Emotional eating

Emotional eating vs. physical hunger

Have you ever felt down, depressed, bored, angry or even happy, and found yourself eating ice-cream, cake, cookies, chips,  even though you had just eaten and weren’t hungry?  This is called emotional eating, which is used to satisfy emotions as well as real stomach hunger.

Emotional eating is a way people attempt to try and make themselves feel better and gain a sense of wellbeing. Often people eat what we refer to as “comfort foods” when doing this.  Michigan State Univeristy Extension warns that this type of eating can sabotage weight loss and increase weight gain.

Emotional eating often becomes a habit or a cycle that people use to help cope with both positive and negative emotions.  The emotional problem or situation is never addressed; food, instead is used to soothe emotions. 

The first key to controlling emotional eating is to be able to distinguish real hunger from physical hunger.  Here are some ways to distinguish between the two hungers, from helpguide.org:

EMOTIONAL HUNGER                                       vs.                      PHYSICAL HUNGER

Comes on suddenly

Comes on gradually

Feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly

Can wait

Craves specific comfort foods

Open to options – lots of things sound appealing

Isn’t satisfied with a full stomach

Stops when one is full

Triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, shame

Doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself

Triggers for emotional eating may include, but aren’t limited to: Unemployment, financial pressure, health problems, relationship conflicts, work stress and/or fatigue.

The next time a sudden craving for ice-cream comes on, try to disguinsh between the two hungers, is it real hunger or emotional hunger? MSU Extension promotes a well-balanced diet and while it’s ok to have treats once in a while, emotional eating can lead to bad habits. Health professionals advise that if you’ve tried self-help options and still aren’t able to control emotional eating you should seek help from a professional.

Related Articles