Emotional Eating: Feeding Your Feelings
Eating to feed a feeling, and not a growling stomach, is emotional eating.
"We all eat for emotional reasons sometimes," says
Jakubczak, who has talked to college students at the University of Maryland
about emotional eating.
When eating becomes the only or main strategy a person uses to
manage emotions, explains Jakubczak, then problems arise -- especially if the
foods a person is choosing to eat to satisfy emotions aren't exactly
"If you eat when you are not hungry, chances are your body
does not need the calories," says Jakubczak. "If this happens too
often, the extra calories get stored as fat, and too much fat storage can cause
one to be overweight, which may present some health risks."
According to an interview with Jakubczak on the University of
Maryland web site, 75% of overeating is caused by emotions, so dealing with
emotions appropriately is important.
Recognizing Emotional Eating
"The first thing one needs to do to overcome emotional
eating is to recognize it," says Jakubczak. "Keeping a food record and
ranking your hunger from 1-10 each time you put something in your mouth will
bring to light 'if' and 'when' you are eating for reasons other than
Next, you need to learn techniques that help manage emotions
besides eating, explains Jakubczak.
"Oftentimes when a child is sad, we cheer them up with a
sweet treat," says Jakubczak. "This behavior gets reinforced year after
year until we are practicing the same behavior as adults. We never learned how
to deal with the sad feeling because we always pushed it away with a sweet
treat. Learning how to deal with feelings without food is a new skill many of
us need to learn."
Managing Emotional Eating
Here are a few tips to help you deal with emotional eating:
- Recognize emotional eating and learn what triggers this behavior in
- Make a list of things to do when you get the urge to eat and you're not
hungry, and carry it with you, according to the Tufts Nutrition web site. When
you feel overwhelmed, you can put off that desire by doing another enjoyable
- Try taking a walk, calling a friend, playing cards, cleaning your room,
doing laundry, or something productive to take your mind off the craving --
even taking a nap, according to the Tufts Nutrition web site.
- When you do get the urge to eat when you're not hungry, find a comfort food
that's healthy instead of junk food. "Comfort foods don't need to be
unhealthy," says Wansink.
- For some, leaving comfort foods behind when they're dieting can be
emotionally difficult. Wansink tells WebMD, "The key is moderation, not
elimination." He suggests dividing comfort foods into smaller portions. For
instance, if you have a large bag of chips, divide it into smaller containers
or baggies and the temptation to eat more than one serving can be avoided.
- When it comes to comfort foods that aren't always healthy, like fattening
desserts, Wansink also offers this piece of information: "Your memory of a
food peaks after about four bites, so if you only have those bites, a week
later you'll recall it as just a good experience than if you polished off the
whole thing." So have a few bites of cheesecake, then call it quits, and
you'll get equal the pleasure with lower cost.
Lastly, remember that emotional eating is something that most
people do when they're bored, happy, or sad. It might be a bag of chips or a
steak, but whatever the food choice, learning how to control it and using
moderation are key.