Dealing With Emotional Food Cravings

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’

Emotional Food CravingsAs 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.

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6 Responses to Dealing With Emotional Food Cravings

  1. JGPangi May 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    This is a new aspect to over-eating that I haven’t really come across yet. I have heard of it, that usually we depend on high calorie food, such as chocolate, to give us the mood-boost we need, but this is the first time I’ve actually read an article all about emotional over-eating. The ‘Eating for Comfort’ section really struck me- how often do we think about why we’re craving that particular food during stressful situations? This just reasserts the importance of being mentally present while we eat, not just so that we know when we’re full, but also to acknowledge why we’re eating.

    • DrBruce May 8, 2014 at 12:07 am #

      Yes, mindfulness really helps when it comes to eating patterns. Some are left over from childhood – foods that were a treat, reward, or comfort many years ago become almost a reflex, and we may find we’re eating them more out of habit than enjoyment.

  2. rubydust July 12, 2014 at 12:10 pm #

    I believe that some people use food in the way that others sometimes use alcohol or drugs – to sooth away the stress that they are dealing with in their lives. Admittedly, on one level at least food is the healthier option of the three. However, it can very easily become a habit, as Dr Katsura points out.

    I have a close friend who uses food in this way. He eats for comfort. He is overweight, and feels bad about it, which leads him to eat more. I think this article would be helpful for him.

  3. limcid July 16, 2014 at 8:32 am #

    Also, I think that there are cases where people eat a certain way as a sort of punishment that they feel they deserve (for example, failing to stick to a diet to overcome an issue of obesity). They know what the outcome will be and they use that as a punishment inflicted upon themselves. The punishment becomes a reason to justify the eating.

    • mendedTire July 26, 2014 at 9:10 am #

      It is more an emotional thing. When carbs for example, body does release a noticeable amount of dopamine and that makes the person happy. The key here is to replace this dopamine generating behvaiour with something more healthy, like doing any sort of cardio training.

  4. s2chenrn January 9, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    Since, I have a very stressful onerous job, I can’t seem to help but eat a lot. I often crave for food most of the time. I am completely aware that, it’s my body’s way to replace the energy that I have lost. But, the amount consumed encompasses the quantity of food that I am eating. I happen to try to eat in moderation, and dieting is driven by mere will power alone. But, I am completely at loss with the battle of will power.

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