Diet and Nutrition

What Is Emotional Eating?

What is Emotional Eating?

Key Takeaways

  • Emotional stress can cause an individual to overeat to comfort his or her emotions.
  • Overeating due to emotional stress can cause weight gain.

There may be times that an individual will turn to junk food to deal with emotional stress. This habit of eating comfort foods to satisfy a feeling or an emotion is referred to as emotional eating. When an individual turns to emotional eating, he or she may over eat to try to combat strained emotions, or to satisfy a void. Emotional eating may occur during anxiety, depression, loneliness, stress, and frustration. Eating large quantities of food during these situations will ultimately lead to weight gain because the individual tends to depend on high-calorie, sweet, or fatty foods.

One can differentiate between physical hunger and emotional hunger by understanding that:

  • Physical hunger often builds up gradually over a period of time based on the needs of one's body. Emotional hunger often sets in all on a sudden.
  • When emotional hunger develops, there is a craving for a particular kind of food, rather than looking at many of the healthy options available.
  • Physical hunger can often be satisfied after a period of time, while for individual's who succumb to emotional eating, one feels like indulging in the food of choice almost immediately.
  • In emotional eating, an individual tends to eat more, even when he or she is full. For physical hunger, an individual will stop eating when he or she feels full.

The foods that individuals choose when hit by emotional hunger are referred to as comfort foods. Experts are of the opinion that these foods help to maintain or achieve the desired feeling that the individual wants to comfort. People depend on comfort foods when they are depressed, or when they want to maintain a good mood. Ice cream is the most popular choice of comfort foods for both men and women. Cookies and chocolate are the next choice, in the case of women, while for men, it is pizza or steak. Potato chips are often consumed when an individual is bored or feeling lonely.

When overeating due to emotional stress becomes frequent, the additional calories obtained from the comfort foods will be stored as fat, resulting in weight gain. Studies show that 75% of overeating is due to emotional stress.

How can one deal with emotional binging?

  • Understand what emotional eating is, and what the triggers are.
  • Engage in something interesting distract the mind from the urge to eat comfort foods.
  • Opt for healthy comfort foods, and have them in moderate amounts.
  • If there is a severe urge to eat a specific food, reduce the portion size to a few bites.