We all love to eat because food tastes good and it is satisfying. We can name our favorite home cooked meals as well as favorite restaurant food. We often eat to celebrate, while watching a movie, for a reward, when we are bored or tired, and of course when we are hungry. When friends or family get together it is often centered around eating.
Emotional eating is the tendency to respond to stressful, difficult feelings by eating, even when not experiencing physical hunger. Emotional eating (or emotional hunger) is often a craving for high-calorie or high-carbohydrate foods that have minimal nutritional value. The foods that emotional eaters crave are often referred to as comfort foods, like ice cream, cookies, French fries, and pizza.
About 40% of people eat when they are feeling stressed. Consequently, stress can be associated with weight gain. Emotional eating is common and significant because it can interfere with maintaining a healthy diet and contribute to obesity.
A combination of factors that create stress can result in emotional eating. When our body is under stress, the stress hormone cortisol triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, which increases heart and breathing rate and blood flow to muscles. This response increases our appetite to give the body the fuel it needs to fight or flee. The higher the stress the higher levels of cortisol. The usual cravings are for comfort foods.
5 Ways to Manage the Stress That Leads to Emotional eating
Regular exercise and activity lowers the production of stress chemicals, which leads to a decrease in depression, anxiety and insomnia.
Engaging in prayer, meditation and relaxation is a powerful way to manage stress, lower blood pressure, and heart rate.
- Refraining from drug use and high levels of alcohol is important. Many of these substances heighten the body’s response to stress and lower our ability to deal with a stressful situation effectively.
- Be careful to allow yourself breaks in the day. Refrain from over-scheduling yourself.
- Learn how to re-frame your thoughts or respond differently to stressful life events with help from a counselor, pastor or group therapy.
The prevention of emotional eating primarily involves reducing stress, using constructive ways to understand and manage our thoughts and emotions, and by using food as sustenance rather than a way to solve or avoid problems.
Kathy Foust runs Lighthouse Counseling Services in Findley, Ohio.