Emotional Eating – My Take

May 31, 2010

in Blog, Kristine's Best Tips, Meal Plans, My Philosophy

This is a big topic to get into.  Why do most people fail on their health & fitness program?  Emotional Eating.

Sure, people are busier now, and along with becoming busier, that involves more stress and trying to juggle it all. I can relate. I work full time, have a toddler, a husband, a house to keep tidy, laundry, cooking …the list goes on! I come across a lot of people that claim they can’t get in shape because they don’t have the motivation or they don’t want to “give up” their favourite foods. I most certainly don’t claim that I am perfect and I have struggles with eating for emotional reasons on occasion as well (particularly when I’m stressed and overwhelmed). But, the difference is, I’ve learned why that happens and how I can prevent it. I started doing some research on the subject. Books, website and articles. Below are a couple of excerpts from a book I came across called “Shrink Yourself” by Dr. Roger Gould. I found it the most helpful source.  If you are wondering why you can’t seem to ever reach your goals & no diet plan seems to work for you, you may need to look inside yourself and get to the root of the problem.

Exerpts/tidbits from the book:

Ask yourself these questions. Last time you ate too much:

-Did you notice your hunger coming on fast, or was it gradual?
-When you got hungry, did you feel an almost desperate need to eat something right away?
-When you ate, did you pay close attention to what went in your mouth or did you just stuff it in?
-When you got hungry, would any nutritious food have sufficed or did you need a certain TYPE of food or treat to satisfy yourself?

Emotional hunger comes on suddenly, while physical hunger develops slowly. Real hunger begins with a tummy rumble, then a stronger grumble & then evolves to hunger pangs….but it’s a slow process and very different from emotional hunger which is a dramatic onset.

Emotional hunger demands food IMMEDIATELY and wants immediate satisfaction. Physical hunger will wait for food.

Emotional versus physical hunger involves mindfulness. To satisfy physical hunger, you make a deliberate choice about what you consume and are maintaining awareness of what you eat. But emotional hunger rarely notices what’s been eaten. If you have emotional hunger, you’ll still want more food even after you’re full.

With emotional hunger, it often results in guilt or promises to do better next time. Physical hunger has no guilt attached to it because you know you ate in order to maintain health & energy.

You get emotional hunger from some emotional trigger. Either a situation, place or event—perhaps you overeat when you attend staff meetings at your job, or when you go to family functions, or even restaurants. On the other hand, certain people can trigger your phantom hunger–your boss, parent, spouse, child.

Phantom hunger can be created when a person feels uncomfortable, stressed, angry, anxious, powerless….the list goes on.  Here’s a couple scenario I liked and could see a lot of Mom’s relating to it!!

“Norma is a 36 year old mother of 3. Every day at 4:30pm she starts to count the hours until her husband will get home. She gets so overwhelmed and it feels as if she’ll never get any relief from the laundry, kids fighting and the other tasks. The day feels endless and Norma feels totally alone, and its during those hours that she finds herself bingeing on all of the kids snacks. By the time her husband gets home, she’s disgusted with herself. When Norma starts to have the catastrophe prediction that she’ll never get any relief, instead of just acknowledging she is by 4:30pm and doing something to make the day easier, she feels powerless and the uncontrollable urge to eat shows up.”

Or what about this??

Rebecca is a 38 year old stay at home mom. She weights 175lbs at 5’1. She says, “Food is faithful, its always there, always works. My husband says I make love to Kit Kat bars and he’s right. I eat them methodically. Its really kind of gross, but I do it each time, and every time it puts me in a trance. The short term benefit is that for a few moments it’s just me and the chocolate. My mind concentrates on the method of eating it, the taste, the texture, the sensation that doesn’t allow for other thoughts or interruptions. I’m totally out of it and when it’s over its always the same letdown—guilt and remorse”

Why is Emotional Eating so hard to stop???

The urge to eat is too strong, food has become a psychological tool, a way to avoid feelings that are too intense or anxiety provoking. If you haven’t learned how to cope with your life and your emotions in a way that doesn’t include food, you will not be able to adhere to any diet plan for very long. While things are going smoothly in your life, you may be able to stick to your diet plan, but when life presents a challenge, you’ll inevitably turn back to you old faithful food fix.

So there you have it—does this describe you? If so, you must conquer your emotional eating before getting on a health & fitness plan to help you reach your goals. This book has some great advice in it, I quite enjoyed reading it. I must admit, I can have a tendency to emotional eat.  Here’s to hoping it can help you understand yourself better and your relationship with food.

xo Kristine

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I'm Kristine Fretwell, busy mom of 2 little girls, author, blogger, and former pro fitness competitor. I love almost any kind of cookie, anything coconut or pumpkin flavored, and Thai food. A perfect day for me is enjoying my family, getting to the gym, and whipping up a new healthy recipe. I've got a collection of over 300 healthy recipes, and other tidbits like fitness and health tips. My recipes have been featured on websites such as Huffington Post, Savvy Mom, Shape and Skinny Scoop.
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  • Kristine

    Well sounds like you know what to do Deb…that's great! I agree, getting to the point of being super hungry leads to bad choices! mmm, peanut M&M's—I wouldnt want those around either!

    That's great Heather! Glad you know what works for you and you don't struggle with the emotional aspect.

  • Heather Iacobacci-Miller

    Great post. In all honesty, I am very rarely an emotional eater. I feel really lucky that way b/c I have so many friends who are. I try to manage my hunger and my eating. I try to eat small snacks between meals never allowing myself to just get that "must eat now" feeling. I get terribly grumpy and just almost sick if I let myself get hungry like that. My hunger almost always comes on gradually.

  • Deb

    You are so right about emotional eating. The way I control it is to not have those foods in the house (peanut butter M&Ms!)
    However, feeling desperate to eat can have another cause besides emotional: low blood sugar. When my blood sugar drops I feel dizzy and in a panic. I try to combat this by eating small amounts every 3 hours or so.

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