Emotional Eating: Do You Eat What You Feel?

By Stacey Littlefield

Turning to food in times of stress or in search of a comforting indulgence is a bad habit many engage in on a regular basis. In fact, there is a biological explanation as to why eating sugar-laden foods and starchy carbohydrates makes people feel so good. Eating a sugary treat such as a mid-afternoon chocolate bar actually stimulates the release of endorphins. When these endorphins are released, they have a pain-killing, relaxing effect on the body. Additionally, eating these types of foods creates an excess of serotonin in the brain, creating a happy, at ease feeling that is often followed by fatigue. There is nothing wrong with seeking comfort in a favorite sweet treat every now and then, but problems arise when these indulgences turn into an everyday habit. Emotional eating, that is eating for reasons other than physical hunger, can take a serious toll on weight loss efforts and elevate stress levels.

People eat for a variety of reasons, much of them unrelated to actual hunger or wanting to fuel bodies nutritionally. There is a strong mental component when it comes to eating and people often find themselves munching on something when they are bored, when they need a distraction, when they are anxious, stressed, happy, sad, and the list goes on. Eating for emotional reasons is a quick-fix solution that can lead to an unwelcomed cycle. Regardless of the emotion that is driving people to the cookie jar, it will return and with it comes the guilty feelings about splurging—and thus the cycle begins. Emotions drive individuals to food; they beat themselves up for the unhealthy indulgence; feel terrible about what they put into their body; and then overeat again on account of stress and guilt. Of course, there are steps that can be taken to put this type of cycle to an end. Here are a few tips on how to get eating under control:

Get stress under control. High stress levels have a negative impact on achieving a healthy weight, partly because stress may be one of the emotions driving individuals to eat. Adaptogenic herbs such as Schisandra and Holy Basil provide powerful support to the human body in coping with the internal and external stressors in the environment. These two adaptogens have an emotional component to them, helping to elevate spirits, heighten resistance to emotional stress, and create a platform for building emotional strength.

Stop and evaluate hunger. Are the hunger feelings real? If a meal was recently consumed and the stomach isn’t growling, then the craving is more likely a response to an emotional state than it is a physical sign of hunger. Take a deep breath and a quick mental break, and give the craving a little time to pass.

Write down what you eat. Keep a food journal and log everything put into your body. After keeping track of this for a while, certain patterns may emerge that can help identify what is eaten, when it is eaten, and what instigated the eating.

Stay active and keep busy. Mindless eating often occurs when feelings of boredom arise because it provides something to do. When individuals find themselves eating out of boredom, the first thing they should do is stand up and move around. Clean the house, do laundry, take the dog for a walk, do whatever can be done to get active and it will probably be recognized that boredom, not physical hunger, was the reason behind snacking.

Do not starve. Eat regular, well-balanced meals throughout the day. Restricting calories too much will just make cravings stronger, especially the emotionally-driven ones. Load up on fresh breakfast, lunch, and dinner ingredients and switch up meal choices daily to keep things exciting.

Don’t keep a secret food stash. Keeping a personal collection of junk food is just self-sabotage! Clean out pantry cupboards and throw away any diet-derailers. Why tempt with unhealthy foods you are consciously trying to avoid? Load up on fresh fruits, veggies, and light dips like hummus for smart snacking.

Stacey Littlefield began working in the natural medicine industry in 1998. Graduating Valparaiso University with a degree in Biology, Stacy began working with Redd Remedies CEO, Dan Chapman in 2003, hoping to help individuals put their health in order. Today, Littlefield is Product Formulator and Research Director of Redd Remedies.

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