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Mental Mondays: You’re Probably Engaged In Emotional Eating And Unaware Of It

Mental Mondays: You’re Probably Engaged In Emotional Eating And Unaware Of It

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It’s another Monday. Chances are, you’ve already reached for that box of donuts or a salty bag of chips to “de-stress.” Even though you just had breakfast and have psyched yourself with words of affirmation in front of the mirror, you still can’t help munching on snacks to keep you in tune. Sound familiar? If so, you might be an emotional eater without even realizing it. You’ve convinced yourself it’s just harmless snacking, but how come the eating intensifies when faced with stressful or conflicting situations?

What is emotional eating?

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Emotional eating is when feelings drive us to eat, not because we’re hungry, but because food offers comfort or distraction. It’s reaching for snacks when stressed, lonely, or happy, seeking solace in familiar tastes to cope with emotions. It’s a way we try to feel better, even if temporarily, by turning to food for emotional relief.

This could lead to unhealthy habits and potential weight gain. The latter might not be an issue for individuals who wish to put on a bit more weight, but this behavior can cause unhealthy attachments and dependency. Indeed, as harmless as it sounds, emotional eating isn’t a healthy coping mechanism. Why? Because it seldom happens that you crave a bowl of salad over fast food. Keep reading as we explore the signs of emotional eating and provide strategies to break free from this cycle.

The emotional eating trap

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Emotional eating is a complex behavior that stems from various psychological and emotional factors. It’s often triggered by negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, sadness, and boredom, or even positive emotions like happiness or excitement. When we experience these emotions, our brain releases neurotransmitters that create cravings for specific foods, typically those high in sugar, fat, or salt.

The problem with emotional eating is that it’s a temporary fix that provides immediate gratification but doesn’t address the underlying emotional issue. It becomes a vicious cycle where we turn to food to cope with our emotions, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and more emotional distress, which then triggers another episode of eating.

Here are some common signs that you’re an emotional eater

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Recognizing the signs of emotional eating is the first step toward breaking the cycle. Here are some common indicators:

  • Rapid and mindless eating: Do you find yourself devouring an entire bag of chips or a pint of ice cream without even realizing it? It only dawns on you when you reach out to take the last bite and find you’ve reached rock bottom.
  • Eating when you’re not physically hungry: If you’re reaching for food even after a full meal, it’s likely an emotional trigger rather than hunger. This could occur after hearing bad news or an annoying manager restocks your task cart with fresh and unrealistic demands.
  • Craving specific foods: Emotional eaters often crave certain “comfort foods” associated with positive memories or emotions, such as pizza, chocolate, or mac and cheese.
  • Eating in response to emotions: Whenever you’re stressed, anxious, or bored, if you find yourself reaching for food as a way to cope, it’s a sign of emotional eating. But food isn’t the solution. You can’t snack away an emotional problem. The only solution is to sit with your emotions long enough to detect the real issue.
  • Feeling guilty or ashamed after eating: If you experience feelings of guilt, shame, or regret after an episode of emotional eating, it’s a clear indicator that you’re using food to cope with emotions.

Check out helpful strategies for overcoming this eating disorder…

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While emotional eating can be a challenging habit to break, it’s not impossible. Here are some effective strategies to help you regain control:

  • Keep a food journal and note the emotions, situations, or environments that trigger your eating episodes. Understanding your triggers is the first step towards addressing them.
  • Slow down on your food, savor each bite, and pay attention to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. This can help you distinguish between physical and emotional hunger.
  • Instead of turning to food, find healthier ways to cope with your emotions, such as exercise, journaling, meditation, or talking to a friend or therapist.
  • Stress is a common trigger for emotional eating. Incorporate stress-management techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or progressive muscle relaxation into your routine.
  • If emotional eating is causing significant distress or impacting your physical or mental health, consider seeking help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in eating disorders.

Emotional eating is a common and often overlooked issue that can have significant consequences on our physical and mental well-being. By recognizing the signs and implementing effective strategies, you can break free from the cycle and develop a healthier relationship with food. Your journey to recovery is not about perfection but about progress–every small step counts towards emotional and physical well-being.

Featured image: Polina Tankilevitch/Pexels


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