Emotional overeating disorders can be difficult and devastating for those who suffer from them. What makes this happen? Why is it that some people, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to food for comfort? Here are some thoughts and ideas on those questions.
Emotional overeating disorder is a general term that refers to any of various eating habits where genuine hunger is not the motivational factor. It is more common among women than men, but men are not immune – especially young men in their teens and twenties. Those who suffer from this disorder associate food with emotional comfort, and will turn to eat to escape negative feelings.
Symptoms of Emotional Overeating
Do you find yourself gaining weight during times of stress? Do you fear boredom because you know you’ll simply eat to fill the time? These are just some of the symptoms of emotional overeating. If you think you may suffer from this relatively common eating disorder, here are some signs and symptoms that may help you identify whether or not this is what you’re struggling with.
If you have a binge eating disorder or emotional overeating problem, you may stuff food in and not even really taste it or realize what you’re doing. It’s as though you are “out of it” and just mindlessly stuffing food into your mouth.
2. Feelings of Guilt and Shame
Many people with emotional overeating disorders feel really embarrassed and hateful of themselves after they’ve got through with an eating binge. The problem, of course, is that these negative feelings may make you reach for more food for comfort.
3. Eating in Secret
Because of being embarrassed, may emotional overeaters will eat in private, reserving their “naughty” foods for when no one is looking.
4. Food Always on My Mind
Do you think about food all the time? Do you feel anxious about the prospect of leaving the house without snacks or money to buy food? Constantly thinking about food (food obsession) may be a sign that you have an emotional overeating disorder.
5. Feeling Sick
Sometimes, emotional overeaters will eat and eat to comfort themselves, and then feel sick afterward. Obviously, this is your body’s way of telling you you’ve eaten far too much more than is good for you; but for emotional overeaters, this sickness does not necessarily deter the next binge.
Emotional overeating Causes and Triggers
Emotional overeating is usually triggered by something – emotions, yes, but sometimes we need to be more specific than that. Identifying your personal triggers can go a long way toward helping you overcome the disorder. Basic trigger categories include:
* Emotional – Eating to relieve boredom, stress, or anxiety
* Psychological – You may eat in response to negative, self-destructive thoughts
* Environmental/Situational – You may eat simply because the opportunity is there. Also in this category is the habit of eating while doing another activity, such as reading or watching TV.
What Causes Emotional Overeating Disorder?
1. Past Trauma
For some with emotional overeating disorder, the problem stems from past traumatic events. Someone who suffered sexual abuse, for example or some other kind of sexual trauma may overeat in response to feelings of anxiety and confusion. The result is a fatter body, which some sources suggest may cause the sufferer to feel “protected” from being attractive to the opposite sex. Subconsciously or consciously, the sufferer wants to be unattractive. Other examples of past trauma or unmet needs may cause a person to turn to emotional overeating.
2. Poor Self-Image
People who suffer from low self-esteem and a negative self-image may seek escape by overeating. In a way, emotional overeating is a physical expression of what the sufferer feels inside, and the resulting weight projects the same image of self-disrespect.
Like alcoholics, those who struggle with emotional overeating may be unconsciously using food as a drug. Eating numbs or dulls the emotions that might be too hard to deal with otherwise.
Studies indicate a strong correlation between depression and emotional overeating. Ironically, sometimes as depression grows worse a sufferer loses weight; weight loss means the sufferer is not eating as much, and therefore not engaging in his or her coping mechanism.
Prolonged, unrelieved stress can have a profound effect on the body. Stress stimulates the body to produce, among other chemicals, the hormone cortisol. Cortisol apparently has a hunger-stimulating effect, and as the stressful emotions increase along with the cortisol, a cycle of emotional eating can play out.
6. Individual Triggers
There are triggers or causes of emotional overeating that are not necessarily in the categories above. Some examples might be:
* Oral need or a need to satisfy your mouth’s need to do something
* Social pressure or embarrassment at eating in public, resulting in overeating in private
* Financial stress
* Relationship difficulties
Do any of these signs and symptoms describe you? If so, don’t despair – there are treatment options available for emotional overeaters. Check with your healthcare provider for advice on therapists or specialists in your area.
How to Eat to Stop Emotional Overeating?
When you think of stopping emotional overeating, does it seem like an impossible goal? You’re not alone – many people who suffer from this problem feel imprisoned and helpless. It can seem like you are unable to break free from the overwhelming emotions and habits. But there’s good news – it’s a treatable problem.
Being honest with yourself is an important first step. Emotional overeaters tend to judge themselves pretty harshly, but don’t – you’re not an isolated case or some kind of freak. It’s a sign of strength to seek help! It means you’ve identified the problem.
If you’re struggling with this problem, there are some things you can do to get things under control while you’re seeking professional help. Here are some tips.
Your Grocery List
When an emotional moment hits and you head for the refrigerator or pantry, what kind of foods do you usually go for? Often, emotional overeaters head for high-calorie comfort foods like ice cream, chips, or candy bars. But you can’t eat those things if they are not in your house! Here are some examples of foods to put on your grocery list in place of the ones you may be tempted to buy. (Another tip – buy only the foods on your list. Compulsive buying of food is tempting.)
* Brown rice (instead of white rice)
* Millet (instead of or in addition to rice)
* Fresh fruits and vegetables (rather than canned)
* Low-fat, low-calorie yogurt (rather than ice cream)
* Popcorn kernels for air popping (rather than chips and fatty snacks)
* Lean protein like fish, turkey, and chicken (instead of deli meats and processed meats like hot dogs and bologna)
* Natural, healthy cooking oils like olive and safflower oil (instead of shortening, lard, or unhealthy oils)
2. Don’t Crash Diet
It’s good to be proactive in solving problems, and emotional eating is no exception. If you try to crash diet, you may find yourself eating more after the crash diet is over. So, rather than stopping eating everything you love, try some of these tips.
* Allow yourself to have a dish of frozen yogurt each week as a treat. This approach tends to be easier than just cutting out all frozen treats. You could use this approach with other “naughty” foods, too – it may be easier to resist if you know you are going to have that food on Saturday (or whatever day of the week you choose to have a small treat).
* Boost your nutrition with a good quality vitamin and mineral supplement.
* Increase your consumption of nutrient-dense foods.
3. Eat Regular Meals
Experts recommend regular mealtimes as a way to combat emotional overeating. If it’s not “time” for food, then you may be better able to hold off on eating until it is time. Also, eating regular meals helps you to be deliberate about your intake of nutritious foods. And finally, having regular meal times tends to make for a more relaxed eating experience, which is the direct opposite of anxiety-driven overeating.