Our emotions can cause us to do many impulsive acts, especially eating.
How many times have you found yourself using the word binge or telling yourself: ‘you should have not eaten that’ or you ‘couldn’t help it so you finished the whole box?’
Do you plop down in front of the TV and grab, well, whatever you grab every time you plop in front of the TV? Do you groan when you think about last night’s 11pm pizza or look at a strange assortment of things in the refrigerator?
All of these scenarios have one thing in common: a nagging feeling or at least a little cringe inside, about not being my best self when it comes to food. So how do we know when our eating is emotional eating instead of normal hunger for nutrition? Here are seven ways to tell:
- Hunger comes suddenly. One minute you’re feeling fine and along comes a trigger, then suddenly it’s OMG-I-need-a-triple-ice-cream!
- Your body demands food immediately. This is not a hunger that can wait; if there is Ben & Jerry’s in the freezer, it won’t stay in there for long.
- You crave a very particular food or you find you’ll eat just about anything in sight. If there is a trigger to emotional eating, you’ll probably notice one extreme or the other.
- You’ll eat the food without really noticing the color, texture, smell, or preparation of the food. It is just eating that is the focus of attention in the moment.
- Even if you are full or know you have eaten a lot, you have the capacity to continue eating. For example, finishing the whole tub of ice cream when one serving would have been enough.
- You experienced something that triggered an emotional response. If you go back and think about it, just before emotional eating there was, well, an emotional trigger! The emotion was most probably negative, such as frustration, an argument or just feeling unloved.
- You feel guilty afterwards. This is probably the most telling of all. If we think of a natural hunger that is satiated, guilt is not a part of the picture. A lion in nature who caught and ate his prey will lie down to rest under a tree. When we feel guilty after eating, we can be sure something’s not right.
Maybe you have identified some of these snack attacks in your own life and wish to break the pattern of emotional eating. The best way to start is to accept the fact that emotions in and of themselves are not, and can never be hungry.
The transferring of an emotion to a behavior happens in any number of ways, such as dancing for joy or cheering for your favorite team. So which are the emotions you are experiencing that you do not want to feed with food? That would be boredom, tiredness, pent up anger, fear, lonliness or low self-esteem.
During quiet times of the day, instead of ruminating, spend some time to address the underlying causes. Make a list, talk to a friend, respect your me time as cherished space for a long hot bath, a walk, some music – anything that nourishes your soul, not punishes your body.