Emotional Eating – What It Is and What To Do

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Have you ever finished a meal and know you’re not hungry, but feel compelled to eat something else? You were full, but now you want ice cream, chips, or chocolate. The “taste of something” seems like it’s going to help you feel better.

What do you do when you’re not hungry, but want to eat something? It’s not really about willpower; it’s about knowing what to do. Therefore, here’s what you need to know and do when you are not hungry but want to eat anyway.


1. Recognize Two Types of Hunger

To begin, there are two kinds of hunger: physical hunger and emotional hunger. Because these two are often mistaken, it’s vital to know their differences.

Questions like these help distinguish between bodily and emotional hunger:

  • Was I suddenly hungry, or has it been building up? Physical hunger builds over time, while emotional hunger strikes quickly and urgently.
  • Could I eat anything, or do I have a craving? When you’re physically hungry, you will eat anything. But if the thought of eating an apple or vegetables is unappealing, you know you aren’t physically hungry.
  • If I eat, will I get full, or will I continue to eat more and not want to stop? This question is telling since no amount of food can satisfy emotional hunger. That’s why you can devour an entire box of cookies and still want more.

With emotional eating, a person doesn’t eat because they are physically hungry. Instead, it’s to relieve boredom, worry, or anxiety. Food isn’t the answer when this is the case.

It’s not about the food. It’s about avoiding things. You may feel somewhat better after eating, however, the food is treating the symptoms, not the problem.

For instance, a job circumstance may be worrying you, or you could be stressing about chores around the house. In these cases, no amount of food will help. Only addressing the root cause will yield an answer.


2. Address the Root Cause

Emotional eating happens when you eat to relieve boredom, stress, or anxiety. When we realize our hunger may be linked to an emotion, we have gained insight. However, if you choose not to eat in these situations, you must learn to cope with the emotions.

Developing a new approach is not always easy. It takes time, and work to learn to cope with negative emotions without turning to food. You may find a winning strategy quickly, however, it often takes trial and error to find what works for you.

To find a solution, you may need to try several different approaches first. For example:

  • Mindfulness meditation has been demonstrated to reduce overeating and improve emotional regulation.
  • Taking a walk or jog around the neighborhood may help you better cope with your emotions.
  • Instead of eating, you may exercise, bathe, or talk to a friend. However, tackling the fundamental cause is the best method.

Say you’re anxious about a work issue. Talk to a buddy and get their take on the problem. After that, think about one or two things you can do to improve the situation.

If you find yourself tempted by emotional eating, watch a show, go to the gym, or take a walk. The same goes for when something doesn’t work out immediately.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Remember the maxim “Fail early, fail often, but always fail forward.” Stop being a perfectionist and realize that failing is an indication you’re progressing.


3. Form a Daily Action Habit

We live in a culture that values shortcuts and quick remedies. Everyone appears to be hunting for the magic button or the quick fix. In addition, they’re ready to give up if it takes too long or is too difficult.

Stopping and starting are ineffective when working through emotional eating. Overcoming boredom, anxiety, and stress requires effort. Anyone saying differently is lying.

This is about changing your food attitude and your habits, which takes consistent practice and commitment. However, amazing things happen when you work hard to create new habits. Like the day you’ll wake up and realize you, not your appetites, are in charge.

This may go against everything we hear about how a 30-day challenge can improve anything. Nevertheless, the key to overcoming emotional eating is consistency, not occasionality.

Imagine yourself in five years. Are three months, six months, or even a year of emotional eating control worth it in the long run? Of course.


Image Credit: Andrea Piacquadio; Pexels; Thank you!

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