Do you overeat and don’t know why? Maybe you start eating when you’re feeling upset, stressed or overwhelmed, even though you aren’t even hungry? Have you ever begun to eat just because it helps you feel better emotionally — kind of like a warm blanket?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be an emotional eater (often combined with the act of binge eating).
For me, there was nothing better than the couch and a bowlful an entire bag of popcorn, when I was feeling sad or unhappy or even after a bad or tiring day. A press of the remote, and I’d sit lie down on the couch mindlessly shoveling the popped corn into my mouth, while watching TV.
Or, feeling too stressed and exhausted, I’d sit and read a book at dinner often having seconds multiple servings of the plate du jour just so I wouldn’t have to move and therefore, could finish an entire chapter or two.
Can you relate?
Truth is that people have different ways of handling and managing their feelings and behavior when they’re feeling depressed, stressed or upset about something. Some people choose to turn to food as a way of managing these feelings as food fills an emotional void for some people.
Do you overeat and don’t know why? It could be that you are an emotional eater. Emotional eating is when you eat in response to an emotional trigger such as finding comfort in food when you’re upset, sad or depressed or having negative feelings like anger.
After you choose to eat in response to feeling stressed or overly emotional, you then start feeling guilty or shameful after eating because you know you ate for the wrong reasons other than hunger, for example, or the need to fuel your body after a workout.
This can lead to cyclical emotional eating behavior and typically won’t end until you face your emotional needs directly. Emotional eating can then lead to binge eating disorder, as well as other eating disorders, weight gain and other related health issues.
While emotional eating affects both men and women, some studies say that emotional eating is more common among women.
Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in the United States and is classified as a medical condition. Those who binge eat tend to eat large amounts of food in a short amount of time, and then feel guilty and/or sad afterwards.
Binge eating is associated with psychological symptoms, including depression and anxiety. It’s important to understand your triggers to help anticipate binges before they occur. Obviously, there’s less chance that you’ll give into your triggers if you have a solid understanding of them.
One way to do that is to start a food diary, journal or tracker. This would include everything you eat, as well as logging your feelings and emotions around when, what and WHY you’re eating. By doing this, you can begin to pick up on patterns and uncover what your personal triggers may be.
What triggers can lead to emotional (and binge) eating?
There can be multiple factors involved, including the following:
- Health issues
- Having a bad day
- Hormonal changes and fluctuations like PMS
How can you determine if you are an emotional or a binge eater? Be sure to pay attention to how and when your hunger starts, and how you feel after eating.
Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish the difference between emotional and physical hunger. (Be sure to read my post: Are Your Hunger Pangs for Real?)
Do you overeat and don’t know why: distinguish between emotional and physical hunger
- Hunger comes about fast or suddenly.
- Only crave certain foods.
- Binge on food but likely don’t feel full.
- You feel guilt or shameful after eating.
- Hunger develops slowly, over time.
- Desire a lot of different foods.
- You get the feeling of being full, and in turn, stop eating.
- Don’t usually have negative feelings after eating.
Solutions for emotional and binge eaters
- Engage in regular exercise: walking, running, yoga (anything you enjoy that moves you, and causes you to break a sweat, too!)
- Keep healthy food and snacks handy
- Don’t go grocery shopping when you’re feeling upset or stressed
- Watch your portion sizes carefully
- Practice mindfulness when eating
- Meditate OR simply do deep breathing through your nose OR do alternate nostril breathing
- Ask for help and support from friends and family, community support groups and counselors
- See your doctor or a dietitian, both of whom can assist with making a diagnosis
And to top off that list, you can find below a simple no-bake recipe for a healthy snack to keep on hand for the next time you’re having true hunger sensations — especially when you’re craving something a little sweet!
Recipe: No-Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Granola Bars
¾ cup natural peanut butter, no sugar added
½ cup honey, unprocessed
2 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats (look for gluten free, if necessary)
½ cup mini dark chocolate chips
Pinch of salt
Put the peanut butter and honey in a medium-sized saucepan.
Heat over low heat until the peanut butter and honey can be easily combined (the mixture does not have to be hot just easy to blend). Stir well.
Add the oats, chocolate chips and salt. Stir until well combined.
Place in a greased 8” x 8” baking dish then flatten into an even layer.
Cover, and refrigerate until firm. Slice into bars or squares. Store in the refrigerator.
What about you? Do you overeat and don’t know why?
So, what do you do when you’re feeling stressed? Do you feel hunger and cravings coming on? Does eating provide you with a sense of comfort? And what, if any, solutions have you found to combat emotional eating? Please comment below; we always enjoy hearing from you.