Research estimates that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.
Emotional eating is the consumption of food — usually “comfort”, junk foods or large quantities of food — in response to feelings. Food does bring comfort, at least in the short-term, therefore, people often turn to food to deal with emotional problems, such as:
depression, , frustration, stress, relationships problems, poor self-esteem, boredom, loneliness, anger, anxiety.
Take food and subsequent unwanted weight gain out of the equation by identifying what trigger emotional eating and substitute it with more appropriate techniques to manage emotional problems.
How to Identify Eating Triggers
Situations and emotions that trigger us to eat fall into four main categories.
Physiological. Eating in response to physical hunger or pain. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches.
Situational. Opportunistic eating. For example, at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food or passing by a coffee shop. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event.
Social. Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in at the office or at school.
Emotional. Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, depression, anger, anxiety or loneliness as a way to “fill the void.”
Keeping a food diary that will help to identify triggers.
Breaking the habit
Usually, by the time emotional eating triggers were identified, it has become a habit. Developing alternatives to eating is the next step. Try one of the following activities instead.
Write a letter or email.
Read a good book or magazine or listen to music.
Go for a walk or jog.
Play cards or a board game.
Talk to a friend.
Do housework, laundry, or yard work.
Take a bubble bath.
Play with the dog.
Do deep breathing exercises.
Wash the car.
Or do any other pleasurable or necessary activity until the urge to eat passes.
Getting others involved in changing behaviours
Speak with your family and friends about the changes you are making. Ask them for support in specific ways, such as not offering you foods you have chosen not to eat.
If you eat alone often and feel a lack of support, seek out friends or coworkers who may be interested in changing their eating behaviours.
Make small changes instead of large ones. People are less likely to notice small changes, so you are less likely to feel that others are undermining your efforts. Also, small changes are more likely to be maintained.
To more effectively cope with emotional stress, also try meditation, relaxation exercises and/or individual or group counseling.
These techniques address the underlying emotional problems and teach a person to cope in more effective and healthier ways.