Are You an Emotional Eater?

by Olesya Novik

Over my many years of being in the fitness industry and working with individuals from all walks of life, I’ve seen women struggle with quite a variety of eating disorders. The truth is that the majority of women do, at one point or another, battle at least one of many abnormal eating patterns. Some of them recover quickly, and others, sadly, never do.

Since I’m well aware of the effects of these disorders on the women who have them, along with the embarrassment and misinformation that often comes with the territory, I’ve decided to write a series of articles addressing the different disorders, their symptoms, and possible treatments.

This article will address emotional eating. The reason I’ve decided to go with this particular disorder first, is because it just happens to be the most common among my female clientele. The majority of the women with whom I’ve worked have, at one point or another, dealt with emotional relationships with food and would consider themselves to be compulsive overeaters.

Because there’s a lot to be said about this particular problem, the emotional eating disorder will be discussed over a series of articles. In this one, we’ll cover the definition of the term, determine your personal tendencies to be one of the millions of emotional overeaters, and take a look at a few steps you can take today to start healing.

Emotional Eating: The Definition

Your primary reason for consuming food should be to provide it with fuel. If you’re eating for reasons other than that, you’re most likely eating for emotional reasons. Every time you’re “craving” chocolate, chances are, you’re craving the comfort that comes along with eating it. That’s an emotion.

If you find yourself mindlessly devouring portion after portion of even healthy foods, chances are good that this is your body’s response to an emotion. Whether stress, loneliness, happiness, sadness, anxiety, or even boredom, many people get into the habit of eating as a response to various feelings, in hopes of numbing them.

Notice the word “habit.” Habits are hard to break. This isn’t something anyone decides to do mindfully. Compulsive overeating can be a vicious cycle.

But there is hope! If you can learn to alter your response to various feelings, you can break the cycle. Is it easy? NO. But nothing worthwhile ever is.

Are You an Emotional Eater?

If you aren’t sure whether what I’m talking about here applies to you or not, consider the following questions:

  1. Do you tend to randomly open the fridge and start “picking” at foods when you *just* ate and are in no way hungry?
  2. Do you reach for food when you’re bored, feeling stressed, irritated, angry, or sad?
  3. Do you have a hard time stopping yourself from finishing the food that’s in front of you, even when you’re stuffed?
  4. Do you feel guilty and regretful after consuming your unplanned meal?

Can you identify with any of the above? If you can, then you’re not alone — you’re one of the many emotional overeaters who consume food to satisfy feelings rather than hunger pangs or the body’s energy requirements.

Breaking the Cycle

We all go through various stressors, that’s part of being alive. We, as women, are especially prone to undergoing an emotional roller-coaster as we run around taking care of everyone’s needs, doing a million unrelated tasks… and then, there are the natural, hormonal changes we all undergo each month that add fuel to the fire.

It’s hard to overcome bad emotional habits when there are so many emotions with which to deal. But you see, this is precisely the first step to overcoming your habit — dealing with your emotions!

You’re so busy taking care of everyone else, that all you have the time to do for yourself, is stuff your face with food that you know you shouldn’t be eating as you keep running around like a chicken without a head!

We’ll talk in depth about dealing with this eating disorder in upcoming articles, but for now, try asking yourself whether you really need the food you’re about to eat when you’re standing there and staring at the fridge.

When you’ve decided that breaking your diet for those cookies is worth it, give yourself ten minutes to calm down and reassess the situation. If you still think it’s a smart decision, go ahead and have a cookie.

Those treats won’t disappear if you just wait and let your emotions calm down a bit. If you find that you’re bored, get busy doing some other pleasurable, enjoyable activity — paint your nails, call a friend, go for a walk (or a drive) — and when you get back, those cookies will still be there! Your mind is telling you that you need to occupy it — if it wanted you to eat, you’d be feeling hungry!

Your body is craving attention from you, not from the food you’re consuming. The minute you learn to refocus, to be patient with yourself, to stop treating yourself with mindless, thoughtless actions, you’ll notice your habits start to slowly shift and the vicious cycle will begin to break.

Get to know yourself. Be patient. You deserve it.

I Eat Because I Like to Eat!

Oftentimes, when asked whether she overeats due to being an emotional eater, a client will respond by saying that she overeats because she loves food, but that it has nothing to do with emotions. “I love food, so it’s hard for me to stop,” she’ll say. “I enjoy eating tasty stuff, and get carried away — that’s how my whole family are overeaters,” is another variation.

Believe it or not, statements like these are another sure-fire way to tell whether food consumption stems from an emotional place. Sure, we all love certain foods, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying treats that taste good to us, but when you’re eating past the point of fullness, as if you’ll never see that food again, you know there’s a problem.

It’s never as simple as “I eat because I like to eat,” and admitting that to yourself is the first step to stopping this defeating behavior. Sit down with yourself, and really listen to what your mind is telling you. If you’re overeating — whether it’s chocolate, cookies, cake, chicken, or even broccoli — there’s something there to be dealt with.
Begin being mindful with yourself, starting today. Take the first step toward a healthy relationship with food, a healthy mind, and a healthy body.

In the next article, we’ll go over possible trigger situations and cues that may prompt emotional eating, along with more ways to break the cycle.

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13 thoughts on “Are You an Emotional Eater?

  1. Aly says:

    I am so an emotional eater, which leads to binging. I often find myself longing for the desire to stuffed silly full. When I do this to myself I end up sick, cranky and guilty. So why do I crave this feeling? It’s something I don’t understand and I am trying to fix. But when I am in the trows of one ofmy eating episodes I can’t help myself.

  2. mloveb says:

    I am such an emotional eater. Thanks for the tips to help stop this pattern.
    I think I will put a note on the fridge that says “Stop wait and see if are really hungry”

  3. Bootybootybooty says:

    This is a great read…I will look forward to the other articles!! I don’t believe I was an emotional eater until I restricted TOO much, and thus felt deprived, then wanted to eat everything is sight, just for the sake of eating it.

  4. viridian says:

    Been there :/
    Still there every now and then. It seems like it can be broekn for a looong time, life settles down, and then BAM you get stressed again and it comes rushing back!

    Can’t wait to read more.

  5. Kellie says:

    Wonderful topic! I think at many points in time, I have fallen into this trap. Depending on the type of stress, I can either eat to feed my emotions, or starve myself because I am to sad to eat.

    I have learned so much in the past year and I have definitely overcome these terrible traps.

    Your tips are wonderful. I am going to share this with my mother.

  6. Epona says:

    Yep that’s me. I already had some very strong ‘tendencies’ towards other ED’s (from one spectrum to another) but this one is the one I struggle with the most now. I guess I can’t remember when I’ve had a healthy relationship with food. Used to hate it for years, then couldn’t stop myself.

    Dealing with emotions is the key I think. Making sure I take care of all my needs including emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, etc. I try to see my emotional eating urges as a sign that I’m not taking care of a need.

    It ain’t easy tho 😉

  7. Kim says:

    Yep, same as everyone else, I was definitely an emotional eater before I went clean. Now I’m just overcoming the mindset that I deserve cheats, rather just considering them a normal part of life!

  8. Christine says:

    Yup, I am. It’s horrible, and I’m getting out of it…I’ve come a long way, but I used to be really bad with it!

  9. Fit Mom of 4 says:

    Kim says:
    October 30, 2009 at 10:51 am
    Yep, same as everyone else, I was definitely an emotional eater before I went clean. Now I’m just overcoming the mindset that I deserve cheats, rather just considering them a normal part of life!

    I could not agree with this more. I am just now in the last few years begining to realize I have some form of an ED. This poster said exactly what I am feeling. I want to break that association of food as my reward… or that I deserve it for being so “good”. I want it to just be a part of the “clean eating” cycle.
    Great read!

  10. Christine (eyesontheprize) says:

    So me! It ebbs and flows according to the level of stress in my life. I get so sick of it. I’m ready for it to flow right out of my life and NEVER return! Can’t wait for the next article! 😀

  11. Nicole says:

    Its such a hard cycle to break…even when you know you should! when emotions are involved, logic just doesnt matter anymore…I hope to one day reach the point where I have ZERO emotional connection to food.

    thanks for another great article!

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