Until recently, I did not ever think that I would ever classify myself as an emotional eater. But stressful situations in the recent past have had me questioning my eating habits and this caused me to reach out to a wellness expert and nutritionist and seek some answers about emotional eating.
I have never hidden the fact that I suck at following proper nutrition. In fact, I am almost proud of it. And I hope my readers and followers will eventually get over that little bit of detail.
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My concern, however, is that I tend to eat whatever is in front of me, behind me, and sideways when I am overly stressed (if you ever happen to be in one of these places when I am stressed, I may be compelled to eat you too).
I was under enormous stress a couple of weeks ago and this led to a bout of emotional eating. During this period, I couldn’t find the willpower to workout and this led to me gaining weight. I am a really private person so that is all I will say about that for now.
Anyways, back to the crux of the story at hand. Emotional eating. I sought professional advice on the subject from Desi Horsman, a well-known wellness expert, whom I have in the past worked with on another interesting topic. You can read up on that over here. Desi highlighted vital points on emotional eating which I will share with you now.
So what is emotional eating?
Desi starts off by explaining that we each have a very unique and complex relationship with food. And that complex relationship can usually be defined by answering some of these questions:
Do you eat when you are not hungry?
Do you skip meals?
Do you eat when you are happy or upset?
“Most people are very uncomfortable with their feelings and food is used to turn those feelings off or numb them. Food then is used as a substitute for pleasure or love or to fill that empty feeling of loneliness or boredom. Overeating, binge eating, eating when not hungry and using food to reward oneself also falls under emotional eating. When hunger cannot be satisfied but you have a constant need to eat; that’s emotional eating,” Desi explains.
At what stage does one recognise they are an emotional eater?
If you want to know whether or not you are an emotional eater, test yourself by answering these questions that Desi posed.
Do you eat more when you are stressed and what do you eat when stressed?
Do you feel better emotionally after you have eaten?
Do you eat when you are not hungry?
Do you continue eating after you are full?
Do you feel guilty after you eat?
Do you feel powerless around food?
Do you use food as a reward for an achievement or at the end of a bad day?
I did not answer yes to all of the above questions; I do not feel guilty after I eat, nor do I feel powerless around food. What were your answers? You can share in the comments below.
I have to mention here that I only use food as a substitute when I am stressed and have never used it to replace loneliness or boredom. If I am stuck in traffic and there happens to be food in my car, then I will eat most of that food because heavy traffic does stress me out (I usually pack raw carrots in a lunch box if I anticipate heavy traffic). Keeping this part of my emotional eating in mind, I asked Desi Horsman to explain how stress affects one’s eating habits and she narrates below.
How stress affects our eating habits
Short term stress for many people can lead to a loss of appetite but if stress persists and becomes daily and chronic, the ‘stress hormone’ cortisol remains raised throughout the day and can throw you into a cycle of continual cravings. By eating, the body signals the brain to relax and shut off stress process, which is one of the reasons you feel good after eating.
The other reason is that the body craves sweet and rich high carb foods which trigger the brain to release serotonin which is your ‘happy hormone’ and boosts your mood. This is why these foods are called comfort foods and lead to comfort eating. The effect of these foods does not last long, leading to a sugar drop which in turns leads you to eat again. High stress also means less sleep or lack of good quality sleep which in turn causes the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin to rise. You feel hungry even if you don’t need to eat.
How to overcome emotional eating
“Finding the root cause of your eating issue and getting the support needed is your priority. A life unfulfilled and lacking connection will express itself in how you eat.
Have a good nutritionally dense breakfast and lunch which will minimize cravings and overeating in the evenings.
Sit down and eat slowly and mindfully without the distractions of TV or other screens. Food is meant to be part of our pleasures.
Don’t skip meals to ensure your blood sugar remains constant throughout the day to prevent binging.
Be kind to yourself, watch how you speak to yourself and about yourself, and work with your inner critic. Listen to your body – everything you need to know is within you. Trust in your body’s wisdom,” Desi advises.
I have actioned some of these tips on how to overcome emotional eating and been receiving support in this regard. I do not know what your reasons for emotional eating are but I hope the problem is manageable and that you will seek help.
- 1992 Bachelor of Commerce from Wits University
- 1999 Certified Nutritionist from Life Science Institute, Texas (now in Canada)
- 2012 Diploma in Nutritional Supplementation from the International Academy of Nutrition, Australia
- 2013 Diploma in Clinical Nutrition from the International Academy of Nutrition, Australia
- 2013 Certified Wellness Coach from Wellness Coaching Australia