Emotional Eating FAQ’s
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating quite simply is when people eat for emotional reasons rather than for sustenance. The truth is that almost everyone engages in some type of emotional eating behavior. For example, traditions of eating an enormous amount of food on Thanksgiving and then moments later eating pumpkin pie is considered fairly acceptable in our culture. This is not really an issue if it is based on family tradition and culture on a few selected events; however, emotional eating can be a much more harmful behavior for some people. Psychologically, people who tend to connect food with comfort, power, or for any other reasons than providing fuel to their body can be prone to emotional eating.
Is Emotional Eating an Eating Disorder?
Emotional eating is a symptom of eating disorders but not all emotional eaters would be classified with a mental health diagnosis. The diagnosis of binge eating disorder has certain criteria including the amount of food eaten, the frequency of the binge behavior etc. Nonetheless, emotional eating takes its toll on people through weight gain, difficulty losing or keeping off weight, depression, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness.
Are Emotional Eaters just lazy?
Emotional eaters are not lazy people. They would like nothing more than to be healthy. Most emotional eaters have tried many things on their own. They can be avid dieters and have incredibly strong will power. In fact, emotional eaters tend to be “all of nothing” thinkers. They are either eating “good” in the sense that they are following a diet and/or exercise routine perfectly or they are “being bad” by choosing all the wrong foods and not exercising at all. In fact, if they aren’t following their plan perfectly, they see not point in following it at all. Of course, very few people can be perfect at anything so this start a destructive and endless cycle of diet success and failure.
Why am I like this?
Emotional eating is a coping skill. For any number of reasons, people learn to use food to soothe themselves and not necessarily tackle life’s issues head on. Emotional eating is thought to be the result of a number of factors rather than one single cause. Some research is consistent with girls and women being at higher risk for emotional eating behaviors. However, other research indicates that in some populations, men are more likely to eat in response to depression or anger, and women were more likely to eat excessively in response to failing a diet.
It is thought that the increase in the hormone cortisol that is one of the body's responses to stress is similar to the medication prednisone in its effects. Specifically, both tend to trigger the body's stress (fight or flight) response, including increased heart and breathing rate, blood flow to muscles, and visual acuity. Part of the stress response often includes increased appetite to supply the body with the fuel it needs to fight or flee, resulting in cravings for so-called comfort foods. People who have been subjected to chronic rather than momentary stress (like job, school, or family stress, exposure to crime or abuse) are at risk for having chronically high levels of cortisol in their bodies, contributing to developing chronic emotional-eating patterns.
Psychologically, people who tend to connect food with comfort, power, or for any other reasons than providing fuel to their body can be prone to emotional eating. They may eat to fill an emotional void, when physically full, and engage in mindless eating. Some people whose emotions cause them to eat may have been raised to connect food with feelings instead of sustenance, particularly if food was scarce or often used a reward or punishment, or as a substitute for emotional intimacy.
Can therapy help me?
YES! A trained therapist can help you determine your emotional eating pattern; why, when and how it is happening and over time, partner with you to develop new coping skills that eliminate the need to use food in destructive ways. Therapy is not “weighing in” or jumping to diet solutions. Therapy will help you repair your behavioral patterns so you can successfully transition to healthier ways of living and stay there.