When we eat, it isn’t always because we’re hungry. Sometimes when we feel emotions like stress, anger, sadness or boredom, we turn to food for comfort, hoping that it will soothe some of the complex emotions we’re dealing with. Unfortunately, this often leaves us feeling worse.
Emotional eating happens when we eat because of emotions instead of hunger, and it’s a frequent cause of overeating. Everyone experiences emotional eating to some degree, but by learning how to anticipate and overcome it, you can help yourself achieve better health and lasting weight loss.
Dr. Lisa Galper, a clinical psychologist who teaches classes on behavior modification, has had her own struggles with weight loss. Emotional eating was at the core of her weight problem.
“My relationship with food was very poor, and by the time I was in my mid-20s, I was very overweight, I didn’t like myself—I had a negative body image,” Dr. Galper says. “I had to overcome emotional eating. It was my biggest hang-up.”
What Causes Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating can be caused by any emotion and may be triggered by everyday issues, like a hard day at work, or major events in your life, like unemployment or health problems. Even positive emotions like joy or excitement can lead us to overeat in a misguided attempt to maintain a good mood.
Here are examples of situations in which we might eat emotionally:
- When we’re feeling stressed at work, we may cope by grazing throughout the day.
- When we’re feeling fatigued after a long day, we may head to the refrigerator to unwind.
- When we have an argument and feel angry or frustrated, we may eat mindlessly until the tension goes away.
- When we’re anxious about an upcoming project, we may procrastinate by eating instead of working.
- When we’re feeling bored or lonely during a night alone at home, we may seek comfort and enjoyment in eating.
- When we want to have fun or feel excited, we may dine out or use food as a reward to give ourselves something to look forward to.
Among these emotions, stress is one of the most significant contributors to overeating. When we’re unsure of how to deal with the stress in our lives, we may turn to food for lack of other options.
“Most people experience a lot of stress in today’s society and they don’t know what to do,” Dr. Galper says.
Overeating to deal with our emotions can leave us feeling disappointed and frustrated with our actions, and this means that emotional eating often leads to more emotional eating. We cope with a difficult emotion by eating, feel guilty or ashamed for eating, and then cope with that guilt and shame by eating more.
“At the heart of creating the most emotional eating, the most tension and the most anger is using that word ‘should,’” Dr. Galper says. Beating ourselves up over what we should have done differently can start the process all over, further fueling problems with emotional eating.
How Does Emotional Eating Affect Us?
Emotional eating doesn’t stop when we’re full. Though overeating may briefly make us feel better, the emotional issue that led us to eat remains unresolved, and we feel worse for giving in to our impulses. As we continue to eat emotionally, we may not understand why we’re eating, but the continued distress we feel leads to an impulsiveness that affects our eating habits.
“Many people don’t know that when they’re feeling distress they tend to be impulsive, and their eating is reflective,” Dr. Galper says.
By adding extra calories to our diets, emotional eating can contribute to weight gain, especially as the problem continues over time. If we continue to eat emotionally while trying to lose weight, the issue can interfere with progress.
How Can Emotional Eating Be Prevented?
According to Dr. Galper, we can help ourselves avoid emotional eating by developing a lifestyle that supports weight loss and helps us stay happy and healthy. This can be accomplished by:
- Managing stress
- Identifying emotional triggers
- Changing your environment and the way you relate to others
By learning to differentiate emotional hunger from physical hunger and using strategies to cope with your emotions in a constructive way, you can overcome emotional eating and prevent this common problem from affecting your progress.
Eliminating Dieter’s Mentality
Many different diets can lead us to form rigid rules about what we should and should not eat. When we get stuck in a dieter’s mentality, we may deeply scrutinize our choices and feel angry or guilty when we eat something we believe to be bad.
Unfortunately, when we make eating choices based on inflexible rules and depriving ourselves of certain foods, it can make our desire to eat “bad” foods even stronger.
Carbohydrates and Weight Loss
Because carbohydrates can be used as a primary energy source by our bodies, they have an important role in our diets. However, many people eat carbs in excess, and this often contributes to weight gain. During your weight loss program, you’ll be reducing your carb intake, which will help you avoid the fat buildup caused by high carbohydrate consumption and take advantage of your body’s ability to burn fat.
Dining Out during Medical Weight Loss
Because preparing your own food at home will keep you in complete control of your diet, it’s the best way to ensure a healthy meal. You should try to keep eating out to a minimum during your medical weight loss program, which you can do by:
- Eating breakfast at home or bringing your own breakfast to work
- Bringing your lunch from home every day
- Cooking dinner at home at least five nights per week, and every night if possible
Reading Food Labels
This question has so many potential answers that it can be overwhelming to find the right one. Fortunately, there’s a tool that can help us make more informed eating decisions: the nutrition label.
Nutrition labels can tell us exactly what’s in our food before we eat it. If you know how to read nutrition labels, they can help you stick with a nutritious diet during your weight loss program and beyond.
Low Calorie Diets
While some weight loss diets focus on eliminating one food group or reducing the amount of food eaten at certain times of the day, a medically monitored low calorie diet is one of the most effective methods for achieving long-term weight loss.
Calories and Weight Loss
A calorie is a unit of energy. Each of us uses a certain amount of calories daily to perform tasks, like sleeping, walking and talking.
Mindful Eating Strategies
During your medical weight loss program, it’s important to develop healthy eating habits. Mindful eating is a way of eating that involves complete awareness of your food and how you digest it. It can be a useful tool when it comes to digestion, portion control, losing weight and eliminating “mindless” eating. In fact, mindful eating can even enhance how enjoyable your meal is.
Dietary Fats and Medical Weight Loss in Scottsdale and Chandler
There are many types of fats, and most foods contain a variety of fats. Your body produces its own fat from excess calories while some fats are found in foods from plants and animals. These are known as dietary fats. Dietary fats, along with protein and carbohydrates, provide your body with energy. Although many people think of fat negatively, it is essential to your health because it supports a number of your body’s functions. Not all fats are bad. In fact, some even promote good health.
Glycemic Index and Weight Loss in Scottsdale and Chandler
The glycemic index (GI) is a measuring system that shows how foods containing carbohydrates raise blood sugar levels. GI uses a scale of 0 to 100, with pure glucose measured at a GI of 100. Foods with high GI are foods that are rapidly digested and absorbed and result in fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Low GI foods are slowly digested and absorbed; therefore they produce gradual rises in blood sugar levels and have proven health benefits and promote weight loss.
Healthy Eating for Weight Loss
The path to sustainable weight loss is paved with healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. This is especially true for anyone in a medical weight loss program. Developing healthy eating habits can help you lose weight and keep it off without feeling hungry.
Share a Meal
Avoid eating alone. Sharing healthy meals with others provides many social and emotional benefits – good company makes food taste better. Eating with others also provides subconscious clues about healthy choices, portion sizes, and a cue to stop eating. Dining alone, especially in front of the television or computer, leads to mindless overeating and habitual snacking.