Does this sound like you: you’re at a friend's house for a football game and you fill your plate up multiple times and continue to mindlessly snack until you’re completely stuffed to an uncomfortable level.
Or maybe you had a stressful day and you binge on chocolate and ice cream. You may feel bored, anxious, or want to reward yourself after a hard day's work.
The truth is, if you’re turning to food for anything other than to fuel your body with nutrients, you’re emotionally eating.
Here are five ways to identify whether you're emotionally eating, plus five tips for what to do about it:
1. Emotional hunger comes on rapidly.
When you’re emotional, you need food ... like, now. When was your last meal? If it was an hour ago and you suddenly feel the urge to eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, chances are you’re not actually hungry.
2. Actual hunger comes on gradually.
If you’ve eaten a well-balanced meal filled with healthy proteins and fats, your body should be satiated for hours, as it takes longer for proteins and fats to digest. On the other hand, if you're eating a diet high in refined sugar with a lack of proteins and healthy fats, this can cause blood-sugar-regulation issues, which may lead to excessive hunger.
3. You’re eating too fast.
Slow down. Your body can’t properly digest food when you’re rushing to eat and not chewing up all of your food. You may not feel satiated as quickly if you’re eating on the go, which can lead to overeating.
4. You only view food as pleasure.
When you view food as simply nutrients to fuel your body and to feed your cells, you won’t be reaching for cakes and downing an entire bag of potato chips after a stressful day.
If you're looking at food as a source of happiness, you're bound to overindulge in things that are loaded with sugar and are void of nutrients. Of course, food should taste good, but the very reason we eat in the first place is to feed our body the nutrients it needs.
5. When you're full, you continue to eat.
No matter how much you're eating, you never seem to be satisfied or satiated. You have trouble losing weight and tend to feel guilty after a large binge.
Do you always reach for dessert after a large meal? Do you tend to keep filling up your plate for seconds? If you treat each meal like it's your last, it might be time to evaluate your reasons for doing this.
Do any of these resonate with you? We've all turned to food for something other than nutrients at some point, and that's OK.
Now that you've identified that you may be using food as comfort, here's what to do about it:
- When you get a sudden craving, ask yourself, Am I truly hungry? As we discussed earlier, true hunger comes on gradually, and cravings come on suddenly. If you had a properly balanced meal four or more hours ago, you might truly be hungry and need to eat something. However, if you get a call from your boss adding more work to your plate after dinner and you reach for a box of cookies, your body is signaling something other than hunger.
- Identify your trigger foods. Is there a certain treat or hard-to-resist comfort food that you just can't seem to gain control over? Maybe you have a sugar addiction? It's important to identify what these foods are and to avoid them until you're able to gain control of your habits.
- Keep a food journal. This is one of the best ways to identify your habits and emotions and make you aware of what you're choosing to provide your body with for nutrients. Take note of your emotions when you're eating, what you're eating, and how much you're consuming. Also, this may identify some possible nutritional deficiencies in your diet. You may not be eating enough throughout the day, feel stressed, and binge on unhealthy items. Journaling will keep you in check.
- Slow down and savor every bite. Carbohydrate breakdown begins in the mouth when we begin to produce the salivary enzyme amylase to break down starches. If we aren't taking the time to chew our food properly, our body won't produce the proper enzymes to digest our food. Eating too quickly usually leads to overeating because we do not immediately feel as satiated. Take your time to eat, and place your fork on your plate in-between meals. This will help you identify when you're actually satiated and help you digest your food properly.
Learn more here: How to Eat Mindfully in 5 Steps
Think of providing your body with all the nutrients it needs.
Changing your relationship with food can help you make better choices before indulging in sugary snacks and overeating. Food should taste good, but choosing better-quality ingredients and eating when you're truly hungry will help you make this transition.
When you fuel your body with nutrient-dense whole foods, you will not only have more consistent energy, but your body will also be able to maintain a healthy weight.
Like anything, it takes consistency to maintain a new habit. Start implementing these tools now to set yourself up for having a healthy relationship with food.