We’ve all been there. Sitting on the couch, watching a movie in our pyjamas with only one thing on our mind: that bag of chips, that chocolate or that popcorn in the kitchen cupboard. We try to convince ourselves we don’t need it. We attempt to think about something else. We grab some vegetables hoping the craving will disappear. It doesn’t. We finally reach for the snack we are craving and eat the whole bag. We then feel guilty, weak and ashamed. We commit to doing “better” tomorrow.
This is a perfect example of emotional eating. It’s something most of us experience on occasion. The loss of control makes us feel defenceless and powerless. We blame ourselves for not having enough willpower, for not being able to resist our cravings and for always falling into the same trap.
I’ve been there. And it sucks. It really does.
The first step to overcoming emotional eating is to recognize it. This can help us identify WHY we want to eat in the first place. Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to determine if you are experiencing emotional or physical hunger.
1. Did my hunger come on gradually or suddenly?
If it came on gradually, it is most likely physical hunger. As our stomach empties and our digestion advances, our hunger level slowly increases. If your hunger came on suddenly, it is probably emotional hunger due to feeling anxious, stressed or bored.
2. Am I craving a specific food or am I open to eating different foods?
Craving a specific food is often a sign of emotional hunger. We can’t stop thinking about the food and how comforting it would feel to eat it. Note that craving a specific food may also mean your body is guiding you towards eating a food that contains nutrients it needs, which is why all 4 questions are important. When we are physically hungry, we are usually open to eating a variety of foods.
3. Can I stop eating when I’m full or do I continue to eat?
When we are physically hungry, we are more likely to stop eating when we feel full. When we are emotionally hungry, there is a better chance we will keep eating until the dish is empty or the food is gone.
4. Did eating leave me satisfied or do I feel guilt and regret?
Let’s face it, not many of us feel wonderful when we’ve finished eating more than what feels comfortable. This is often a sign we’ve eaten out of emotional hunger.
This being said, we all eat out of emotional hunger sometimes – AND THAT’S OKAY. Food is a source of pleasure and comfort. Sometimes we will eat popcorn at the movie theatre even though we’ve just had dinner. It’s part of the experience and we deserve to live it fully. These questions are meant to be a guide, not a set of rules.
Be kind to yourself. Remember there is no perfect way to eat.
Have you ever lived emotional hunger? How do you cope with it? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!