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Taking a bite out of emotional eating

September 14, 2016

If you eat only when you are hungry, you are in the minority. Most of us eat for many other reasons like when we are sad, bored, lonely, angry, or stressed. This is emotional eating, and it can lead to some unhealthy eating habits and even obesity.

“Many people think the solution is to somehow stop having those feelings but that is neither possible nor advised,” says John Wade, Psy.D., a psychologist with Kettering Weight Loss Solutions in Kettering. “We are not equipped with a switch that allows us to turn off our emotions and doing so would deprive us the opportunity to identify their source. We would be better off finding healthier outlets for our emotions while also trying to address the cause of the emotions so they can be better managed.”

One step to addressing emotional eating is to identify the purpose of the food. Four common ways that food is used to cope with emotions are comfort, distraction, reward or entertainment. 

When we are sad, we want something to make us feel good again—think “comfort foods.”

When we are stressed, we want something to distract us from our current situation.

We seek reward for two reasons: If something good happens, we feel like we deserve a reward; If something unpleasant happens, we might feel like we deserve a reward for making it through the ordeal.

Food can be used to entertain when we are celebrating, socializing, or bored. 

Once you identify the purpose of the food, it becomes much easier to find an alternative outlet that serves the same purpose as food.

If you need comfort, talk to a supportive friend.

If you are looking for a distraction, try exercise. When we exercise, our body creates endorphins that can help our mood. The completion of exercise also gives us a feeling of accomplishment.

You can reward yourself by treating yourself to something big like a vacation or small like getting a massage or a manicure.

When seeking entertainment, consider a fun, physical activity. Your hobbies and interests are a good place to start when considering remedies for boredom. 

In addition to healthier coping styles, consider talking to a therapist to identify the source of your feelings and address any issues that cause them to flare up. Most people would not continue to endure physical symptoms for months without eventually talking to their doctor. Neither should you ignore your feelings and push them down with food. If counseling sounds like something that would interest you, ask your family doctor for a referral or request a list of providers from your insurance company.