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The Facts about Emotional Eating

Have you noticed how people reach for that bag of chips when anxious, a tub of ice cream when depressed, or a huge pizza when happy? They are engaging in what dieticians refer to as emotional eating. Emotional eating can affect your health and wellbeing and here’s what you need to know about it.

What is Emotional Eating?

Whenever you eat because of reasons other than hunger, you’re engaging in emotional eating. Happiness, sadness, boredom, depression, anxiety, fatigue and a variety of other factors can lead to emotional eating. At the most basic level, when people use food not to satiate their hunger but to deal with their feelings (negative or positive), they are engaging in emotional eating.

Signs of Emotional Eating

The following signs indicate emotional eating:

  • Seeking food whenever an extreme emotion is felt – positive or negative.
  • Eating impulsively during stressful situations like preparing for exams.
  • Eating to feel happy or to overcome feelings of sadness.
  • Not being able to resist sudden food cravings.
  • Thinking about eating or continuing to eat even when one is full.

Difference between Emotional Hunger and Physical Hunger

Emotional hunger and physical hunger differ in several ways. For example, while the onset of physical hunger is gradual and can be delayed, emotional hunger is felt suddenly and demands immediate fulfilment. Physical hunger is also more general. You can satisfy it with any type of food. However, emotional hunger leads to very specific cravings, usually for unhealthy foods.

How to Deal with Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating indicates an unhealthy attitude towards and dependence on food. There are several ways to overcome emotional eating. Here are a few tried and tested ideas:

  • Use a hunger scale: When you feel those hunger pangs, rate your hunger on a scale of 1 (famished) to 10 (extremely full). You should only eat when you’re really hungry, or when your stomach is rumbling.
  • Find alternatives to eating: Call a friend, watch a movie or TV, exercise, read, clean the house, organise, or do anything that’ll take your mind off your cravings.
  • Sleep regularly: There is a positive correlation between emotional eating and sleep deprivation, so make sure you’re getting at least 7-8 hours of sleep daily.

Apart from obvious effects like obesity, emotional eating is also dangerous because it works in a cycle. You overeat due to an emotional trigger, then you feel guilty, which again causes you to engage in emotional eating. So, the next time you feel those hunger pangs, pause and consider whether you're really hungry or if you're using food as a coping mechanism.

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