What is emotional or stress eating? Emotional eating is a response to stress, depression or negative feelings in which you tend to eat high-calorie food with low nutritional value. Anything from financial anxiety, work stress to health issues or relationship problems can lead to emotional eating. Food gives us a sense of completeness, a feeling of fullness, and that is why when we are alone or feel low or lonely, we tend to eat more food. The quantity of food consumed is usually more than what we typically eat. You must have heard many people saying that they feel hungrier when they are tensed, this s what we call emotional eating or stress-eating, which is why anxiety is linked to weight gain and weight loss. The emotional eaters usually crave comfort foods like cookies, chocolate, ice cream, pizza and French fries.
Why is emotional eating considered unhealthy? Explains Nutritionist Manisha Chopra
Emotional eating is not suitable for health. Eating because of stress leave many people more upset than before. To stop emotional eating, one can look out for other ways to deal with stress, like working on their hobbies, reading books, setting up an exercise routine, trying meditation or spending time with family and friends. This will help them divert their mind from emotional hunger, and they will be able to manage their stress and even come out of it quickly.
What is the psychology behind emotional eating? Explains Dr Prakriti Poddar (Mental Health Expert), Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation
- Hunger isn’t always about satisfying physical hunger. There are times when people turn to emotional eating to cope with difficult situations. Chowing down on sweets, junk foods, and other comforting foods makes it seem like everything will be alright. Research has proven that parts of the brain are rewarded from eating high-fat or high-sugar foods. And over a decade of psychological research suggests that any rewarded behaviour is likely to be repeated.
- The unfortunate part is that emotional eating or stress eating doesn’t turn out to be a proper solution to the challenges thrown at us by life. Though it may seem like a temporary solution, it can bring long-term distress with issues like obesity. Occasionally using food to celebrate (as a reward), isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, things take a turn when eating turns out to be the primary emotional coping mechanism, where the first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever there is stress, anxiety, pressure, or depression. This creates an unhealthy cycle where the real cause of the problem is never addressed.
Learn the distinction between emotional hunger and real hunger by Fitness Expert Manisha Chopra
Real hunger and emotional hunger are quite similar, but one must know how to differentiate between the two. Emotional craving is sudden and abrupt. You only crave for certain foods and may not feel full after having your meal. On the other hand, real hunger develops slowly and gradually. You feel a sensation of fullness after eating. So, one needs to pay attention to their hunger and how they feel after consuming food.
Tips for dealing with emotional eating
"There is a distinction between physical hunger and emotional hunger which needs to be understood. Being cautious of what you are falling prey to, is the first step to understand this. The best way to deal with emotional eating is to figure out the triggers that are causing it" states Akansha Kohli, Founder & Creative Director- Saffron Gourmet.
- Distraction from emotional eating can be achieved through brisk small walks, turning on the favourite music, chatting with friends, or any other suitable healthy ways. Write a diary, read a book or do some breathing exercises with deep breathing. Many activities will help your brain to relieve stress from food. Yoga and meditation also prove to be quite sufficient to deal with the concern of emotional eating.
- Keep your mind alert of what you are eating; practising affirmations; portion control eating; eliminating junk foods from your kitchen shelves and most importantly physical exercise are some of the ways to avoid slipping into the trap of emotional eating.
- Find a way to deal with negative emotions as this is one of the reasons for emotional eating. Apart from this, you should consume fruits, vegetable juices, salads, fruits, dry fruits etc. This will help you to be alert and happy to work well.
- Whenever you feel emotional eating, remember your weight, body shape and diet. After this, you should also think about whether you want to eat it or not? How many benefits and disadvantages are there for your health.
- It is an excellent plan to keep a food diary to keep track of how much and what you ate and how you felt at the time. There’ll be a pattern to it, and once you recognise the way, strategies can be adopted to break it.
- To prevent emotional eating, you should do some exercises to do instant activities like walking or jogging. This will help you while getting emotional.
- Eat a diet rich in fibre and protein as these can keep you full for longer. To prevent or control emotional eating, you can take help of a professional.
Healthy alternatives to emotional eating
- Dark chocolate reduces emotional eating: Dark chocolate is one such thing that does not harm your body. Always keep them in your bag and eat a small piece whenever you feel craved. Stay away from mint dark chocolates as they are high in sugar. While you are struggling with emotional eating, dark chocolate can help you a lot. Eating it can calm your appetite and craving for a long time. However, one must limit themself to two pieces per day.
- Use fennel seeds: Do you know that fennel tea reduces your craving? You can take it in the powder form with tea and warm water (after dinner). At the same time, it works as a mouth freshener, which also hinders your craving. To use it, soak it in water overnight, and add in the morning tea. You can take two to three teaspoons of fennel per day. It acts as a healer and prevents constipation. Apart from this, it also helps you fight craving periods.
- Prevent emotional eating with fresh fruits: Fresh fruits like bananas, grapes, and kiwi contain natural sugars, which do not increase blood sugar and maintains insulin levels. However, one should not mix fruits with cream and sugar additives. Apart from this, you can also calm your craving with fresh fruit ice cream.
Emotional eating does not let one differentiate between starving or just eating out of a state of mind; they are currently in, which does not allow one to think straight. Mostly emotional eating is about binge eating junk foods readily available in our kitchen shelves and are not healthy. With this state of mind, junk food acts as comfort food that helps let go of any negativity or is a way to express happiness. "This, over time, becomes a cycle which leads to obesity and puts one at risk of a large number of lifestyle diseases. Therefore, one needs to know the importance of a balanced diet and its correlation to a healthy life. When you resort to healthy eating habits, emotional hunger is never looked upon as a solution to suppress or express those bouts of emotional outbursts".- Indrani Sarma, Founder- Indulgence Foods.
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