Identifying Emotional Eating: Do You Have a Problem With Food?

Hunger is not the only reason people are driven to eat, and for some people, it is not the most common.  People also use food to relieve stress, sadness, or other emotional pain.  Eating for one of these reasons is called emotional eating.  It may make you feel better briefly, but it isn’t a lasting or meaningful remedy for your underlying problems.  The weight gain associated with emotional eating, combined with not addressing the real issues in your life, can leave you feeling hopeless and helpless.

Are you afraid you could be an emotional eater?  To determine if you are, you have to be able to tell the difference between emotional and physical hunger.  Many emotional eaters have been at it for so long that they have forgotten that there is a difference.  Physical hunger comes from the stomach and is satisfied once you are full.  Emotional hunger comes from a more ambiguous place.  You may not be able to identify your exact feelings but you know you want to eat.  

Emotional eaters generally crave unhealthy, empty calorie foods like chips or sweets.  Emotional eating is often mindless eating and isn’t satisfied by an appropriate portion.  It is eating until you are uncomfortably full, sleepy, and tired from the amount of food you ate.  You often feel regretful and guilty afterward.  

Emotional eating is often a habit picked up in childhood.  Many believe that it has a genetic component.  Did your parents use food as a reward or a substitute for love or closeness?  Do you remember liking food more than the other kids in your neighborhood, or did you hoard candy in your room?  Did you steal cookies from the cookie jar when your parents weren’t looking?  Did you have a weight problem as a child?  Or did members of your family struggle with their weight?  If so, then you likely picked up the habit from your family in your formative years.

The good news about emotional eating is that the habit can be broken.  There are constructive ways to deal with stress and negative emotional triggers.  If you suspect that you are an emotional eater, you can examine what triggers your eating and deal with your issues in ways that will actually resolve them.  You can learn alternative ways to deal with stress.  Don’t believe that you are powerless over your emotional eating.  If you fear you are an emotional eater, continue to learn about emotional eating and consider seeing a therapist to help you learn how to get it under control.

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