Food sustains life. Eating is an integral part of our social lives, our family experiences, our interaction with our community and our time alone. Our food choices often reflect our mood. If you’re celebrating, you might choose dessert. If you’re sad or tired, you might call and order pizza. If you are ambitious about health, you might choose a salad with grilled chicken breast. Our food choices are often very conscious ones. But food also satisfies feelings and emotions, at least temporarily. When you eat when you’re not hungry, it is called emotional eating.
When we are hungry, our stomachs growl and the sensation of hunger lets us know our body is ready for fuel. With emotional eating, it is emotions that dictate when it’s time to eat and what we eat. If you eat when you are not hungry, chances are you are eating for emotional relief.
Emotional hunger comes on quickly, usually triggered by a situation or thought process. This type of hunger is not physical so eating does not actually take care of the problem it soothes the emotional urgency. Food sends comforting signals to the brain – it temporarily makes us happy. When intense feelings of fullness replace these good feelings, they are usually replaced with shame, guilt, anger and other negative emotions, thus compiling the emotional load.
If you are concerned about emotional eating, make a list of the foods you eat, at what times, and what emotional states accompanied your eating. Check in with your body. Are you actually hungry or are you bored, angry, lonely or frustrated. Are you eating while you’re doing another activity, such as watching television or working at your computer?
Emotional eating leads to binge eating disorder, bulimia and other serious health conditions. It is important to recognize the problem. Seek advice from an eating disorder specialist, nutritionist or treatment center.