The modern world as we know it can be quite tolling on our mental health. And this can lead to all sorts of mental health issues like stress and anxiety. However, the issues don’t stop there since mental health issues can lead to further health issues because of things like stress eating.
If you are hearing about stress eating or emotional eating for the first time, then you are definitely at the right place! We will be going through all the important details regarding emotional eating and learning everything about it. More importantly, you can learn about the symptoms of stress eating and how you can overcome emotional eating with simple lifestyle changes.
What is Stress Eating or Emotional Eating?
When people turn to food to pacify themselves in a state of emotional imbalance, we call it emotional eating. Emotional eating is associated with mindless eating without being actually hungry. Although, if you’re an emotional eater, you might think you’re hungry when you’re stressed out. But, there is a difference between feeling hungry because of stress and being physically hungry.
Actual Hunger vs Emotional Hunger
To better understand emotional eating, let’s learn about the differences between actual hunger and emotional hunger which leads to emotional or stress eating:
- Emotional hunger feels more like a sudden craving, whereas physical hunger comes gradually.
- If you are emotional eating, you will end up binge eating without minding the food quantities. For example, you may eat a whole bag of chips or a whole tub of ice cream without realizing how much you are eating.
- Emotional hunger comes after an emotional trigger and physical hunger generally takes place around your usual meal timings.
- While emotional hunger will be satisfied after eating a lot of food or feeling mentally better, physical hunger will be satisfied by eating just as per your usual appetite.
- Emotional hunger makes you turn to your favorite comfort food only and you will be eating particular food items. On the other hand, you will be open to more options if you are feeling physical hunger.
- Even if you end up eating a lot of food due to physical hunger, you won’t feel guilty afterward. On the other hand, emotional hunger will definitely make you feel bad about binge eating.
- Whenever you are physically hungry, you will feel the effects of it in your stomach due to a growling sensation or something similar. However, emotional hunger is all in your mind and it is more of a thought than a feeling in your stomach.
Symptoms of Stress Eating
While there are various scenarios that can lead up to stress eating, the overall symptoms or reasons leading to emotional eating will be usually similar. Even if you recently had lunch or dinner, you may end up getting stressed due to work, studies, personal issues, or any other thing going on in your life. And if any of these factors make you crave eating snacks, then it is definitely a symptom of stress eating. While it is fairly normal to face such an experience once in a while, depending on food to overcome mental stress and agitation on a regular basis is definitely a matter of concern.
Stress Eating is More Dangerous than you Think
Now that you know more about emotional & stress eating, let’s learn more about the dangers and effects of emotional eating:
Relying on food to temporarily improve your mental health will make you eat much more food than required. Hence, it can result in serious weight gain issues over time.
Since stress eating generally makes you eat comfort food including junk food and processed food items, it can lead to various lifestyle diseases like diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart problems, and much more.
Apart from its effects on your physical health, eating a lot of food due to stress and anxiety can also have economical effects since you may end up spending a lot on food that you generally wouldn’t eat.
Even though you are opting for stress eating to overcome mental stress, emotional eating itself will also lead to a mental toll. If you are stress-eating on a regular basis, you will eventually start feeling guilty for the same which can make you further stressed about your health.
Why do People Turn to Stress Eating?
There can be multiple possible reasons leading to emotional eating including financial stress, relationship stress, work-related stress, and so on. Stressing out creates a sense of emotional vacuum in the mind. Because of this, people turn to stress eating as a way to overcome the stress in their daily lives.
Eating food will make you feel psychologically full, thereby creating an illusion of filling any emotional void. These cravings are mostly for comfort food and fast food items that act as a dopamine hit and make you feel better. This is obviously a temporary relief because the hunger is for emotional fullness, not physical. And as discussed earlier, this dopamine hit comes at the cost of all kinds of health effects.
Identifying Emotional Triggers Leading to Stress Eating:
If you are struggling with emotional eating, then there are definitely some emotional triggers that make you do so. And if you want to overcome stress eating or emotional eating, identifying these triggers is highly important. Some common emotional triggers leading to stress eating include:
Daily Life Stress
As mentioned earlier, stress from various events in your daily life is one of the biggest emotional triggers of stress eating.
For some, eating habits can be carried from their childhood to their adulthood. This simply means that if your parents rewarded you with food while feeling low, then you may build up a habit of the same.
While hanging out with friends is definitely great to reduce stress, people tend to hang out at restaurants and cafes. Hence, you may end up binge eating or stress eating in the name of a social gathering.
If you are feeling lazy when you have nothing to do, you may indulge in binge eating to overcome boredom. And over time, this can turn into stress eating as well.
Overcoming Emotional & Stress Eating
After identifying your triggers, overcoming emotional eating should be much simpler and easier. Apart from being more cautious about these emotional triggers and trying to prevent them, you can also consider trying these substitutes to emotional & stress eating for overcoming mental stress:
Move your Body & Get Active
Being physically active is definitely one of the best ways to improve your mental health. Apart from all the physical benefits of physical activity, it reduces cortisol levels in your body. And since cortisol is a stress hormone, reducing its level will help reduce food cravings.
Be More Social
If you’re feeling low, try going out for a walk or a bicycle ride with your friends. Spending time with a close friend or a group of friends will definitely make you happy and reduce stress.
Kill Boredom with Entertainment
In case you have nothing to do, watching a comedy movie or stand-up is a better way to feel happy instead of indulging in binge eating.
Try out Different Hobbies
While watching movies might be good once in a while, trying out productive hobbies like reading, writing, art, and other things is another great way to keep yourself busy and distracted from mental stress.
Practice Yoga & Meditation
Since mental stress can lead to emotional eating and other issues, you should work on your mental health. Regularly practicing yoga and meditation can definitely help you in calming your mind and reducing stress levels.
Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Without getting proper sleep every night, your brain can’t function well. In fact, it will even make you stress easily. Hence, make sure to get 7-9 hours of sleep daily to prevent stress eating.
Eat a Healthy Diet
By eating a whole food diet with multiple meals on fixed and regular timings, you can reduce your food cravings. A healthy diet will also make you feel energetic and happier on the inside which can be helpful in breaking the cycle of stress eating.
Seek Medical Help
However, if none of the solutions given above are working for you, consider seeking professional help. You can consider getting in touch with a psychologist for getting therapy for your stress-eating issues.
Emotional eating is currently being faced by the masses, and hence can’t be ignored. Eating to pacify emotions may seem helpful temporarily, but it causes more harm than good. It even triggers more stress, creating a cycle in itself.
Thankfully, realizing your stress eating issues and overcoming the same is definitely possible with simple lifestyle changes. And we have already discussed all such basics and important information regarding emotional eating up above. But if you have any kind of questions or thoughts about emotional & stress eating, make sure to leave them down in the comments section.