Emotional vs. Physical Eating

Understanding and acknowledging the difference between emotional and physical eating is something people have struggled with for many years and continue to struggle.  Emotional eating has a tendency to make a surprise appearance when you are at your weakest emotional state.  Whether you are experiencing high levels of stress or boredom, food is used to comfort and used as a distraction.

Emotional eating is a huge hindrance on weight loss, happiness and overall health.  Cravings come on very suddenly, leaving you feel overwhelmed and fixated on specific food.  Most often you will crave high sugar, high fat and high carbohydrate foods.  It will lead to mindless eating and overeating.  You continue to eat until you are uncomfortably full because you don’t ever feel satisfied.  Before you know it, you’ve eaten an entire bag of chips, box of cookies, bucket of ice cream, box of cereal, loaf of bread, etc.  When you have hit your breaking point, realizing what just happened, you trigger feelings of shame toward yourself, guilty for overeating unhealthy foods and regret for making those choices.   The unfortunate part about emotional eating is when using food to comfort an emotion, the feeling of comfort is only ever temporary – that emotion returns.

There are many positive healthy ways to acknowledge and redirect yourself from emotional eating to physical eating.  Begin listening to your body.  Take notice of the triggers that leave you feeling dependent on food.  Ask yourself; “Am I hungry, bored, stressed, lonely or tired?”  Redirecting yourself to an activity that will love you back; exercise, read, call a friend, clean your house, play with your children, crank the music up and dance, etc.  One of my favorite redirections and one I recommend to my clients is to journal feelings and actions.  How did you feel before?  What has brought on the desire to emotionally eat?   What foods are you craving?  If you give in, how will it leave you feeling?  How can you redirect yourself?  How will you feel once you redirect yourself?

Some ways to recognize if you are transitioning from emotional to physical eating, you will begin to experience gradual hunger.  You stomach will growl and any food (including healthy foods) will sound appetizing.  You will be aware of the foods you eat, enjoy the taste and will stop eating when you feel full.  Most importantly, after eating, you will feel satisfied for fulfilling your body’s nutritional needs.

Know that your body can do anything you focus your mind on and most importantly, if you continue to make excuses, you will not see change.   The key to overcoming emotional eating is to build a strong healthy relationship with yourself.  Love yourself.  Accept yourself for who you are now.  Be clear how important it is to you to make healthy long term lifestyle changes.  Listen to your heart, your body and nourish with love.

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