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Emotional Eating…To Eat Or Not To Eat?

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Self

Don't label yourself an emotional eater. Eat smarter and cultivate your mindfulness.

You're happy about your promotion so you celebrate with a nice, big dinner out. You're sad to be facing Valentine's Day without a date so you down a half-gallon of rocky road while watching Grey's. You're bored so you munch on whatever jumps out at you in the kitchen while checking your social media. Happy, sad, bored, they cover a pretty large swath of emotions. Probably the only emotion that doesn't trigger eating for many "emotional eaters" is fear. It's hard to eat on a queasy stomach. A little anxiety though, nothing some good chocolate can't take care of, right?

What I'm saying is that I'm not sure there is such a thing as emotional eating. I'd say it's more like mindless eating that you do pretty much whenever there's an opportunity. Ever notice how you suddenly feel like eating something when you walk into your kitchen? You don't have to be sad, mad or glad. The eating triggers are all there for you: the fridge, the cabinet with the chips, the bowl on the counter. They call to you, eat something; you know you want to. When you have down-time at the office, aren't you more likely to grab a snack than when you're flat out, trying to make a deadline? There are eating triggers at the office as well: the break room, the drawer where you keep your emergency stash of goodies.

Consider the "emotional eating" scenario. Here you feel sad, perhaps a little depressed, you're moping around the house and not feeling like doing much of anything. So you eat. It takes less effort than watching tv or checking your email, and a whole lot less effort than reading, cleaning or going out for a run. It's more mindless than any of those other options. I know, some people clean when they're upset. Do we call them "emotional cleaners?" No, because people who clean when they're upset also tend to clean a lot when they're not upset. They clean mindlessly when nothing needs cleaning, about which everyone who lives with them will complain endlessly. Eating works the same way.

If you have a problem eating too much, you probably eat when you're emotional, but also when you're not particularly emotional. You eat without considering whether you're hungry. You don't notice when you're full, or if you do, you don't stop. I'm not a huge fan of pejorative labels, like "emotional eating." It makes it a thing that you have, like a disease. It is important to recognize, however, that a survey of psychologists  identified emotional factors as interfering with diet attempts.

To address all of the factors that undermine eating too much, you have to be more mindful about your eating. Mindful eating revolves around eating when you're hungry, slowly savoring the experience and stopping when you're full. With practice you will learn to consider, before that first bite, whether it's the smart thing to do at that moment. With practice you will learn to enjoy what you're eating and notice when you've eaten enough. With practice you will learn to make good choices. Instead of the ice cream, maybe your time would be better spent looking for your date for next Valentine's day.

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