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Emotional Eating: What Is It and How to Stop It

woman emotional eating ice cream

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), about 27% of adults use emotional eating as a coping mechanism.

Emotional eating is a physiological response towards dealing with difficult emotions through our diet choices and food intake.

Let’s understand emotional eating, and how to stop it and engage in healthy eating habits.

How Emotional Eating May Affect Health

Emotional eating can have serious health repercussions for both underweight and overweight individuals.

Underweight individuals who are coping with stress are more likely to eat less or skip meals. In this case, this “emotional-not-eating” can lead to malnourishment.

Meanwhile, overweight individuals tend to overeat or frequently have poor food choices. Unfortunately, consuming more calories than our bodies need can lead to obesity and obesity-related health issues.

How to Distinguish Emotional Eating From Hunger

The main differences between emotional eating and hunger are the following:

  • Hunger appears gradually — your body demands food when it needs it. Emotional eating is an unstable behavior that surges suddenly.
  • With emotional eating, you have a persistent feeling to satisfy specific food cravings immediately. These cravings tend to be food with low nutritional value.
  • When you are physically hungry, you are open to try different foods and wait a couple of hours to eat without having a negative emotional response.
  • Emotional eating leads to overeating, even after you feel full.
  • Emotional eating can lead to experiencing feelings of guilt or shame.

What Causes Emotional Eating?

In general, emotional eating surges due to unhealthy coping mechanisms for negative emotions. For example, being unhappy with your physical appearance or trying unhealthy diets to lose weight may lead to emotional eating. Unfortunately, there are plenty of diets — such as crash diets — that assure quick weight loss by depriving your body of nutrients and starving yourself. It could lead to frustration and depression, which may result in emotional eating.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

If you are dealing with emotional eating, we suggest the following tips to help you stop:

  • Be Kind to Yourself. Compassion is crucial to stop emotional eating. Put kindness over negative feelings, such as guilt or shame, that may cause more stress.
  • Observe Yourself. You may be eating due to stress, boredom, sadness, or even happiness. When you identify what triggers emotional eating, it’ll be easier for you to avoid engaging with this behavior.
  • Develop New Coping Skills. Rather than using food to cope, aim to find healthy activities that help with feelings or situations that trigger emotional eating. We recommend exercising, meditating, talking to a friend, spending time with your pets, or getting a new hobby.
  • Choose Healthy Comfort Foods. Instead of junk food, try new healthy snacks that you can have when the urge of emotional eating appears. For example, consider foods like hummus, unsalted nuts, or peanut butter without additives (sugar or salt).
  • Don’t Diet, Nurture Your Body. When committing to a healthy balanced diet, it is okay to indulge in your cravings as long as you do it with moderation. This practice may also prevent you from having feelings of guilt.
  • Prepare Your Meals with Anticipation. It is easier to avoid overindulgence when you plan healthy meals to have throughout the week. Make sure you also have healthy snacks available in your kitchen.

At Z.E.N. Foods, our consultants will guide you towards establishing a healthy diet that fulfills your physiological needs. We offer meal delivery plans that include tasty and guilt-free desserts that make dieting easy and nutritious. Let us help you!


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