Emotional Eating: Don’t Ignore These Everyday Signs!

If you’ve been eating healthy for the last two months, don’t let a little stress waste all that effort. Eating an entire tub of ice cream while crying only looks funny in movies. Realize if you’re an emotional eater, and nip the habit in the bud.

This actually happened with me in London a few years ago. Whilst grocery shopping once, I’d picked up extra servings of doughnuts with applesauce filling, which I loved for their tangy aftertaste. They were really small, so I bagged quite a few. At the checkout counter, the cashier scanned me with concern, asking, “Your man treating you alright, love?”

Emotional eating is classified as a coping mechanism, to deal with negative and upsetting emotions. Although mostly implied as overeating, research demonstrates that emotional eating includes anorexic and bulimic patterns as well.

Even those not suffering from eating disorders can show fundamental symptoms of emotional eating occasionally. Below are a few symptoms to look out for:

The obvious one — binge eating when angry/overwhelmed — A snap-correlation, as is evident from the little anecdote above. I had to agree I was indulging in emotional eating to some degree. There was no man in the picture, but the underlying emotion doesn’t have to be relationship-oriented. In my case, it had to do with fatigue, and a way of rewarding myself with a dessert that reminded me of home and childhood.

Eating when not actually hungry — If you rationalise the desire to eat with any reason except distracting hunger, chances are you’re satiating an emotional appetite. Sure, you might feel the need to eat urgently, if you have a particular medical condition. In my case, exactly how many doughnuts did I think I could polish off? Moreover, I didn’t hesitate to clarify that I bought that many because they were small!

Chasing sensations, just because — When I miss my doughnuts, I can be caught munching on spicy crisps, sometimes waking up at odd hours to do so. I have no blood pressure/sugar issues. Honestly, I eat because I look forward to the spicy taste making me pucker my lips and click my tongue. I think too much and sleep light, so I’m indulging in a brain-numbing activity. We all do this, but don’t often analyse if the craving is an emotional one.

Feeling uncomfortable about discussing body image — People who make a habit out of emotional eating don’t like to disclose what they eat; because they might have to explain why, and they wouldn’t want to. So, they hesitate to share their fitness regimes/goals openly.

Describing food like living beings and their circumstances — Sometimes, we’re all inclined to describe a meat pie as cosy, not filling; a sundae as naughty, instead of delicious. We don’t think of it at the time, but there’s often a person/previous experience/memory associated with that food, resulting in that description.

You might think I’ve overthought everything here. But taking symptoms like these lightly is what results in emotional eating, to begin with. Just being aware and judicious about any emotional triggers influencing different nutritional patterns is the first step towards planning a diet that’s healthy, that allows for occasional cheating, but still doesn’t confuse hunger pangs with emotional ones.

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