You’ve heard the term “emotional eating,” right? Chances are you have, but you’ve only really heard it when it comes to negative emotions. Even positive emotional states can affect your food intake. You can end up reaching for the wrong foods, too much food, and empty calories for good and bad reasons.
Just how does your emotional state affect your food intake? Why is it that you eat up “eating your feelings” and how can you stop that? Here’s a look at all you need to know about food and your emotional state.
Emotional Eating Starts Before Puberty
Many of us link emotional eating to our raging hormones when we reach puberty. However, emotional eating and our emotional state affecting our food intake date back to our childhood. The way our parents used food affect the way we think about it later in life.
For example, many parents use food as a form of praise. When we’ve been naughty, dessert would be banned. If we were good, we’d get to choose candy from the store or select something deliciously unhealthy for dinner. Over time we connect food to emotions and life events.
In some cases, our parents holding “unhealthy” food back entirely affects the way that we react later in life. We lose the ability to take control of our cravings when we get older and start eating the food that was banned. After all, it had to be banned for a reason—and that had to be a punishment, right?
Of course, while the emotional eating triggers start before puberty, the main reasons for emotional eating happen later in life. It’s the earlier feelings and memories that affect our food choices and the amount that we eat.
Both positive and negative emotions can make us feel hungry when we’re not. Boredom, happiness, excitement, stress, and sadness can lead to us reaching for large bowls of ice cream, unnecessary cookies, and large portions of stews or casseroles. Just why is that and how do each of our emotional states affect our food portions?
Here’s a look at each of our emotional states and how they affect our food portions.
Boredom Leads to Mindless Eating
Boredom eating is a major issue with your food intake. When you’re bored, you eat in the hope of finding something to do. This leads to mindless eating. You end up eating to unsuccessfully fill a void with empty calories that offer absolutely no nutritional benefit.
Think about when your boredom eats. How often do you get the bottom of a cookie packet, only to find that there’s nothing left? It’s been 10 minutes into a TV show, and you have no idea how you managed to eat so many cookies in one sitting. The problem is you’re still bored and still hungry, so you reach for the next packet of cookies.
Within another 10 minutes, those cookies are gone. Once again, you have no idea how you went through so many. You just don’t remember eating two whole packets!
You have eaten them. You’ve consumed those calories. There’s no point lying about it, as you’re only lying to yourself.
Mindless eating is a major issue with boredom. You need to find another way to fulfill your time or choose another food to fill in the void. To start with some vegetable sticks can be a good alternative. They take longer to eat and are fewer in calories. After that, you need to find ways to handle the emotions and change the way you react.
Feeding Your Sad Feelings
When you feel sad, you will often feed those feelings. You want to make yourself feel happier.High-calorie food can lead to elevated positive emotions at first. They help to increase the energy levels with the sugar.
The downside is those positive feelings only last temporarily. You eventually get a crash, and that will leave to more negative feelings. The sadness doesn’t go away, and the food has been more of a band-aid.
Of course, you don’t quite realize that the food is just a band-aid approach. So, you end up consuming more high-calorie food in the hope that you get the positive emotions.
Once you finally realize that the high-calorie food isn’t helping your mood, you start to feel guilty. This ends up with a negative cycle, as you start to feel sadder and worse about yourself. You want to improve the feelings, so you attempt to do it through the food you eat.
If you don’t reach for the high-calorie food, you look for starchy foods that will make you feel warm and filling inside. This is often the case with the winter blues. You look for home comforts that will help to sustain you as the nights are longer and the weather is colder. Unfortunately, these starchy foods tend to be higher in calories than the summer foods that we eat. Eating larger portions will lead to weight gain, even if the foods tend to be healthier than the junk food that’s used to boost feelings.
Celebrating Through Food
Let’s be honest; it’s not just the negative emotions that affect our food intake. When we’re happy, we can often opt for the wrong type of food or too much food.
This is part of us that links back to our past. Our parents celebrated through treats. We got to eat candy for being good in the grocery store or got a cake to celebrate birthdays. Deep down we know that treats by food are a way to train dogs, but we just can’t shake the memories of our past.
Of course, we like to celebrate with chocolate cake, cookies, candy, and alcohol. We know all these foods are bad for us, but it’s not the same celebrating with vegetables and fruit, right? Studies have shown that a lot of people who are happier will reach for steak and pizza. This can be good, but we tend to reach for larger portions to feed these positive feelings.
Not only do we end up eating more calories than we should, but we can feel guilty. This can lead to some negative feelings afterward, especially when we jump on the scales. So, we end up with sad feelings that we want to feed and repair.
Of course, drinking alcohol can also make us less mindful about the food we eat. We become extremely hungry and start picking at anything that’s around us. Of course, that means we reach for picky, high-calorie food. We don’t quite keep track of the amount of food we’re eating, so there are a lot of empty calories that we overlook. All in the name of celebrating!
We need to find other ways to celebrate. There are lots of other options, such as buying a new book or some new clothes.
Stress Can Fuel or Prevent Eating
Stress is one of those emotional states that can affect food intake both ways. Some people are known “stress eaters.” They will eat anything and everything in front of them. Others can’t stomach anything when they’re stressed.
Both are negative in a way.
We’ll start with the stress eating. This is like fuelling sad emotions. You end up eating high-calorie food and not taking a note of all the calories. You just want to hope that the calories and sugar will give you a boost in emotions and help to ease the stress levels. Unfortunately, the sugar will cause a crash soon after, making the stress levels come back with a vengeance.
Those who don’t eat enough can end up with not enough energy. Their metabolism must pull more calories that have been stored, but sometimes too many than is healthy. The stress levels remain because you’re not necessarily doing anything to help solve the problem.
Tiredness Leads to Eating High Sugar Foods
Of course, tiredness is another emotional state that affects our food intake. When we’re low on energy, we want something that will pick us up. That usually means reaching for the high sugar or caffeinated options.
After all, sugar and caffeine help to give us the energy bursts that we need, right? Well, while they can they do lead to crashes later in the day. They only give temporary bursts of energy, and our tired states are worse afterward.
When you’re tired, you want to figure out why. Is it due to lack of sleep or because of a poor diet? If it’s lack of sleep, then you’ll need to find a way to repair that. When it’s a poor diet, you’ll need to make sure you get the iron, selenium, and other nutrients that help to improve energy levels.
Illnesses Make Us Eat Anything at All
When we’re suffering from an ailment, we usually don’t care about the type of food we eat. We want to consume anything that will stop making us feel so unwell. This could mean high-calorie foods, but it could also mean foods that are full of water and vitamin C. Who doesn’t love chicken soup and orange juice when they’re ill?
This is one of those cases where our emotional state is put first. We do anything we can just to get through the day, especially if we must go to work or handle screaming children when we’re under the weather.
If it’s a long-term illness, then a look at the diet is necessary. However, a short-term cold is often just forgotten about until we’re back to normal.
Are You Emotionally Eating?
Our emotional state will affect our food intake. Sometimes we will choose healthy items, but most of the time we reach for high calorie, high sugar, and high-fat foods. We want instant gratification, even though we know it’s not going to keep us feeling good.
It’s important to determine if you’re an emotional eater or not. Those who are empathetic will find themselves emotional eaters in most cases. This doesn’t mean you must give into the way your mind treats food, but you may find it harder to overcome some of the problems.
Before reaching for something to eat, ask yourself whether you’re hungry. Check the time and determine if it is the time for a meal or snack. If so, question whether the food you’re about to eat is right for the meal. If you’re not going to get the nutrients that you need for the meal, then you need to rethink the ingredients that you’re about to eat.
When it’s not thetime for a meal or a snack, there are chances that your emotions are making you hungry. Try drinking a glass of water to make sure it’s not dehydration and focus on doing something else afterward. Look for ways to curb your boredom or manage your stress. Watch out for celebrating through food and drink.
Remember that emotional eating will usually make you want to eat something very specific. You know that only chocolate will sustain your sugar craving or you need a big juicy steak to celebrate. You may need to crunch crisps because of your high stress or anger levels, or you need to fill the sad void with ice cream. These specific cravings are a sign that your emotions are controlling your food intake.
Stopping Your Emotional State Taking Over
You can find ways to avoid your emotional state taking over your food intake. The first tip is to practice more mindful eating. Whenever you consume anything, make sure you chew it and think about what you’re eating. Savour the tastes and flavors. This will help to overcome boredom eating, where you eat everything without even realizing.
When it comes to stress eating or sadness, tackle the specific emotions. Figure out why you feel that way and find a way to tackle those specific emotions.
As for celebratory drinks and food, look at other ways to celebrate. You don’t need to treat yourself to food!