emotional eating
Summary: emotional eating is a real thing, and not just an excuse to finish that last donut or pizza slice. It is a form of stress management, and a coping mechanism that has the potential to ruin a healthy diet. Let’s find out more about this phenomenon!

 My Stress Eating is your Emotional Eating!

The other day we were discussing potential blog topics with Nanning and I said I would want to write about stress eating. He laughed and asked me if such things really existed.  Well, to be honest, I wasn’t quite sure either but I knew once in a while I was doing something like that. Just had to find some official term and explanation to it…

I did a bit of reading and research and realized that what I’ve called stress eating was actually Emotional Eating. Have to admit, I wasn’t overly impressed with the name; I am a fairy steady person and when I hear “emotional eating” I think about a crazy lady having a nervous breakdown while gobbling up a tub of ice-cream.

Well, actually the truth is far from it. When I look back at certain situations, it is easy to understand that in my case, emotional eating came from stress. Trying to finish a project for a deadline, not having enough hours in a day, traffic was horrendous, and there are too many people on the metro at 9am. All these triggered me to compensate with food. And not just any kind of food, but the ones that I regularly avoid.

After some of these stressful situations I just felt that I’ve deserved to have that delicious salted caramel cupcake as my breakfast, or ordered a funky latte with whipped cream, and all kinds of sugary stuff on top. Which is all strange a bit, because on a normal day I eat healthy, avoid sugar and sweets, and I make sure I eat at least if not more than 5-a-day of my veggies. In these particular situations somehow my common sense went out of the window, and I only got it back when the sugar high was gone and my guilt settled in.

Identify your triggers

As I said, my trigger was stress, and indeed stress produces Cortisol in our body that leads to cravings for all the unhealthy things such as salty, sweet and fried food. Apparently there are other causes as well for emotional eating such as:

  • Boredom: nothing else to do, so you open the fridge as a form of distraction and you find something to do.
  • Feeling of emptiness and lack of motivation: food might serves as a tool to cover up unwanted feelings. It possibly works for you temporarily, but not a real solution in the longterm.
  • Controlled childhood habits: when you were given chocolate and ice cream for a good report card, you were thought that your reward for hard work was something unhealthy. If you keep these habits from your adulthood, it is easy to feel rewarded with the same unhealthy things.
  • Social circumstances: holidays, celebrations, and eating together often brings too much food to the table, overeating, and overindulging.
  • Uncomfortable emotions such as anger, fear, resentment and anxiety: face them instead of avoiding them.


Emotional eating isn’t about hunger and food

It is a positive first step to understand that you are doing it. To be able to control your habits, and stop mixing real hunger with emotional eating, it is crucial to understand what triggers it. Once you know that too, you have to embark on a journey of finding other ways to find emotional fulfillment.

Mindful Eating is a habit to master for a lifetime, because with mindful approach you develop awareness, and conscious commitment to eating healthy.

Emotional eaters quickly give in to the internal tension of wanting food without thinking. By the time you realize that you are doing so, you ate two third of a whole thick crust pizza. It is often not only the quality of  the food emotional eaters crave, but also the quantity. They eat fast, without thinking and able to wolf down much more than a regular portion.

Practical suggestions to stop emotional eating

  • Make yourself wait a bit before you allow yourself to eat. In that time you might come to your senses and reconsider your options. Tell yourself to wait 10 minutes before you are allowed to eat whatever you are about to consume. If 10 minutes is about 9 minutes too long to wait, it is OK, just take it easy and start with a much shorter time. Again, the magic word here is mindfulness. First time you might still gobble up whatever you fancy, but hopefully for the second time you will will be smarter than that.
  • While you are eating, practice mindfulness and pay attention to your feelings. Does that burger really making a difference in how you are feeling? Probably not.
  • Reflect on why you are eating in that moment. What other options are available to you to make changes (other than eating, because that won’t sold any of your problems) Exercise, talking to people, sleeping more, facing your fear and challenges…etc. are all higher on the list.
  • Don’t buy food that is bad for you. If you don’t have it in the pantry, you might have to make a bigger effort to go and get it. Otherwise you might just have to settle for a few carrots and apples.

The obvious solution: mindful eating

Here are a few suggestions on how to build a healthy eating habit that sticks:

  • Take small bites, eat slowly, chew your bites thoroughly, and be present. By the way this also means that there should be no tray dinner in front of the television!
  • Use smaller size plates, and place small portions of food on them.
  •  Fill your fridge with healthy food. Write a careful list. Consider what you will be cooking at home, and what items you need for a balanced diet.
  • Eat when you are hungry. Very simple and obvious thing to say but often not followed and people eat out of habit. When you wait too long and feel starved, it is also a problem. Why? Because you might settle for something readily available but unhealthy, just out of hunger.
  • Enjoy your meal. Eat things you like; use your senses,  appreciate the flavor, the texture and the fragrances of the food.

I hope this post helps to shed some light on this nowadays common problem and we help you to find better solutions than mindless eating. If you are not sure what to eat, here are a couple of our favorite, healthy and nutritions recipes!