Is Emotional Eating A Disorder? Spot The Warning Signs

The feeling of hunger is important; we rely on hunger pangs to tell us when and how much to eat. But we don’t only eat simply because we are physically hungry. Food can serve as a comforting distraction and a means to suppress negative emotions, which can trigger an unhealthy cycle of emotional and binge eating.

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It’s not that emotional eating is bad per se, but eating for emotional reasons rather than physical ones can pave the way to weight gain and poor food choices. But how do we know when emotional eating is a disorder?

The key is to understand why you’re eating and to deal with the root cause of your emotional eating.

Find The Root Cause: Is Your Hunger Physical Or Emotional?

Is your emotional eating a disorder? Here are some warning signs:

  1. Your hunger comes out of nowhere. Unlike the slow burn of your stomach when you’re physically hungry, emotional hunger feels urgent and is located in your brain.
  2. You want a specific food, rather than just feeling a general sense of hunger.
  3. You want to eat when you feel sad, anxious or worried.
  4. You don’t feel full when you’ve finished eating.
  5. You eat absent-mindedly, and often feel guilty for the food choices you make, or the speed at which you eat.

If you answered, “yes” to any of these questions, you probably eat for emotional reasons rather than just physical.

Don’t panic: The truth is we all do this from time to time. However, if you find that your emotional eating is hindering your weight loss goals or negatively impacting your life, it might be time to examine the root cause of your emotional eating.

How To Overcome Emotional Eating?

Take The Apple Test

The next time you have a craving, ask yourself whether you’re hungry enough to eat an apple. If the apple is appealing to you, you are probably physically hungry. Eat the apple. If, however, the apple is not appealing to you, you probably aren’t as physically hungry as you think you are.

Know Your “Vice”

Can’t resist that mid-afternoon fistful of candy? Do you refuse to keep almond butter in the house for fear of scarfing down the entire jar? Feel as though your willpower shrinks when you look at that cheese tray? These specific “trigger” foods that you crave most often tell a story about what you’re really feeling.

Doreen Virtue, the author of the book, Constant Craving, has connected the feelings behind cravings for specific foods. Find your “vice” on the list and see if you’re really just feeling the corresponding feeling:

  • Chocolate: hungry for love
  • Dairy: sadness and depression
  • Salty: stress, anger and anxiety
  • Spicy: need for excitement
  • Liquids, like coffee and alcohol: up and down energy cycles
  • Carbs: comforting and calming
  • Baked goods: craving pleasure, reassurance and hugs
  • Candy: craving sweet pick-me-ups, rewards and entertainment
  • Nuts: craving fun

It doesn’t mean that you can’t have these foods again. What’s important is that you recognize the real feeling behind the craving. (The next time you’re hanging at home and you want that spoonful of almond butter, you might actually be bored, and need some entertainment in your life.)

Find Other Outlets

A great way to outsmart a craving is to go out and do something! If you can practically hear that jar of almond butter calling your name from the cupboard, get out of the house and distract yourself with an activity. Desperate for a sweet treat at your desk mid-afternoon? Take a short walk instead. Craving something carb heavy when you come home from work? Try taking a relaxing bath. The key is shifting the focus from food to something else that feels good.

Also Read: 10 Tips To Control Your Food cravings

Avoid Eating When You Feel Bad

There’s a reason why many of us find that we eat more when we’re sad. Some studies have found that feeling sad can decrease the taste of fat – so the next time you’re feeling blue and want to eat all the ice cream, know that your body won’t be able to tell you when it’s full as well as when you’re happy. 

Emotional states can also change how food is transformed by the body. In one study, researchers at of the Ohio State University attempted to show that rabbits fed a particular diet would develop dietary cholesterol. But the results of the experiment found that only one of the two groups of rabbits had increased levels of blood fats, while the other group showed no change. How could this be? The experiment was repeated with the same results.

Eventually, scientists discovered the reason behind the discrepency – the lab assistant who was feeding the rabbits was bringing them out to cuddle before she fed them. Because the lab assistant happened to be short, she could only play with the group of rabbits in the lower cages. The rabbits that were getting cuddled before they were fed didn’t show any increase in blood fats, while the group that wasn’t cuddled had an increase. The two groups of rabbits were fed the exact same diet and the only difference was affection.

This isn’t to say that you should have someone cuddle you before you eat. Just recognize that the emotional state you are in when you eat can influence the food’s affect on your body, in ways that we have yet to fully understand.

Also Read: 6 Mantras To Help Reduce Stress

Be Present

Have you ever devoured a piece of baguette before actually registering how it tastes?

Avoid this by trying mindful eating, a practice that actually helps you to eat less and enjoy your food more. The next time you serve yourself something to eat, take the time to eat slowly and enjoy all of the tastes and textures. You’ll find that you’re satisfied with less, and you’ll enjoy food more.