Although emotional eating is not normally defined as an eating disorder, because of the imbalanced relationship with food involved – meaning food is used as a means of comfort or escape – many medical professionals do, indeed consider it to be one of many dangerous eating disorders.
And because it can be so detrimental to your weight loss efforts, not to mention your overall health which can also be adversely affected by eating disorders, it is imperative that you get a grip on the emotional aspects of your eating habits in order to successfully lose weight for good. Eating disorders can have a profound effect on one’s quality of life, and in extreme cases, can even be fatal.
But before you can really get emotional eating under control, you must first have an idea of what it is and what is causing it in the first place. Until you take the time to get these questions answered, whatever weight loss plan you attempt will almost certainly lead to failure, or at the very least result in the weight coming right back when you get back into your old eating habits. Many report gaining even more weight back than they lost because of not getting to the root of what was causing their eating binges.
Causes Of Eating Disorders
Many people, especially those who have been fortunate enough to never have had weight problems, seem to think that everyone who is overweight simply eat too much because they love the taste of food, and that losing weight would be as simple as just ‘not eating so much’.
But quite often, rather than just a love for food, there may be psychological, environmental, cultural, biochemical, or other reasons such as a metabolism that is influenced by genetics or a medical condition, that causes a person to eat too much.
Sometimes, when our emotions are running particularly high or low, rather than deal with them constructively and move on, some of us tend to turn to ‘comfort’ food (junk food) for solace or for an escape. It’s quite normal, for instance, for someone who has suffered a terrible trauma in their life to turn to food for comfort and to help mask the pain even though they may realize that the food is only a temporary ‘fix’.
Unfortunately, the foods we desire during highly emotional times are most often fattening foods that are either very salty or very sweet, and eating them has nothing to do with actually being hungry. Instead, we are eating in response to feelings or emotions, and the food can become a very powerful distraction from whatever feelings we’d rather not deal with – but it can also lead to weight gain which only adds to the misery.
During these times, when the urge to eat is so great, we may feel like nothing other than food will help alleviate the pain, and that “just one” cupcake or a “tiny piece” of chocolate won’t hurt anything, and will help us to feel better (temporarily) but we are essentially eating to deal with pain, and possibly setting ourselves up for a full-blown eating disorder.
You may have heard stories or even know someone personally who gained a lot of weight after a divorce, loss of a job, a break up with someone special, or any number of highly emotional events that are a part of life. And while stress and anxiety are typically what triggers emotional eating, any kind of emotionally charged situation such as anger, depression, low self esteem, boredom, loneliness, guilt, or other strong emotions, can lead to unhealthy food choices and poor eating habits.
One of the biggest problems with emotional eating is that, instead of getting rid of the original problem, it just compounds the situation because now you will most likely have the added feeling of a loss of control and guilt for giving into the non-hunger urges knowing that it only leads to weight gain and health issues. It becomes a vicious cycle of eating, feeling guilty and gaining weight, then eating to mask the guilt, and gaining more weight.
Overcoming Eating Disorders
Emotional eating can also lead to other similar eating disorders such as binge eating disorder where a person feels they have no control over what or how much they eat, frequently consuming large quantities of food very quickly, but without the purging that is associated with bulimia. These individuals are normally distressed by the amount of food they eat but feel they have no control over it. The treatment for binge eating disorder, like emotional eating disorders, involves getting professional help for the underlying causes of the food addiction.
If you feel like your weight problems are caused by emotional eating or other eating disorders, you will probably be more successful at losing weight if you resolve those issues first with the help of a trained specialist before trying to lose the weight. Research has shown that professional eating disorder therapy reduces your chances of relapse and going back to your reliance on food when faced with emotional triggers.
There can be many causes of eating disorders, but listed below are some things you can do right away to help get them under control:
1: Try and figure out why you eat at certain points, and what events trigger the urge. Were you sad or angry, or were you genuinely hungry at the time you ate?
2: Identify what your true hunger signals are, and what the signals are when you just want to emotionally eat. If you are under a lot of stress, for example, and feel like you have to have something to eat right now, chances are it is emotional and not hunger.
3: Reduce the availability of your trigger foods. Simply buy fewer of them and don’t have them around the house.
4: No skipping meals…fasting to lose weight (not eating at all) can just lead to even more emotional eating. And don’t wait until you are starving before having a meal as this will only cause you to eat even more than you would if you weren’t so hungry.
5: Find other, more constructive and positive ways to alleviate your stress. Take a walk, communicate with friends and family, or listen to your favorite music.
6: You’re not obligated to eat just because you take a break. If you’re not hungry during break times, catch up on your reading, go for a walk, or do some other activity you enjoy, even if it’s taking a short nap. If you are ready for a snack at break time (or between meals), however, make it a healthy snack such as fresh fruit or nuts.
7: Try to keep moderately busy doing things that you enjoy doing. Idle time is the perfect time to start thinking about food and binging.
Sarah Lloyd was an emotional eater, but she has lost 100 pounds herself and she is passionate about helping other people to stop eating disorders as well.