If you have certain ‘comfort’ foods you munch on for emotional comfort, or if you often find yourself eating the same kinds of foods at certain times of the day, you might be indulging emotional food cravings.
Make no mistake about it – emotional eating isn’t necessarily bad. Feeling a certain range of emotions as you enjoy your meals doesn’t necessarily have to be detrimental to your health. After all, food is supposed to make us feel good. Great food is a part of the definition of the good life. Great-tasting food is part of what makes life worth living.
With that out of the way, there are certain eating patterns that pair emotions with food which lead to unhealthy eating. Be mindful of these patterns or else you might end up with certain emotional eating habits which can be very bad for you.
The Emotional Eating Downward Spiral
How bad can it be? Well, you can end up in an emotional downward spiral where you eat unhealthy food or eat lots of otherwise healthy food so you can feel ‘comfort.’ However, you gain weight because of all that food and you become uncomfortable. You load up on the food again because you want to feel ‘comfort.’ See how this works out? It can be a trap that’s very hard to get out of.
Eating To ‘Reward’ Yourself
You might have a very stressful daily working day, with lots of to-do lists you need to slog through. You might even have lots of stressful projects you’re juggling – like taking care of a child, working, and taking care of your home. It can all prove to be a bit too much emotionally and, to keep sane, you treat yourself to a high-calorie ‘reward’ food like ice cream or rich sugary desserts for a job well done. Doing so helps you feel good and helps you feel you accomplished something.
There’s nothing wrong with this if you keep the foods strictly as occasional ‘rewards.’ However, if you eat to chase the feeling of having achieved something, all balance is thrown out of the window. You no longer have a reference – taking care of business. Instead, you are eating only to get an ’emotional reward.’ This can lead to overeating and that dangerous downward spiral. How? When you overeat, you get bigger. When you get bigger, you need to feel better, so you eat more. You eat more, you get even bigger. See how this plays out?
Eating For ‘Comfort’
As mentioned above, there are certain foods that make us feel calm or make us feel that ‘everything is fine.’ These foods may or may not have chemical compounds that trigger these emotional states. Instead, in the vast majority of cases, we subconsciously associate these mental states with certain types of foods. Sometimes it’s an association left over from early childhood, or from a happier time in our lives.
When you start eating food repeatedly to chase an emotional state, you are engaged in emotional eating. You aren’t eating to feed yourself, you are eating to soothe yourself or make yourself feel good. Since overeating can lead to stress about your self-image, you then sink deeper into a downward spiral by eating more food.
Breaking Free of Emotional Eating
The way out of emotional eating is to recognize the downward spiral you might find yourself trapped in.
Once you recognize this, the next step is to break your association of certain foods with certain emotions. Either look at them as foods that make you feel fat, or re-associate the feelings with healthier, lower-calorie, fiber-rich foods.
The good news is that since emotional eating is all in your head, you can choose to unlearn/reprogram this unhealthy eating habit.