Racing to the snack cupboard at the end of the day for something to make you feel better? You’re not alone. Many of us indulge in emotional eating at some point. Here is some insight into emotional eating.

Emotional eating: what is it?

We don’t always eat just to satisfy physical hunger. It’s not uncommon for people to turn to their favourite foods to help them cope with hard to deal with feelings. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better. You might reach for a bowl of ice-cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re lonely, or decide on fast food after a hard day at work.

All to fill emotional needs, instead of fulfilling the nutritional needs of your body. Unfortunately, emotional eating does not fix the problem. Afterwards, not only does the emotional issue remain, but it also leads to feelings of guilt for overeating, which can lead to the start of a new cycle.

Signs and triggers

Anything can trigger a desire to eat. It’s normal to eat for reasons other than hunger every once in a while. But if it happens regularly and usually in response to negative emotions, it may be a sign of emotional eating. Signs can also include frequently eating when not hungry or changing your eating habits during difficult or stressful times.

When stress is chronic, as we know it can be in this fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried food. The kind of food that gives you an immediate feeling of energy and pleasure. The more uncontrolled stress in your life, the more likely you are to rely on food for emotional support.

Common external reasons for emotional eating may include: work stress, financial worries, health issues, or family and relationship struggles. The important thing is to recognise the behaviour and find an emotional solution to the problem.

Is it an eating disorder?

Eating disorders are a scope of psychological conditions that cause unhealthy eating habits to develop. It might start with an obsession with food, body weight, body image, or body shape. Emotional eating on its own is not seen as an eating disorder. It is more of a mental health struggle that may lead to the development of an eating disorder and is already on the disordered eating spectrum. Disordered eating is when you don’t fit the diagnostic criteria (DSM-5) for an eating disorder but eating in some way shape and form, controls your life.

Depression and obesity are often connected to emotional eating habits. Certain diets that restrict food intake can also result in emotional eating and subsequent weight gain in vulnerable individuals.

At En Bonne Santé Dieticians we care about your nutritional intake, as well as put a focus on healthy bodies and healthy minds.

Identifying the underlying cause helps direct management of the condition. Remember, eating and wanting comfort food is human nature! The root of the problem is the uncomfortable emotion you’re feeling, which causes you to turn to food as a coping mechanism. Contact us for individual-specific advice and guidelines.