Six Causes of Emotional Eating
The causes of emotional eating are quite varied. Food can certainly be pleasurable, but the longer-lasting effects of emotional eating are negative. Understanding the causes of emotional eating makes the solutions easier to identify.
It can be challenging to gain mastery over emotional eating, but the benefits of doing so last a lifetime, so it’s worth the struggle.
Identify the primary reasons for your emotional eating:
1 - Food is used as a source of pleasure.
People who are emotional eaters often lack other ways of making themselves feel good. We all crave positive feelings. In fact, there are only two basic motivations: feeling good and avoiding pain. Essentially everything you do is motivated by these two things.
If the primary way you make yourself feel good is via food, you’re going to struggle to control your eating. What else can you do that will make you feel good? Try some different things and see what works.
A few ideas include exercise, volunteering, having a meaningful conversation, increasing your social circle, playing an instrument, reading, or accomplishing your goals.
2 - A lack of other options for dealing with discomfort.
When we feel unpleasant emotions, we look for ways to feel better. People who use food to ease uncomfortable feelings don’t see the other options they have available for dealing with them. If this is you, ask yourself what could you do instead of eating when you feel bad?
Here are a few ideas: Meditation, exercise, writing in a journal, calling a friend, listening to music, dancing, playing with your child or dog, or just taking a walk in nature are a few good ideas.
3 - A low threshold for discomfort.
A greater ability to sit with any emotional discomfort will reduce the need to eat. Just like some people are more capable of dealing with pain, some are more capable of handling emotional discomfort without responding negatively.
Most of us avoid uncomfortable situations as much as we can, but this is counterproductive. You can’t get skilled at dealing with difficulties if you avoid them.
Try this instead. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and practice relaxing in the face of discomfort. Relaxing your body and breathing deeply sounds simple, but it’s effective. Practice - over and over again - is the key to success.
4 - A lack of self-esteem.
People who use food as a comfort often aren’t happy with themselves. In a sense, this is another form of emotional discomfort that emotional eaters try to soothe with food.
There are many resources available for dealing with low self-esteem, but here are a few quick ideas to get started:
Put a stop to your inner critic. As soon as you begin talking negatively to yourself, notice what is happening, and then change your thoughts.
Spend one minute, or five, out of every hour appreciating yourself. Make a short list of things that you like about yourself. Repeat throughout the day.
5 - Stress.
Stress itself is an issue. Stress literally changes the types of foods you crave. Studies show that foods high in fat and/or sugar decrease the body’s response to stress. Comfort foods really do earn that name.
If you feel stress is the motivator for eating your feelings away, ask yourself if there are ways you can reduce the stress in your life? Make a list of things you can change, and then put it into action.
6 - A lack of awareness during eating.
It’s much easier to overeat when your attention is elsewhere. Whether your attention is on friends, the TV, or your thoughts, a lack of awareness can lead to overeating.
Mindfulness can help with this problem. When you’re eating, do nothing else but eat. Sit at a table, turn off the television, and keep your focus entirely on your meal and the way that you are eating it.
Are you struggling with emotional eating and need some help identifying the underlying causes? Or do you need some support making changes to the way you interact with food, so you can stop using as as an emotional support?