If you’ve ever found yourself reaching for the refrigerator for something to eat when you’re unhappy or angry, or if you’ve ever binge eaten, you should be aware that these are frequent emotional eating behaviors. It is emotional hunger, not true hunger, that drives you to eat at certain times.
Many of us learn to use food to cope with our emotions or to find a sense of comfort or peace of mind. We eat automatically to cope with stress or a negative feeling like grief, loneliness, or boredom. The difficulty with this practice is that we frequently feel worse after eating something we believe would make us feel better, so we add guilt to the feelings we experienced before turning to food.
There is always a solution, even if you think you can’t manage it; to regulate emotional hunger, the solution is to acquire complete focus or mindfulness, not just while you eat but also in your emotional state.
What is the definition of emotional hunger?
Emotional hunger, often known as emotional eating, is the act of eating to make oneself feel better. That is, rather than experiencing a bodily hunger, which is the desire to fuel our bodies, we try to satisfy our emotional demands through eating.
Consider what you do when you’re anxious or sad: you seek ice cream, order pizza, or engage in a mood-altering activity.
Do not believe that eating to celebrate anything is terrible:
In reality, we all resort to food to rejoice, to find a little consolation, or as a reward from time to time. The issue arises when this becomes our primary means of coping with our emotions when the first inclination you have when you are anxious, angry, weary, or bored is to seek food.
It’s critical to understand that emotional hunger can never be satiated by food, which is why when you eat anything, the feeling persists and you feel like you’re not able to fulfill yourself.
When you eat when you are emotionally hungry, you may feel better for a short time, but you quickly discover that the reason for emotional eating does not go away and that eating usually makes you feel worse.
The distinctions between emotional and physical hunger:
Although it may be difficult at first to distinguish between emotional and true or physical hunger, with a little practice of mindful eating and paying attention to how you feel, it will become simpler.
Emotional Hunger vs. Real Hunger: The Differences
The main difference between emotional hunger and real hunger is that real hunger occurs when your body needs sustenance. Emotional hunger happens when the body doesn’t need food but the mind craves it anyway. It is an instant gratification kind of feeling that comes from eating something sweet or starchy, like a bag of chips or a bar of chocolate.
Real hunger occurs when your body needs food. It is a deep ache inside you that makes you feel weak and tired until you eat. Your stomach growls, and perhaps even feels like it has shrunk in size since its last meal. When you eat again, it feels more like relief than reward.
Oftentimes, people will experience both types of hunger at the same time — physical hunger and emotional hunger. This makes sense because both happen at different times due to differences.
Emotional hunger is that gnawing, empty feeling you feel in your gut when you’re lonely, depressed, or angry. This kind of hunger is not an empty stomach at all. You can’t fill this kind of emptiness with food!
When you are truly hungry, your body can’t tell the difference between anger, sadness, or frustrations in your life. It only knows how to respond — it needs food to survive.
Emotional hunger typically leads to overeating. When you’re emotionally hungry and you satisfy that craving with food, your stomach will still be empty. You’ll still be hungry — but now you’ll also have a whole new set of problems related to eating too much.
The following are some of the most typical reasons for emotional eating:
Managing Emotions :
Eating can be used to temporarily mute or “quell” unpleasant feelings such as anger, fear, sorrow, anxiety, loneliness, resentment, and embarrassment. You can escape tough feelings that you would rather not feel by falling asleep with food; it’s a means of avoiding or being frightened of feeling and dealing with that emotion.
Feelings of emptiness or boredom:
This is, in my opinion, one of the most prevalent causes of emotional eating. When we are bored or undertaking monotonous work, we are more prone to eat to divert ourselves, and what we want the most is high-calorie food. Food, on the other hand, is a technique to occupy your tongue and time when you are unsatisfied and empty. It might fill you up at the moment and take your mind off of underlying emotions of purposelessness and discontent with your existence.
Habits that have been formed from childhood:
Many parents use food to reward or punish their children, and many people create a relationship between food and the control of particular actions or emotions as a result of this. You can also eat out of nostalgia or recall a special experience from your childhood or adulthood.
Meeting together with friends for lunch may be a terrific way to unwind, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s all too simple to overeat just because the food is there, everyone else is eating, or you’re preoccupied. Nervousness might also cause you to overeat in social situations. Alternatively, perhaps your family or circle of friends pushes you to overeat, making it simpler to concur with the group.
When you’re under a lot of stress, which is common in our fast-paced, chaotic environment, your body creates a lot of cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol makes you crave salty, sugary, and fried meals, which provide a rush of energy and pleasure. The more unmanaged stress you have in your life, the more inclined you are to seek emotional comfort via eating.
How can you quell your emotional hunger?
Emotional hunger is not readily satisfied by food; even if you feel relieved at first, the initial sensation usually persists, and in fact, excessive eating might make you feel worse. This cycle will continue until you begin to confront your feelings.
You can begin by doing the following:
Look for alternate methods to cope with stress.
Finding a new approach to deal with negative emotions is frequently the first step toward emotional recovery. This might be keeping a personal journal, reading a book, or simply taking a few minutes to unwind and let go of the day’s stress.
You’ll need to try a variety of activities until you find ones that truly assist you in de-stress.
Make your body move:
Regular exercise provides alleviation for some people. With especially emotional periods, a brisk stroll or jog around the block or a fast yoga sequence might assist.
People who engaged in an eight-week yoga program and were then examined for mindfulness and comprehension showed greater levels of knowledge of themselves and the events around them, according to one research. The findings revealed that doing yoga regularly can help people break away from emotional states like anxiety and despair.
Meditate for a few minutes:
Meditation is a technique that may significantly enhance your life; it is useful in the treatment of stress and depression, as well as binge eating disorders and emotional eating.
If you don’t think meditation is for you, try taking a few deep breaths and concentrating on your breathing for a few moments. This is something you can accomplish at any time and from any location. Sit in a peaceful spot and concentrate on your breathing for a few minutes, then gradually increase the time.
You may get free guided meditations on sites like YouTube. For example, on my Successful Habits channel, I’ve posted various guided meditations and visualizations to help you get started with making meditation a daily habit.
Keep a food journal:
Keeping note of what you eat and when you consume it might help you figure out what prompts emotional eating. I advocate focusing on what you eat, how you feel before, during, and after eating rather than the calorie count or the quantity you consume.
Intuitively feed oneself:
Forget about diets and limits; they cause you to lose control over your food, induce stress, and force you to eat emotionally. Choose intuitive eating as a strategy to transform your connection with food and your body by selecting foods that feed you and make you physically feel good.
Make your connection with food better:
Forbidding yourself to consume specific foods out of fear of gaining weight or as part of a diet just strengthens your emotional attachment to them. Food should not make you feel happy or awful, but if you’re on a diet, your relationship with food is more likely to be negative.
After a time of habituation and healing in the way, you think about eating, the foods that currently entice you will no longer have that value and will no longer cause you to crave huge quantities of them.
Consume food with awareness:
To create improved eating habits, apply the concepts of mindful eating. Slowing down your eating allows you to be more conscious of why you’re eating and whether or not you’re already full. Furthermore, eating without interruptions allows you to consume fewer calories and feel more fulfilled.
You are completely engaging when you engage all of your senses when eating, which helps you feel full quicker and with less food. This also aids in the development of the habit of paying attention to how you feel when eating, so you can determine if you are eating to fulfill emotional or physical hunger.
When do you eat?
Mindful eating, as I indicated previously, entails paying close attention to what you’re doing. This is to keep you from eating in front of the TV, computer, or any other distraction. The next time you feel yourself eating, try turning off the television or putting down the phone.
You can detect whether you are eating emotionally by focusing on your meal, the foods you chew, and your hunger level.
Look for alternate methods to deal with your feelings:
You won’t be able to regulate your eating habits for long if you don’t know how to deal with your emotions in a way that doesn’t require food. When you’re not conscious of what’s going on inside of you, it’s easy to resort to external factors like dieting and other types of food restriction, which simply serve to increase your cravings for food and give you less control over it.
You must discover alternative ways to meet your emotional needs to quit emotional eating. Understanding the emotional eating cycle and its triggers isn’t enough, but it’s a good start. Alternatives to eating that can provide emotional fulfillment are required. As a result, the next stage will be to question yourself and find what makes you happy, as well as how you may care for yourself and your body.
What happens when we eat in response to emotional hunger?
We gain weight! It’s as simple as that. Food soothes us and makes us feel better temporarily, but it does nothing to fix the underlying reason for our cravings. It often worsens the situation because we’ve eaten foods high in sugar and fat that make us more sluggish and tired (in addition to making us gain weight).
To cope with emotional hunger, try reaching out to friends and loved ones instead of reaching for food. Exercise is another option: a brisk walk can go a long way toward easing stress and clearing your head.
In the long run, it’s better to get to the root of the problem than it is to try to mask it with food. If you’re lonely or bored, exercise more or volunteer for a cause you believe in. If you’re angry or resentful about something in your life, deal with that issue directly rather than eating away at the problem.
Find out what causes emotional hunger and what provokes it:
It is critical to be able to understand the reasons for your behavior, which are the factors that generate emotional hunger, to lessen or eliminate emotional hunger. Emotional hunger is usually caused by negative sensations, but it may also be caused by positive emotions, such as rewarding oneself, attaining a goal, or celebrating a holiday or joyous event.
Emotional eating alternatives:
Call someone who always helps you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a cherished photo or treasured memory if you’re feeling down or lonely.
Spend your nervous energy dancing to your favorite music, squeezing a stress ball, or going for a fast stroll if you’re feeling apprehensive.
If you’re tired, get yourself a cup of hot tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or snuggle up under a nice blanket.
If you’re bored, read a nice book, watch a comedy program, go for a walk in the park, or do anything you like (playing the guitar, drawing, coloring, scrapbooking, etc.).
I hope this post helps you figure out if you eat to cope with worry, tension, or grief, and if so, how to manage your emotions without turning to food.