What is emotional eating? It is the result of eating due to external clues versus real physical hunger? Emotional eating or emotional overeating is not necessarily an eating disorder, but it can be a trait of someone with an eating disorder – especially binge eaters and those suffering from bulimia. There is also a strong correlation between stress and eating. Depression and overeating are also often linked.
Consciously or unconsciously, many people turn to food as medication. Comfort food can serve as a temporary distraction or a soothing balm. Do you automatically reach for potato chips before you pay your bills? Is ice cream your solution to offset a bad day? Do you reach for chocolate as you worry about the fate of your favorite character on “Mad Men”? Is cheese your best friend when you’re watching the news? Emotional eaters have their food of choice in response to emotional triggers. Unfortunately, the chosen comfort foods tend to be high in fat, calories, sugar and/or salt. The other problem is that the food does not solve the underlying issues or problems.
Answer the following questions in this eating test to find out if you are an emotional eater:
- Do you get sudden cravings for specific foods that must be eaten immediately?
- Do you crave specific foods when you are upset, anxious, tired, stressed, sad or angry?
- Do you feel guilt or shame after you eat?
- Do you eat past the point of being full?
- Do you treat or reward yourself with food?
- When you are bored, do you find yourself filling your time with snacking or grazing?
- Do you find yourself eating by yourself or late at night?
- Do you eat when you are around other people whether you are hungry or not (e.g. nervous at a cocktail party, office birthday parties, etc.)?
- When you go to the movies, do you eat just because you are at the movies?
Eating should be a response to hunger. Physical hunger builds up slowly while emotional hunger can often come on suddenly. Cravings for specific foods are usually associated with emotional eating – physical hunger can be satisfied with a variety of options. Guilt and shame often accompany emotional overeating. Emotional eaters often eat due to social cues or in social situations even when they are not hungry.
Food isn’t the enemy. We all need food for sustenance and pleasure. The key is to know when and why you are eating. It is also important to be able to stop yourself from eating. When emotional eating gets out of control or is a sign of an eating disorder, it’s time to seek professional help.