How to Calm Emotional Hunger with 3 Simple Steps

Emotional Hunger

Have you ever found yourself eating even though you’re not hungry? Or eating more than you intended? If so, you are not alone. As a dietitian focused on intuitive eating, I encounter many people who struggle with emotional hunger. This type of hunger is driven by emotions, such as boredom, stress, or anger, rather than physical hunger. If you want to learn how to calm emotional hunger and regain control over your eating habits, keep reading! In this blog post, we will discuss strategies for coping with emotional eating.

What is emotional hunger?

Emotional eating is a term used to describe eating in response to emotions, rather than hunger. We all eat for emotional reasons from time to time, which is not a bad thing, but it can become a problem when we use it as a defense mechanism to deal with negative emotions. When emotional eating becomes frequent or uncontrolled, intervention may be necessary to address it effectively.

Emotional eating is typically viewed in negative terms, but in fact, it serves a valuable purpose. There are basic human needs, which we sometimes seek to satisfy through food. And if we have not developed ways to face these needs, it is natural that we seek to satisfy them through food. We’ll see how this works.

Differences between physiological hunger and emotional hunger

Emotional eating is different from physical hunger in a few key ways. First, with emotional eating, the urge to eat often comes on suddenly. When you are physically hungry, the feeling of hunger gradually increases over time.

Second, emotional hunger is often stronger than physical hunger: you feel like you need to eat NOW. With physical hunger, you can usually wait a while before eating.

Third, emotional eating is not just about satisfying hunger; It’s also about satisfying your emotions. When you eat emotionally, food becomes a way to deal with negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or sadness.

What are the causes of emotional eating?

There are a variety of different factors that can trigger emotional eating, including:

  • boredom
  • fatigue
  • the anxiety
  • the Depression

In some cases, emotional eating can be a way to self-medicate in response to difficult emotions. It’s also worth noting that emotional eating often has very little to do with actual hunger; rather, it’s about using food as a way to cope with difficult feelings.

Food IS emotional

Since childhood, we develop an emotional relationship with food. This is because the main source of nutrition in the first months and years of life comes from our primary caregivers.

When we receive food from these people, we establish a caring and protective relationship with the food. Additionally, as we grow, social influences play a role in our emotional relationship with food. For example, it is common to share food at social celebrations (birthdays, parties, weddings, etc.).

We also find that food has a functional role as a “gift”, to show affection or love, for example when someone gives a box of chocolates or a delicious cake.

Factors involved in emotional hunger

Here is an overview of why emotional hunger occurs. Emotional stress can affect eating habits ( 1 ) due to:

  • Poor interoceptive awareness:  This means a lack of awareness about the internal body signals that we are continually receiving, accessing and evaluating. The inability to identify or verbally describe our feelings is also involved.
  • Confusion with hunger and satiety signals:  Not knowing how to determine when we are hungry or when we are full .
  • Body sensations associated with emotions:  The body-mind connection is so strong that our emotions can produce physical symptoms.
  • Poor emotional regulation strategies:  Use of coping behaviors such as emotional suppression, distraction stress avoidance, or anxiety eating.
  • Mental health conditions. Feelings of depression can also lead to anxiety and depression eating. Low levels of serotonin activity (the neurotransmitter that regulates mood, intestinal activity and appetite, memory and sleep) are associated with increased appetite.

And these are just some of the factors involved. As we can see, emotional eating is a very complex response. Therefore, it involves many different strategies to learn how to deal with it, as we will see later.

So, there’s no need to feel guilty or more stressed about anxiety eating. As we have just seen, it is a very common response to difficult situations.

What are the consequences of emotional hunger?

As we have seen, emotional eating is driven by emotional needs such as stress relief, boredom, or the desire for comfort. While emotional eating can provide temporary relief from negative emotions, it can also have long-term consequences, such as yo-yo weight cycles, emotional difficulties, and health problems.

Constant weight change is one of the most common consequences of emotional eating. When we eat for emotional reasons, we are often unaware of how much we are consuming. This can lead to overeating, which in turn can lead to poor weight stability.

Emotional eating can also interfere with our ability to make informed decisions about what we eat. If we use food to cope with negative emotions, we are less likely to choose foods that nourish our body from a place of inner body wisdom.

Emotional eating can also contribute to emotional difficulties such as anxiety and depression. When we rely on food to cope with our emotions, we can feel out of control and hopeless. This can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness.

When we eat emotionally, we are numbing our feelings or trying to repress them. This can become a vicious cycle, as emotional eating can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. These negative emotions can trigger a search for food to relieve difficult emotions, perpetuating the cycle.

How do I know if I am emotionally hungry?

Many times we realize that we eat because we are hungry, but what happens when we eat because we are sad or anxious?

Emotional hunger can be caused by a variety of reasons, including stress, anxiety, depression, boredom, and loneliness. Emotional hunger often arises when we try to fill a void in our lives with food. We may eat because we need to be distracted or comforted, but this only leaves us feeling worse later.

If you feel like you start eating for reasons that have nothing to do with physical hunger, you could be emotionally hungry. If you have emotional hunger, it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with the feelings that cause it. Emotional hunger is a real problem, but it doesn’t have to control your life. There are many ways to deal with it and move on.

How to relieve emotional hunger?

If you think you may be an emotional eater, there are steps you can take to get relief. First, try to be aware of your triggers: what emotions or situations lead you to emotional eating?

Once you know your triggers, you can begin to develop other coping mechanisms to deal with them. If necessary, the help of a therapist or counselor can be helpful in working through difficult emotions.

These are just a few steps you can use to begin to interrupt the cycle of emotional hunger:

  1. Stop and name your feelings

When you find yourself eating for emotional reasons, stop and take a moment to identify what you are feeling. This can be difficult, but it is an important step in addressing the problem. Once you have a better understanding of what is driving your behavior, you can work to find healthier ways to cope.

  1. Use the hunger-satiety scale

Another way to understand your emotional eating is using the hunger/fullness scale. This tool asks you to rate your hunger on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being hungry and 10 being full. Once you’ve rated your hunger, ask yourself how it matches up with the emotion you’re feeling. If your hunger level is at 2 but your emotion is at 8, emotional eating is likely playing a role.

  1. Think about how to best meet your emotional needs

Once you understand what is driving your emotional eating, think about how you can better meet your needs. This may mean different things for different people, but some ideas include movement, journaling, talking to a friend, or listening to music.

Conclusion

Recovery from emotional eating IS possible, but it takes time and effort. If you’re having trouble making changes on your own, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.

Abbas Jahangir

I am a researcher and writer with a background in food and nutritional science. I am the founder of Foodstrend.com, our reputable online platform offering scientifically-backed articles on health, food, nutrition, kitchen tips, recipes, diet, and fitness. With a commitment to providing accurate and reliable information, we strive to empower our readers to make informed decisions about their health and lifestyle choices. Join us on Foodstrend.com's journey toward a healthier and happier lifestyle.

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