Emotional eating

By Amanda Roe, Trauma Therapist & Mind Coach

Have you ever reached for a bar of chocolate when you are having a stressful day at work? Or perhaps you have found yourself craving a large bag of crisps while cramming for an exam?

Emotionally-led eating is a complex issue driven by many factors from culture and behaviour to biochemistry. Often referred to as ‘comfort eating’, emotional eating is when we eat for reasons other than hunger or nutrition. Perhaps you have found yourself eating because you are sad, stressed or lonely. Maybe you use food as a reward. Food is wonderful at comforting us for many reasons; it can feel immensely soothing and can distract from what is really bothering you. 

Culturally food symbolises love, care and good health. Certain foods can even transport us to happy memories with special people, but eating the wrong types of food can lead to nutritional deficiency, dependency, food cravings and health complications.

Stress is a powerful trigger for emotional eating, especially if it is of a long duration like a stressful job, perhaps a relationship that is going through a difficult patch, if you are caring for a loved one or have just suffered a bereavement. However negative emotions and stress are not the only emotional reasons to eat.

Rewarding ourselves or others, particularly as a child, with convenience food – perhaps an ice cream for being a good boy or girl, a pack of sweets for helping to tidy up or or a box of chocolates for passing an exam sets up habits of using food as a reward when we have done well or we did something good. If that is the case there may always be stimulation to over eat and that can become a habit. 

Over time, comfort eating can reduce our natural ability to listen to our body and understand when we are truly hungry or thirsty. Nutritional deficiencies can lead to cravings and, if emotion-led eating becomes a frequent behaviour, it can lead to significant health issues such as weight gain, digestive problems, adrenal fatigue, fluctuating blood sugar levels, high blood pressure and hormonal imbalances. 

Ask yourself: Do you eat to avoid challenging situations? Do you find yourself eating when you are not hungry or already full? Do you reward yourself with food? Do you eat because you feel bad about yourself? Do you eat to comfort your emotions and feel better? Do your eating habits change depending on the stress levels in your life?

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions you may be an emotion-led eater.

If you find that you regularly lean on food as a means to soothe and/or avoid uncomfortable emotions, then this can have further implications for your mental health and social wellbeing over time. The more developed your emotionally-led eating patterns are, the more you may be required to address this on mental, emotional and nutritional levels. It is possible to stop emotional eating. I know because I did and I have helped people like you to quit too. 

If you are curious about improving your mental, physical and emotional health, I support clients to overcome cravings, addictions, control issues and emotional reasons for eating and not eating through a range of therapies that include Life and Health coaching, Hypnotherapy and Acupuncture. I’m looking forward to hearing from you…so do get in touch. 

Contact Amanda on 087 6331898or email amanda@marketstclinic.com

WCP Staff

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