Emotional Eating: Feeding Your Feelings
Eating to feed a feeling, and not a growling stomach, is emotional eating.
When you're happy, your food of choice could be steak or pizza,
when you're sad it could be ice cream or cookies, and when you're bored it
could be potato chips. Food does more than fill our stomachs -- it also
satisfies feelings, and when you quench those feelings with comfort food when
your stomach isn't growling, that's emotional eating.
"Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than
hunger," says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of
Maryland. "Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating,
an emotion triggers the eating."
What are the telltale signs of emotional eating, what foods are
the most likely culprits when it comes to emotional eating, and how it can be
overcome? Experts help WebMD find the answers.
How to Tell the Difference
There are several differences between emotional hunger and
physical hunger, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental
Health Center web site:
1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs
2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn't related to an
empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only
that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry,
you're open to options.
3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied
instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.
4. Even when you are full, if you're eating to satisfy an
emotional need, you're more likely to keep eating. When you're eating because
you're hungry, you're more likely to stop when you're full.
5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating
when you are physically hungry does not.
When emotional hunger rumbles, one of its distinguishing
characteristics is that you're focused on a particular food, which is likely a
"Comfort foods are foods a person eats to obtain or
maintain a feeling," says Brian Wansink, PhD, director of the Food and
Brand Lab at the University of Illinois. "Comfort foods are often wrongly
associated with negative moods, and indeed, people often consume them when
they're down or depressed, but interestingly enough, comfort foods are also
consumed to maintain good moods."
Ice cream is first on the comfort food list. After ice cream,
comfort foods break down by sex: For women it's chocolate and cookies; for men
it's pizza, steak, and casserole, explains Wansink.
And what you reach for when eating to satisfy an emotion
depends on the emotion. According to an article by Wansink, published in the
July 2000 American Demographics, "The types of comfort foods a
person is drawn toward varies depending on their mood. People in happy moods
tended to prefer ... foods such as pizza or steak (32%). Sad people reached for
ice cream and cookies 39% of the time, and 36% of bored people opened up a bag
of potato chips."