6 Causes of Emotional Eating and How to Deal With Them Effectively

The causes of emotional eating are quite varied. Food can certainly be pleasurable, but the longer-lasting effects of emotional eating are negative. Understanding the causes of emotional eating makes the solutions easier to identify.

It can be challenging to gain mastery over emotional eating, but the benefits of doing so last a lifetime, so it’s worth the struggle.

Identify the primary reasons for your emotional eating:

1. Food is used as a main source of pleasure.

Those that eat emotionally often lack other ways of making themselves feel good. We all crave positive feelings. In fact, there are only two basic motivations: feeling good and avoiding pain. Essentially everything you do is motivated by these two things.

◦ If the primary way you make yourself feel good is via food, you’re going to struggle to control your eating. What else can you do that will make you feel good? Try some different things and see what works.

◦ A few ideas include exercise, volunteering, having a meaningful conversation, increasing your social circle, playing an instrument, reading, or accomplishing your goals.

2. A lack of other options for dealing with discomfort.

When we feel bad, we look for ways to feel better. Those that eat emotionally don’t see the other options they have available for dealing with uncomfortable feelings. What could you do instead of eating when you feel bad?

◦ Meditation, exercise, writing in a journal, calling a friend, listening to music, dancing, playing with your child or dog, or just taking a walk in nature are a few good ideas.

3. A low threshold for discomfort.

A greater ability to sit with your discomfort will reduce the need to eat emotionally. Just like some people are more capable of dealing with pain, some are more capable of handling emotional discomfort without responding negatively.

◦ Most of us avoid uncomfortable situations as much as we can, but you can’t get skilled at dealing with it if you avoid it.

◦ Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and practice relaxing in the face of discomfort. Relaxing your body and breathing deeply sounds simple, but it’s effective. Practice.

4. A lack of self-esteem.

Those that eat emotionally generally aren’t happy with themselves. In a sense, this is another form of emotional discomfort that emotional eaters try to soothe with food.

◦ There are many resources available for dealing with low self-esteem, but here are a few quick ideas to get started:

◦ Put a stop to your inner critic. As soon as you begin talking negatively to yourself, change your thoughts.

◦ Spend one minute, or five, out of every hour appreciating yourself. Make a short list of things that you like about yourself. Repeat throughout the day.

5. Stress.

Stress itself is an issue. Stress literally changes the types of foods you crave. Studies show that foods high in fat and/or sugar decrease the body’s response to stress. Comfort foods really do earn that name.

◦ Are there ways you can reduce the stress in your life? How?

6. A lack of awareness during eating.

It’s much easier to overeat when your attention is elsewhere. Whether your attention is on friends, the TV, or your thoughts, a lack of awareness can lead to overeating.

◦ When you’re eating, do nothing else but eat. Keep your focus on your meal.

A multi-pronged approach tends to work best when dealing with the challenges of emotional eating. Consider getting the help of your doctor or a mental health professional if you’re unable to make progress on your own.

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Put a Damper on Emotional Eating

If you're an emotional eater, you're not alone. Food is the most common means of dealing with negative feelings. While the occasional bowl of ice cream won't cause any harm, many people take it too far. Unhealthy foods can cause a myriad of health issues when consumed in large quantities.

Negative eating also takes a toll on your self-esteem. Feeling out of control isn't empowering. You can regain that sense of control by eliminating emotional eating from your life.

Understand the factors that control emotional eating:

1. Develop pleasures other than food. Emotional eating is challenging to give up because it's so pleasurable. Food can make us feel much better, at least in the short-term. Scientists consider food as addicting as narcotics.

* The most effective way to give up a pleasurable habit is to find a substitute. You can find another way to soothe yourself without eating. You might listen to music, exercise, get a massage, take a bubble bath, or chat with a friend

2. Slow down. If you have to eat, slow down. Focus on the feeling and taste of each bite. You'll eat less and feel better about yourself afterwards.

3. Learn your trigger points. It might be coming home after a long, hard day. Or maybe you turn to food when you're bored or lonely. Recognize the situations that bring food into the picture. Develop a strategy for staying ahead of your urges. Carry healthy snacks so you're always prepared.

4. Learn to accept feeling uncomfortable. Rather than trying to make yourself feel better, just sit with your discomfort and examine it. What does it feel like? Where is it located? If you can look at it dispassionately, it will begin to wane.

* Keep in mind that emotions are just a collection of chemicals that result in physical sensations. We then label a particular set of body sensations as anxiety, fear, loneliness, and so on. Your emotions are just physical sensations. You don't have to do anything about them.

5. Be more aware. Sometimes we plop down in front of the television and devour a bag of chips before we even realize what's going on. If you're going to eat, then do nothing but eat. Be mindful while you're eating and you'll eat less. You'll also be more aware of the quality of the food you're consuming.

* Ask yourself, "Why am I eating this? Am I hungry?"

6. Love your body. If you dislike your body, you're more likely to mistreat it by overeating. It's almost impossible to make changes that affect your body in a positive way if you hate your body in the first place.

* Think of all the unique and amazing things your body can do. Find a way to love your amazing body.

7. Fill up on healthy food. If you eat a healthy diet, it's difficult to eat enough to gain weight. Keep yourself comfortably full with healthy foods. If your stomach is full, eating is a less appetizing idea.

8. Get sufficient sleep. When we get tired, our mood suffers. Eating is also a response to a lack of energy. Get enough sleep so you're not tired. Willpower also suffers when we feel fatigued. Go to bed earlier.

Eating is an effective, but unhealthy, way to make ourselves feel better in the moment. Stopping the cycle of emotional eating requires finding another way to deal with discomfort. Emotional eating is a learned behavior. You can learn to deal with life differently. Love yourself and make a commitment to gain control of your behavior.

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