Ever find yourself eating for no reason? Discover the triggers that can trip you up every time.
Emotional eating does not discriminate. It does not care how old you are, your social-economic background, your lifestyle, or how accomplished you’ve become. In fact, you may not even recognize emotional eating for what it is. One definition describes emotional eating as a practice of consuming large quantities of food - usually “comfort” or junk foods - in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.
So think of that the next time you’re rooting on your favorite sports team and are considering indulging in hotdogs, beer, and peanuts - without even the mere sound of a stomach growl!
Unfortunately we get caught up in the celebrations, stresses, habits and busy-ness of life that we become immune as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it when it comes to emotional eating.
We numb ourselves with food so we don’t have to deal with uncomfortable emotions, and we reward ourselves with food with commemorating accomplishments, and we crave things that just are not good for us when we’re overworked or overstressed because we think food will bring relief. And it does, for a short period of time.
If you find yourself thinking this sounds all too familiar, know that you are not alone and that emotional eating is more common then what you may think.
I had a moment recently of wanting to do some emotional eating upon reaching my final destination. I had left right after work on a Friday night wanting to escape the busy day and spend the weekend with my girlfriends - which I have not done in years. I didn’t realize, as the rain started coming down, that every semi, RV camper, and slow moving vehicle would also be on the two lane highway I decided to take to cut down on my travel time.
Needless to say, after rain slicked roads and a much longer drive than anticipated, upon my arrival I felt frazzled and had a strong urge to eat something. I realized I just wanted to munch - on anything. I knew I was not hungry, but I also realized I was having a powerful reaction to my unpleasant experience and I wanted to grab something to eat to settle my nerves. Thankfully there was time in between getting re-acquainted with everyone and my desire to stuff my frustration with mindless eating to compensate for my horrific car ride.
I worked through it, everything was fine and we ended up having a wonderful dinner. But you may find yourself in circumstances like that often and wonder how to work through it, or to even recognize what is triggering those emotional eating urges. I recommend starting with predicting what is likely to trigger you.
Here are 5 triggers - see if you catch yourself giving in to any of these:
1. Emotional: it doesn’t matter the emotion, you name it and you may be eating in response to fatigue, depression, anxiety, boredom, loneliness, excitement, happiness, stress, etc.
2. Socially: eating when around other people, or being around people who are eating
3. Environmental: seeing an advertisement for a particular food, smelling fresh popped popcorn at a movie theatre, smelling food from a nearby restaurant, seeing donuts in the bakery window, going to a sporting event
4. Thoughts: mentally thinking about food, or imagining eating a particular food, having negative memories about being deprived, thinking positively about some food from your past
5. Physiological: eating in response to physical cues such as thirst, hormonal cravings, hunger pains, or eating to cure headaches or other aches/pain
Food triggers are important to recognize so you can start to minimize your exposure to them which in turn, helps you make more thoughtful decisions about your food choices. The key is to start to minimize your exposure to them.
Also, your food triggers can feel very powerful but I want you to consider the idea that once you are aware of them, you can be more in control of them by recognizing the thoughts you have before you “pull the trigger”, so to speak.
Here is an example: You come home from work with a slight headache. You open the cupboard and see the brownies you made last night. Your thought is “…chocolate has always helped my headaches before….I think I’ll have some” Then you get the pan out, cut off a nice big chunk, and proceed to put it in your mouth piece by piece.
Keep this in mind, eating never comes automatically. Your triggers (like seeing or smelling the pan of brownies) do not automatically lead to eating, your thoughts determine whether or not you actually eat, and then often the trigger will ignite the willingness to indulge (in this particular case, thinking the chocolate will help the headache). There is always a thought before a behavior, and becoming aware of your thoughts before giving in to the triggers will help you long-term with mindless eating.
Here are just three things to remember when trying to manage emotional eating:
1. Develop healthier eating habits. Drink water instead of pop. Munch on healthy snacks instead of chips, sweets, and bad carbs. Make healthy food choices every day, you’ll feel better, you’ll sleep better, and respond better to everything that life has to offer.
2. When under stress, your body produces a stress hormone called cortisol, and cortisol tends to make people crave sweet and salty foods. Finding ways to relax your body helps with an overall physical and emotional healthy balance. Take a walk, do yoga, pray, read a book, find ways to be peaceful within and release your stress.
3. Find healthy ways of coping with anger, fear, and other negative feelings. Talk with a friend or a support group, try journaling, or seek professional help. Sometimes you just need other people to help you sort things out.
Emotional eating has many causes, that‘s for sure. If you’re an emotional eater, be aware of your triggers, create some good techniques to manage them, and work to improve good coping skills that will prevent emotional eating from happening.