotional eating and know what to do instead of eating. This will lead to a more mindful, happier, healthier you.

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