Research estimates that as much as 75% of overeating is caused by our emotions.
Emotional eating is the consumption of food, usually comfort food or large quantities of food, in response to our feelings. Food can bring comfort, at least in the short-term, therefore, people often turn to food to deal with emotional problems, such as:
- relationship problems
- low self-esteem
Take food and the subsequent unwanted weight gain out of the equation by identifying what triggers emotional eating for you and replace it with more appropriate techniques that can better manage emotional issues.
How to Identify Eating Triggers
Situations and emotions that trigger us to eat fall into four main categories.
Eating in response to physical hunger or pain. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches.
Opportunistic eating. For example, you may be tempted by a restaurant or coffee shop, or by seeing an advertisement for a particular food. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or watching sporting events.
Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat, or eating to fit in with those around you.
Emotional Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, depression, anger, anxiety or loneliness. This is often seen as a way to “fill the void.”
Keeping a food diary will help to identify triggers.
Breaking the habit
Usually, by the time your emotional eating triggers are identified, it has become a habit. Developing alternatives to eating is the next step. Try one of the following activities instead.
- Write a letter or an email
- Pick up a good book or a magazine
- Listen to music
- Go for a walk or a jog
- Play cards or a board game
- Talk to a friend
- Do housework, laundry or gardening
- Take a bubble bath
- Play with pets
- Do deep breathing exercises
- Wash the car
Or do any other pleasurable or necessary activity until the urge to eat passes.
Getting others involved in changing behaviours
Speak with your family and friends about the changes you are making. Ask them for support in specific ways, such as not offering you foods you have chosen not to eat.
If you eat alone often and feel a lack of support, seek out friends or coworkers who may be interested in changing their eating behaviours too.
Make small changes instead of large ones. People are less likely to notice small changes, so you are less likely to feel that others are trying to undermine your efforts. Also, small changes are much more likely to be maintained.
To more effectively cope with emotional stress, you can also try meditation, relaxation exercises and/or individual or group counseling. These techniques address the underlying emotional problems and teach a person to cope in more effective and healthier ways.