Food is everywhere we look; on television, the internet, billboard signs, magazines, you name it. We need food to survive but are you using food properly? The primary functions of food are to provide nourishment and fuel our bodies. Are you eating to provide your body with nourishment or for another reason?
What is Emotional Eating?
Also known as food addition or compulsive overeating, emotional eating is a behavioral pattern of eating in response to your emotions, ignoring the physical indications of hunger and satiety.
Emotional eaters often engage in frequent episodes of binge eating or grazing. Binge eating is uncontrolled eating in which you consume food well past the point of feeling comfortably full. Grazing, however, is the act of eating continuously throughout the day, consuming a large number of calories.
Emotional eating not only wreaks havoc on your physical health, it also effects your mental health. Binge eating and grazing expands waistlines and contributes to the obesity epidemic. The physical effects of emotional eating also include an increased risk of type II diabetes, stroke, and heart attack.
Dealing with the mental effects of emotional eating may be more difficult than dealing with the physical effects. Combating negative feelings of guilt, shame, not feeling good enough, and so on can further decrease your self-esteem and feed (pun intended) your emotional eating tendencies.
Signs of Emotional Hunger
Emotional hunger greatly differs from physical hunger and it’s important to learn the differences between the two. Emotional hunger:
• Comes on suddenly
• Tends to be mindless, such as eating while watching television or on the computer
• Includes specific food cravings (carbs, chocolate)
• Passes the point of satiety and often results in negative feelings (guilt, shame)
How Can I Overcome Emotional Eating?
The first step is to learn your triggers. Take note of the time of day, how you feel, and how long it’s been since you last ate. These will help you better understand your eating patterns so you can learn when you’re actually hungry versus when you’re emotionally hungry.
Another step is to default to an alternative behavior. For example, if you tend to eat when you’re bored, try reading a book or moving around instead of giving in to emotional eating. Put together a list of things you enjoy that doesn’t include food that you can do instead.
Therapy is also a great way to help you overcome emotional eating. Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is invaluable when it comes to changing behavioral patterns. Not only does psychotherapy help you recognize these negative behaviors, it also helps you create solutions to transform those behaviors into more positive ones.
Therapy may also lead to medication if warranted, and many people are unaware of this. There are several medications available to help you cope with emotional eating, depending upon your particular struggle with emotional eating. Vyvanse, used to treat ADHD, has recently been approved to treat binge eating.
Many people experience emotional eating so you’re not alone. It’s important to remember that treatment is available to help you overcome it. Learning the difference between emotional and physical hunger, what triggers your emotional eating, and how to change your behavior are crucial to your recovery.
Dr. Amanda Itzkoff is trained in Psychotherapy and Psychopharmacology in New York, and can help you move beyond the frequent frustrations that may be caused by emotional eating. If you are looking for more information on emotional eating, please feel free to contact us via email. To schedule a consultation, please contact our office at 917-609-4990..