What are the Signs of Emotional Eating?
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Every person reacts differently to the traumatic things that happen in their lifetime. Some of these events can have a massive, far-reaching negative effect on multiple aspects of your lifestyle, including your eating habits. But, not all emotional eating habits are connected to such a traumatic event. In fact, emotional eating could be caused by something as relatively minor and short-term as having a huge project due at work. There are many signs to look for that can help you identify whether or not you are an emotional eater. So let’s take a look at the signs of emotional eating.
Psychological Signs of Emotional Eating
The psychological signs of emotional eating include feelings of guilt, shame, self-doubt, blame, denial, anger, shock, confusion, anxiety… And that list can go on. As you can see there are a variety of emotions that may prompt you to turn to food for comfort. If you have ever found yourself thinking about food or reaching for a snack even when you weren’t physically hungry, you are allowing your emotions to control your eating habits.
When it comes to emotional eating caused by a traumatic event, you are likely to find yourself feeling numb and withdrawing from the friends and family around you. You might also experience physical symptoms, such as insomnia or even nausea. However, no matter the cause of your emotional eating, the behavior itself typically expresses itself the same way: with mindless consumption of comfort foods.
It is Hard When Food is the Center of our Lives
Most of us have been trained by societal norms to use food as a means of celebration, mourning, and entertainment. So, when your body finds itself feeling a strong emotion that it doesn’t quite know how to handle on its own (whether it’s complex depression or simple boredom), you are likely going to end up reaching for foods to distract or comfort yourself.
It’s simple to understand why we take solace in food if you just spend a few moments considering all the ways that food has become integral to major life events and even our daily routines. We have cake for birthdays, graduations, and weddings. Friends and family bring food to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years. We make chicken noodle soup when someone is sick and take a casserole when there is a death in the family.
A lot of our life centers around the foods we eat, and so our bodies naturally begin turning to it when we have an emotion that we need to manage. Obviously, though, using food to manage our feelings simply isn’t healthy. That’s why it’s important that you recognize the symptoms of emotional eating and work to end it. That will take a combination of addressing the root cause of the problem, your emotions, and also consider what you are eating when you do turn to food.
Simply changing your diet isn’t enough, you need to address the real cause of your emotional eating first.
Physical Signs of Emotional Eating
Feeling guilty after you eat is one strong physiological sign of emotional eating. But what about the physical signs of emotional eating that are most notable?
Emotional eaters tend to want to eat a very specific thing. In other words, you aren’t physically hungry and in a state where you have an appetite for a variety of foods. Rather, you have a craving for a bowl of ice cream or a big slice of cake or even a pepperoni pizza. The specific food that you crave will depend on your favorite foods and what you associate with comfort in your life.
This craving, though, is worth noting. It can be difficult to distinguish a craving from physical hunger but noting what food you are hungry for can help you identify emotional eating habits. For instance, if you go into the kitchen really wanting a bowl of popcorn, that’s probably a sign that you are emotional eating (because you are lonely, bored, or feeling some other emotion).
Is this Emotional or Physical Hunger?
To distinguish this emotional craving from physical hunger, simply give yourself a healthy food option and ask if you’re willing to eat it. If you don’t want any real, nutritional food, this is just a craving and it should be addressed, not fulfilled. This is an excellent way to check in with yourself before you eat and it can help you identify your emotional eating habits.
Another physical sign that you may look for is mindless eating. In other words, if you find yourself using food to keep your hands busy or just to pass the time, that’s a major sign of emotional eating. Unfortunately, we’re often programmed to do this. We grab popcorn when watching a movie, we grab a snack while we study, and we typically munch on something when we chat with others. Identifying the times when you eat even though you aren’t physically hungry will help you overcome your emotional eating habit.
Finally, some other physical signs to look for include eating even after you’re already full and eating too quickly. Both of these can be linked to emotional eating habits and tell you that there may be an issue you need to address.
Hormones can cause a relentless physical hunger too. Read my blogs on those hormones and how to help get them back in balance here: Ghrelin How to Control this Hunger Hormone? and Leptin- How to Control this Hunger Hormone?
Behavioral Habits that are Signs of Emotional Eating
Are you wondering if you may be in the habit of emotional eating? Here are 6 behavioral habits that are signs of emotional eating.
1. Eating when you’re stressed out-
You may find yourself reaching for food when you have work, study, or exams on your mind. You may be under a lot of stress due to family obligations, a child being sick, or a baby teething. At first, you may skip meals, but after a while, you may grab for food to help subdue the stressful situations. For more about stress eating read my blog Stress Eating: Why Do I Overeat and How to stop?
2. Overwhelmed with emotions-
Sometimes you can just become overwhelmed with emotions. When you are just not sure how to deal with it reaching for food can become a habit. Have you ever went to the kitchen because you suddenly felt a wave of emotions? Maybe you felt anxious, tired, bored, empty, lonely, disappointed, sad, annoyed, or angry? It isn’t always unhappy thoughts either. Maybe you felt happy or relieved and were eating out of joy? If so, you were using food to supplement your feelings.
3. Eating to comfort yourself-
Do you bury yourself in a bowl of ice cream or a slice of cake when feeling sad? This may be an effort to comfort yourself from the disappointment. You have created a habit that works in the short term. I know this one all too well. Unfortunately, I ate for comfort for many years. I would reach for food when something didn’t go as planned. Or when I lost someone or something in my life. Seeking solace from your feelings is not a good habit to be in and it can quickly lead to overeating.
4. When you can’t stop yourself from eating-
You may find yourself going into the kitchen eating even when you just ate an hour ago. Or eating a whole bag of chips or tub of ice cream for no reason. This usually signals that you are eating just for your emotions and not for your physical body. Ever been to a buffet? Do you leave feeling so full you could puke?
5. Can’t stop thinking about food-
Let’s say you can control yourself. You don’t always give in to the urge to eat when you aren’t hungry. But when food comes to mind at times when you are full, that’s a sign that you are an emotional eater. Sometimes it is hard to avoid because of all the media surrounding us. We see food commercials every 10 minutes and billboards at every turn. But food shouldn’t be your first thought that drives all decisions.
6. Random food cravings-
These cravings may be completely random. They may stem from boredom. Or they could be tied to a thought process or feeling you experienced without really realizing. For example, you might begin craving cake once you realize you have nothing left to do for a while. You may end up grabbing a snack subconsciously just to keep yourself busy, and somewhat distract yourself, as you work.
These are not all of the behavioral habits associated with signs of emotional eating. But if you experience any of these, you are likely an emotional eater and that’s something you need to address. For starters download my How to Train Your Brain to Hate Junk Food guide and I will send you a series of emails that will walk you through how to get started on ending emotional eating once and for all.