I love the line form the movie, Grinch with Jim Carrey, “Am I eating, because I’m bored?” Or I might add, because I am stressed?, anxious?, overworked?, lonely?, there are a million of emotions that could feel in that blank.
Emotional overeating tends to spike during the holidays, as some people, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to food for comfort. And why not? Seems like every where you turn, sits a plate of tantalizing treats. Typically when people get together, food is a big part of the socialization process, and snacking can turn into a mindless process of talking and eating.
During holidays many memories of the past are brought up, whether families gather together or not. All the feelings of buried emotion from years gone by, can come flooding in like the force of a great wave hitting the shoreline. Seeing an empty chair at the table illuminates that fact that someone is missing. Perhaps a loved one off to war, someone passed on, or family members unable to come home, all reminders that stir up ones emotions.
Emotional overeating is a general term that refers to various eating habits where genuine hunger is not the motivational factor; but rather a graceful way of numbing ones nervous tension. 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 eating to escape negative feelings.
For some emotional overeating may stem from past traumatic events. Someone who suffered abuse, for example sexual abuse, or some other kind of 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 life, or perhaps a subconscious thought that they will not be attractive to the opposite sex. Other examples of past trauma or unmet needs may cause a person to turn to emotional overeating. Subconsciously or consciously, the sufferer feels a greater need for protection and food becomes an easy source of comfort.
People who suffer from low self-esteem, and a negative self-image may seek escape by overeating. There is a need for love and validation. 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. Personal emotional Needs left unmet, such as the need to be acknowledged, to be loved, to be valued, the need for agency and purpose, all create a feeling of being unsettled, and that something is lacking in ones life.
“When a compulsive overeater consumes excessive amounts of food it can produce a euphoric feeling similar to that experienced through drug usage. They feel a temporary release from psychological stress and a diversion from feelings of sadness, shame, loneliness, anger or fear”1
Eating certain foods triggers a release of the neurotransmitter, serotonin, which is a feel good hormone. Over time the continual vibration of being out of rhythm and off beat begin to wear on the nerves. Finding a way to numb that overall feeling becomes the avenue of relief. When one attempts to break the habit of compulsive overeating, there is a possibility of feeling a higher lever of depression and anxiety due to the decreased levels of serotonin.
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. Also, as mentioned above, the body is not receiving the spurts of good feelings created by the release of hormone, which it has become accustomed to.
Prolonged, unrelieved stress can have a profound effect on the body. Stress stimulates the body to produce, among other chemicals, the hormone cortisol. Cortisol has a hunger-stimulating effect, and is a major contributor to our extra padding, known as belly fat. As the stressful emotions increase along with the cortisol, a cycle of emotional eating can play out.
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
Seeking professional help is always beneficial. But, for this article, lets focus on those things that can easily be done on your own.
* Exercise regularly
Yes, you’ve heard this one, but it’s really an important aspect of managing emotional overeating. Exercise may improve mood, improve energy levels, and increase your self-image – all part of overcoming emotional overeating. You can start with just 20 minutes of brisk walking three to six times a week.
* Eat well
What you eat, is as important as what you’re “not allowed” to eat! Sometimes, emotional overeaters can be overcome by cravings for certain “forbidden” foods, like ice cream, candy bars, and potato chips. But if you’re surrounded by healthy foods, snacking on fruits and vegetables can be done without feeling guilty. Keep fresh produce on hand and eat lots of lean protein, veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Convience is the key. Taking a day to prepare healthy snacks so that they will be easily assessible is extremely important. Often times, the only reason that unhealthy food is consumed is because of it is easily accessible and already prepared.
*Have an Emotional Escape route
Allow an escape route for these emotions puts you in the drivers seat. Feelings are typically the last thing that one wants to think about in their hurried, busy lifestyle. But paying attention to how we are feeling in different situations, as well as, those smaller moments of sadness, disappointment, feeling hurt or alone, will allow you to address them in a much healthier way then stuffing them aside with food or another addictive substance. Just as exercise is important to our health, having a way to address emotional stress can increase our capabilitites of accomplishing more throughout the day.
I find that stress is a continuous factor of my day. If I will stop and address those change of feelings right then, and give myself a different way of repsonding, a new perspective then I am able to maintain more balance and I feel a continuous flow of energy and motivation. It is as simple as taking 5-10 minutes of self evaluation and then redirecting those feelings in a more positive script. This process sounds easy, but when one is faced with a serge of emotion racing through their mind into their body, self control is a response that happens only through daily practice.
* Music – Certain music can create a peaceful response within the mind, satisfy those inner longings and bringing the individual to a place of more clarity, strength. Find music that is not associated with memories from the past. It must be music that your mind is unfamiliar with and has a calming affect. What happens is that the mind likes to associate the present to past experiences, so when it is not given the opportunity to connect and find an old experience or perception, then it will in essence relax.
* Inhaleing the fragrance of orange, tangerine, & lemon can be an automatic mood lifter.
* Determine to be pro-active in the creation of your thoughts. Choose to focus your mental attitude on thoughts that are opened to new possiblilites and creating miracles. Words, thoughts have a vibration of their own. Just as music can lift or lower our mood, due to the vibration coming from the sound of the notes, it is the same with words. Each word carries a vibration….a sound in which we hear it. And those sounds impact our attitude and determination throughout the day. So entertain words that carry an attitude of being loyal to the royal, synergizing the body and spirit, and welcoming peace within.