Emotional eating feels like you’re filling a bottomless hole of what you think will make you feel better. The problem for most emotional eaters is that it is difficult to stop. When you feel low and you want to feel happy, emotional eating is an easy way to feel better quickly. Eating an Oreo cookie might make you feel happy, but eating the whole box will make you feel horrible.
The cycle of indulging your craving to feed your emotions, and then regretting the choice and feeling bad can then lead to emotional eating again. This up and down emotional eating roller coaster leads to weight gain. Weight gain is one major reason to work on controlling emotional eating. Unhealthy nutrition which can lead to diabetes, heart disease, inflammatory illnesses, and cancer risk is another good reason to avoid emotional eating.
Eating to manage negative emotions is not healthy. Ideally, when faced with stress that makes us feel angry/sad/afraid we would take a moment to calm ourselves and find a healthy way to change our emotional state to a positive one.
Why we like “comfort foods”
Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating; Why We Eat More Than We Think and director of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab says ‘The fact we like comfort foods is predictable, but it is also somewhat predictable which foods we will like, when and why we like them, and when all of it backfires. For starters, we found that men prefer meal-related comfort foods like steak, pasta, pizza, burgers because they make them feel special and well-taken care of. Women, on the other hand, don’t think of these as comfort foods. These foods reminded them of work – cooking and clean-up. Women much preferred the convenience of the snack foods, like cookies, chocolate, and ice cream. Eating ice cream from the container equals no cooking and no clean-up.’
Dr. Wansink and his team have conducted many experiments since 1997 when the Cornell Food and Brand Lab opened. In this research facility, scientists have created a fake restaurant where members of the public are invited to eat while researchers observe their eating habits.
Although the Cornell Food and Brand Lab has made many food-related discoveries, here are some key findings related to emotional eating during a sad movie:
* People eat more while watching sad movies, but they can eat more healthy foods by making healthy snacks available.
* When in a bad mood, focus on something other than the present to reduce consumption of indulgent foods.
* To make healthier food choices, do something to make you feel happy and positive.
* Women felt that they overate and were rushed through their meal when they ate with men due to the need to impress.
Here’s a 3-step process that can help end the process of emotional eating…
1. Say ‘I can.’
Believing in yourself and your ability to accomplish anything you set your mind to is very empowering. Even if cravings have seemed irresistible in the past, by saying ‘I can resist those brownies’ we confirm our faith in ourselves.
The power of ‘I can’ is what enables people to finish triathalons at age 60 and it’s what helps many drop 100 or more pounds. Say ‘I can resist emotional eating’ when you feel the urge to indulge.
2. Celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small.
If you were able to resist the jar of M&Ms at the office, congratulate yourself. Don’t celebrate by rewarding yourself with any food treats, unless it’s excellent nutrition, but praise yourself for making excellent choices.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Emotional eating is brought on by a trigger in your environment. Most likely, something stressful happened and you responded by wanting to self-medicate with food to increase your levels of serotonin.
Being able to recognize the trigger for the emotion is an important step to being aware of what prompts you to binge. Let’s say that every time your boss visits your desk during a day, you reach for candy. The boss coming to your desk is the stressful trigger.
Once you know the trigger, then you can make a choice to take different action in response to the stress. You might decide to try some deep breathing instead, for example.