Filling the Void: Eliminating Emotional Eating
At some point, we have all reached for the tub of ice-cream after a breakup or stress munched our way through an entire packet of crisps during a deadline.
Negative emotions can leave us feeling empty and the ‘fullness’ that food gives us is often the crutch we lean on during difficult times.
In order to understand how our physiological makeup is affected by our psychological makeup we need to understand the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger as well as investigate why we feel the need to reach for food when times get tough.
Emotional Hunger vs. Physical Hunger
Physical hunger develops slowly over time. You will most likely crave a variety of food groups and your body will let you know when you have eaten enough. You will also not experience guilt or negative feelings towards the meal you just ate.
An emotional hunger will hit you suddenly. Think about the panic attack that snuck up on you. You will only crave a certain food and then end up binging on that food, with no feeling of fulfillment. After the fact you feel worse or are mad at yourself for consuming so much or the wrong thing.
One of the biggest factors that leads to emotional eating is stress. When you are stressed or under pressure, the cortisol levels in your body will rise which induces cravings for sugary or fatty foods.
Whilst stress can initially cause appetite loss, continuous stress over long periods of time will allow the cortisol to build, leading to overeating to quell the cravings.
Psychologist Stacey Linton (PsyD) says, “We are emotional beings. Food is automatically linked to our feelings. Emotional eating is part of being human.” And like with all things in life a balance is necessary.
A recent small study found that eating healthy snacks actually improved mood in people experiencing negative emotions, specifically if the food was considered "tasty." Think about how much joy you get from indulging in your favourite meal or looking forward to sampling a treat at the end of your day, a definite mood booster as long as you leave the bingeing out of it and keep it balanced.
It is imperative that you listen to your body and recognize the moment where you are eating to feel better or eating because your body needs fuel.
Here are 3 healthy hacks to help you avoid eating emotionally.
1. Reduce your stress
Try to reduce your stress in ways that do not require food. Take a walk, meditate, swim, listen to your favourite song. Take 5 minutes to step away from your screen, take a few deep breaths. If you’re experiencing that feeling of emptiness, drink a large glass of cold water.
2. Avoid going hungry
Ensure that you are in fact fueling your body and eliminating actual physical hunger. This will help you to identify between physical and emotional hunger.
Make sure you are giving your body what it needs throughout the day to remain energized and fueled. If you are still experiencing ‘hunger pains’, consider that these are psychological hunger pains and not physical ones and work on filling the void with something other than food.
3. Create healthy habits
Switch out your habits. In our previous blog Forming Healthy Habits, we explain how to eliminate unhealthy behaviours. If you are used to pouring that glass of wine and settling on the couch with a bar of chocolate after work every day, consider what the healthier option would be.
Take up something creative to feed your mind and your soul and keep your hands busy instead. Consider taking a walk to get some fresh air, drink fresh water and eat a healthy fuel-filled snack.
Most importantly, it is a good idea to establish a strong support system. Emotional eating is exactly that. We hide our emotions under food in an attempt to fill an emotional emptiness.
If you find yourself reaching for the binge snacks when you’re feeling down or stressed, rather reach for the phone. Organise to see a friend or engage in an activity. Sometimes a hug is enough.
Body20 Members have access to both Wellness Coaches and Nutrition Doctors who are available to help with guidance, offer advice and give you helpful hacks to assist with your holistic health. Have a look at our offering and book your free demo at your nearest Body20 Studio.