Take control of emotional eating
It’s Mental Health Week, and we’ve asked MyMind, the community-based, affordable counselling service, to explain more about emotional eating, how to control the patterns and take care of your mental health.
Emotional eating is defined as a tendency to eat in response to negative emotions such as anger, loneliness, boredom or depression, says MyMind therapist Anna Nauka.
Research has shown we can experience emotional eating at any age and it does not have to be connected with being overweight or suffering from eating disorders
Two main reasons for overeating
There are two main reasons for emotional eating. Firstly, people eat to reduce negative feelings, and replace them with comfort and positive emotions. Eating and food brings a pleasure connected with taste, smell of food but also simple joy of having something that is “banned” or “forbidden”. The second reason is using food to distract ourselves from negative self-awareness or mask experiencing negative emotions. We shift our attention from uncomfortable feelings to food and eating.
In the longer term, using eating as an emotion regulating strategy can lead not only to health and weight difficulties (digestion problem, feeling bloated, noxious or even vomiting) but also can be linked to less social support, more symptoms of depression, lower self-esteem, less life satisfaction, and lower overall well-being.
So what is the solution?
The most important is to develop awareness of your own eating habits, your body and particularly your emotions and the way you deal with them. Mindful eating is a good strategy to practice.
Eating mindfully can allow us to recognise our triggers and habits. Usually we don’t know how much, when and what we eat during the day. It makes identifying emotional eating almost impossible. Research shown that very often emotional eating involves high-calorie and high-carbohydrate food and it is typically done in private. Acknowledging what type of food you eat and what are circumstances of your meals and snacks can be a stepping stone to change the negative strategy.
Emotional or Physical Hunger?
Understanding our body and physical sensations can help to distinguish emotional hunger from physical hunger.
Emotional hunger can be experienced more as a “craving” or “desire” of certain food. Often appear suddenly and it doesn’t necessarily have to be connected with the sensation in the stomach. It cannot be simply satisfied with a full stomach. Physical hunger appear gradually in between the meals and disappear as soon as your stomach is full. You feel comfortable and healthy after fulfilling physical hunger.
Learn to regulate your emotions
Remember that mindfulness can be a great strategy to regulate your emotions. Mindfulness and mindful eating gives us time to experience and understand our negative emotions. Paying attention to our thoughts, emotions and behaviours gives us space to find an alternative strategy to cope with our difficult feelings and gain a perspective towards the stressful events.
Emotional eating is one of the problems we experience as a modern society connected with dieting and stress regulation. It develops as an inadequate response to a negative emotions and in a longer term can lead to both mental health and physical health difficulties. Mindful eating is one of the positive alternatives, that we can use to overcome emotional eating.
If you recognise yourself in this article and what to get some help or if you have other mental health problems you want to address, you can contact MyMind on 076 680 1060 or the other counselling services available, including the Samaritans, who you can call FREE on 116 123.