Many people identify themselves as emotional eaters. Others might not even realise that they have a tendency towards eating out of emotional reasons. Stress eating, boredom eating and eating to ‘celebrate’ can all be forms of emotional eating. But what are some of the main emotions that can trigger emotional eating, and why do we do it?
Before we dive in, I’d like to remind you that EVERYONE eats because of emotions at one point or another. Even I do it sometimes! But there is a difference between emotionally eating on occasion vs always eating to soothe some form of emotion.
What Feelings Can Trigger Emotional Eating?
We’ve all had this before. Something gets you down, and you come home to dive into the tub of ice-cream or block of chocolate.
Feeling sad or even depressed is not pleasant, and it’s our instinct to escape it however we can. And because foods that are high in sugar and fat can produce feel-good chemicals in the brain, that’s often what we reach for.
As humans, we have a biological drive to be part of the ‘tribe’. Our ancestors would rarely experience time alone, as they were always working and spending time with others just to survive.
Nowadays, we are more connected than ever, but more people are feel experiencing loneliness. Rather than exploring this feeling, people can often turn to food as comfort.
Boredom is one of the most unpleasant feelings around! When you’re bored, you feel unstimulated. To get out of it, you need to do something.
But you won’t do just anything – you’ll do something to make you feel better. And more often than not, the something is eating. Just like feeling sad, those high-fat and high-sugar foods can make us feel good again.
This might sound strange. After all, happiness is a positive emotion, so why would it trigger emotional eating behaviours? Positive emotions can lead to emotional eating – but you might not be as aware of it.
In fact, many times that are supposed to be about happiness focus around consuming less than healthy foods and drinks, often in large amounts. Just think of birthday parties, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Easter!
The truth is that any emotion can trigger emotional eating. Angry, excited, nervous, frustrated – any of these could lead to you eating emotionally. But at the end of the day, emotional eating is about trying to influence or change how we’re feeling with food as the tool.
Why do we eat emotionally?
The answer can be quite complicated, depending on your situation. But I find it usually come down to a few common reasons:
- To seek pleasure. One of the unconscious mind’s prime directives is to move you towards pleasure. So if you’re not feeling enough pleasure and there’s a giant cookie in front of you, you’ll want to eat it!
- To run away from something. If you’re experiencing a situation and resulting emotions that bring you down, your unconscious mind kicks in again. This time, the goal is to move you away from pain. And how do we do that? By distracting your brain with food that sets off.
- To ‘reward yourself’. Many of us were raised with foods such as McDonalds as a treat for good behaviour, or to celebrate something. But this can become a problem if you always use food as your reward, and you still feel guilty or ashamed afterwards.
At the end of the day, emotional eating is not about what you eat. It’s about how you feel about eating it. If you eat something unhealthy, but you take your time to savour it and feel good afterwards, that’s part of a balanced approach to food. But if you feel guilty or ashamed after that same food, that’s where emotional eating becomes a problem.
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