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7 Ways Your Emotions Cause You to Overeat

7 Ways Your Emotions Cause You to Overeat

There is so much more to eating than food. Apart from the significant influence of your biology, it’s affected by place, timing, whether you’re alone or with others, and, of course, your emotions. How you feel, what you feel, and the intensity of your emotions can make the difference between reaching for the refrigerator and choosing to take a pass.

Are you eating to fill emotional needs and minimize or prevent emotional distress? Then you might just be an emotional eater.

We all have our ups and downs, but some of us have an emptiness or hunger that goes deeper. Sadness that won’t go away, confusion we can’t resolve, a purpose we can’t find. It’s an emotional need that can’t be pacified with food – even if eating feels good at the moment.

While it’s okay to eat as a reward or pick me up from time to time, it becomes a problem when your first instinct is to head for the pantry whenever you’re stressed out, upset, or lonely. We all need coping strategies, but this one can lead to weight gain, associated health problems, and eating disorders.

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Curious if your emotions are causing you to overeat? Here are 7 ways that this can happen.

1. You are overwhelmed by sadness or shame

Down and out? Let’s grab something to eat. Sad about that breakup? I’ve got some ice cream! Screw up at work today? Here, have a drink.

The number one thing you may want to do when you’re feeling sad is to numb the pain. This may mean reaching for food, particularly that of the high-carb, sugary, and fatty variety. There is a reason for this, as such food sets off a chain reaction that ends with the release of that feel-good chemical, serotonin. It’s more than just good taste. The food gives your brain the pick-me-up you need to feel better almost instantly. The irony is that this can backfire, causing guilt at all the extra calories ingested and the lack of control not only over your emotions but your food intake as well.

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2. Boredom sets in and what else is there to do but eat?

Picture this – it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you have nothing to do. You’re sitting in front of the television watching some garbage reality show, and you reach for a bag of chips or a box of cookies. A few mindless minutes later, it’s gone. What the heck just happened?

When you’re bored, you may not be fully attentive to your surroundings or actions. It’s the opposite of mindful – you’re not tuned into what you’re doing. This can result in extra calories ingested for no good reason other than to kill some time.

3. Your brain is on fire – with stress and anxiety

In our overcharged, hyperlinked, multitasking society, stress is the new normal. And most of us are desperately searching for ways to alleviate it. Enter food into the equation. Stress has been shown to increase intake of sweet, calorie-dense foods. Whether it’s alcohol, sugar, or a big heap of some comfort food, you may be hoping to find that holy grail of calm through food.

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What causes this? One culprit may be the high cortisol levels associated with chronic stress. As Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H. was quoted as saying in Shape Magazine, “The body assumes that with elevated levels of cortisol, physical activity will follow.”  In our day and age, we often don’t follow a stressful event with physical activity, but our body isn’t exactly clued into that. Since sugar- and fat-filled foods inhibit stress-related brain activity, the result is that we feel less stressed out after hitting that boat-sized plate of pasta. But like most good things in life, it won’t last, and the stress will return.

4. You want to connect to a prior time or event

Think back to a happy event in your life and you’ll likely recall a time with friends and family, novelty, connection, stimulation, and fun.  These are “sticky” memories, and what makes them stick is the complex, multi-sensory input of the experience. You may distinctly remember the smell, feel, sight, sound, and taste of foods you were eating at the time and connect it to the positive emotions you felt. Whether you realize it or not, you may be drawn to eating those same foods as a way to reconnect with memories of past events and loved ones.

5. You deserve a reward!

You kicked that presentation out of the park, got that promotion, or just finally drop-kicked that toxic person out of your life. You deserve a reward, right? Sure, there is nothing wrong with celebratory eating, and often it is just what you need. But if you reward yourself too often or find yourself coming up with new and admittedly flimsy excuses to do so (congrats to me – I showed up to work today!), then it can become a problem. 

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6. You need a friend

Food can evoke feelings of safety, much like a security blanket. So many who overeat talk about food as a distractor, a friend, a buffer against the blows of the outside world.

We’ve all felt the need for security or the comfort of a friend. When one isn’t around, food may be the best substitute you can find. But food will never fill the emptiness of being lonely, and it can’t protect against the pains caused by a sometimes cruel world.

7. You’re scared…

A lot of us are scared and for good reason. We have to navigate unsafe communities, problematic relationships, confusing work prospects, and internal struggles, all while being bombarded on a daily basis with multiple accounts of tragedy, illness, mishaps, and death. One way to mitigate fear is through food. Research has shown that fear can precipitate eating; and interestingly enough, a recent study showed that even the threat of certain emotions may promote overeating.

There is still so much to know about how our emotions, biology, and circumstance intersect to cause overeating and related health problems. A first step in maintaining a healthy weight is to become aware of the role of emotions in your eating. Next time you reach for a donut, ask yourself the question of whether you are trying to satisfy a physical or emotional hunger. The latter – though real – can’t be satisfied by food alone.

Featured photo credit: Ali Inay via images.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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