Emotional Eating: How to identify and manage it

Emotional Eating: How to identify and manage it

Eating should be a conscious act that responds to a physiological need. When we give in to emotional eating, however, it becomes an impulsive act, and it can harm our overall well-being.

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a food disorder linked to anxiety. Various emotional factors can result in us eating, even when we’re not actually hungry, in an attempt to manage the imbalance we’re feeling.

In most cases, people aren’t even aware they’re feeling this kind of hunger, whose only purpose is to appease frustration, sadness, anguish, boredom or stress through food.

At first, you’ll find relief and satisfaction through it; but then feelings of guilt and embarrassment.

What causes it?

The triggers for emotional eating are normally a person’s mood, and they tend to be psychological.

  • Psychological causes

Certain foods are made from particular compounds that affect the brain. And these substances activate certain neural circuits that produce feelings of reward, joy and well-being.

An example of this is chocolate, which contains tryptophan and phenylethylamine.
  • Physical causes

At the physiological level, metabolic imbalances and hormonal changes are produced by low levels of leptin that can lead to eating habits and the compulsive consumption of food.

A lack of sleep affects blood sugar levels, as does dehydration, both of which can fuel compulsive and unnecessary eating.

Negative feelings, low self-esteem and environmental stresses are just some of the motivations that can cause people to eat impulsively, without actually having any physiological hunger.

What causes emotional eating

Food becomes a way to deal with feelings and emotions.

Stressful routines or problematic relationships (at work, with family or with a partner) can also trigger episodes of emotional eating, which can eventually become a recurring behaviour with severe consequences.

Consequences of emotional eating

Among the most common are:

  • Becoming overweight or obese, because people make a habit of eating without meaning, establishing bad eating habits.
  • Developing other disorders, such as bulimia or anorexia.
  • Reinforcement of negative feelings, individual discrediting, due to inappropriate channelling of the problem, making the person feel incapable of solving it, activating an unhealthy cycle of dependence on food..

Consequences of emotional eating

An emotion need to eat can lead to health problems, which can appear at any time.

It’s important to be able to differentiate between real hunger and emotional eating. Pay attention to whether your need to eat is because “you are hungry” or becuase “you’re feeling hungry”.

Differences from real hunger

The hunger felt when you’re emotional eating isn’t the same as real hunger, because with emotional eating you’re being driven to eat as a result of an external stimulus.

It can appear suddenly, even directly after filling yourself.

Real hunger manifests itself more gradually, in response to the body’s need to meet its energy requirements: people eat consciously and more healthily, eating foods that fulfil a nutritional function.

And they feel full when they’ve eaten enough food.

How do I know if my hunger is emotional?

When eating is no longer about nourishing yourself but about urgently consuming a particular food, looking for immediate relief, and when we find it difficult to control ourselves, then it’s likely a case of emotional eating.

How do I know if my hunger is emotional?

The foods you desperately crave tend to be hypocaloric.

It creates a flawed relationship with food that attempts to overcome emotional issues with impulsive eating.

Generally, this type of eating leads to guilt and regret.

How do I stop emotional eating?

The first step is accepting you have a problem and attempting to identify the causes, so as not to let your emotions directly influence the need to eat.

Sometimes it can be hard to reverse the situation on your own and people are encouraged to seek the help of a professional to try and establish a more healthy relationship with food and their emotions.

Try and find ways and measure to ensure healthy and sustainable changes.

Our recommendations are the following:

Go to a nutritionist

A nutritionist will guide their patient through the proper planning of their diet; they’ll use nutritional and behavioural techniques to ensure the patient establishes a conscious and healthy relationship with food.

Remember that qualified nutritionists and dietitians also have training in the psychological field.

Avoid products with addictive components

It’s important to mention the addictive power of certain foods: such as ultra-processed foods or those with refined sugars or flours.

Consuming these products can be addictive because they activate the rewards system of the brain mediated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that enhances pleasurable behaviours.

Stay clear of monosodium glutamate and artificial sweeteners, present in the vast majority of industrial bakery goods.

Use relaxation techniques

Meditation, for example. It can help restore calm when the impulsive cravings to eat appear.

Applying relaxation techniques for emotional eating disorders

With peace of mind, you’ll be less likely to give in.

Psychological help

There are certain cognitive-behavioural therapies to treat various eating disorders and emotional eating.

Their aim is to change the way you think about food.

The treatment helps patients understand the correlation between feelings and their desire to eat, providing techniques for the management of anxiety and control of the emotional triggers that lead to impulsive eating.

Feel seen? Know somebody in this situation? It’s much more common than you think. Share this article if you think it’ll help.

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Review of Emotional Eating

What it is - 100%

How to identify it - 100%

Differences from Real Hunger - 100%

How to manage it - 100%


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About María José García
María José García
María José has been linked to sport since she was a child when she entered and even competed in various sporting disciplines, such as skating, swimming and gymnastics.
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