Emotional Eating; Recognizing the Difference

To some extent, we can all fall prey to emotional or mindless eating. Sometimes, the food is right in front of us and it tempts us into having some, hungry or not. But what happens when emotional eating becomes our go-to?

Stressed? Reach for something to satisfy. Sad? Reach for something to feel comforted. Bored? Where are the chips?

When we are dealing with a negative emotion, it tends to create an empty feeling inside of us. In order to try and ‘fill’ that emptiness, we reach for something to comfort us – it is not often surprising that we will reach for food. Physically, it does temporarily fill us (hence creating a lovely trick) and certain foods create a surge of dopamine in our brain  (hello chocolate!). Food can also have powerful associations to our childhood – every time Grandma gave us some M&M’s to show us she loved us – we associate food to love. (That doesn’t mean to say that we can never give treats to our loved ones as a way to show them we care. As with everything, balance and moderation is key.)

An important first step in attempting to eat more mindfully is to begin by recognizing the differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger:

  • Physical hunger tends to be gradual whereas emotional hunger tends to come on suddenly and feels urgent.
  • Physical hunger will be satisfied by any type of food (you will reach for a variety of food groups generally), whereas emotional hunger is all about the cravings.
  • With physical hunger, when we are finished eating, we feel satisfied. Emotional eating will create a feeling of guilt.
  • With physical hunger, we tend to pay attention to the cues that we are full and we stop eating. With emotional hunger, we often eat until we are uncomfortably full.

Knowing the difference between that our body needs and what our mind needs when it comes to eating is a good first step in curbing our habit to reach for food to satisfy an emotional need. Tomorrow’s post will look at healthier substitutes when dealing with emotional hunger.

Photo credit: https://unsplash.com/@henleydesign


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