A phrase I often here is ‘I’m an emotional eater’ and this is very common. There can be so many other reasons why we choose to eat, not just genuine hunger. So what is classed as genuine hunger?

A phrase I often here is ‘I’m an emotional eater’ and this is very common. There can be so many other reasons why we choose to eat, not just genuine hunger. So what is classed as genuine hunger?

  • It’s been a while since you last ate
  • A feeling that occurs despite outside influences, such as others eating around you or walking past a bakery and smelling bread baking
  • You may feel weaker, irritable or tired due to a dip in blood sugar
  • Could eat a variety of foods rather than craving one particular type
  • You tend to feel satisfied when you’ve eaten enough
  • You may experience hunger pangs, the body’s natural response to hunger
  • Tend not to feel guilty after eating

However, often we can eat for very different reasons and we can often reach for food without a physiological need for it. Some of the signs of emotional eating include:

  • You crave instant satisfaction
  • Often as a result of smells of food, TV adverts or other people eating around you; even if you’ve recently eaten
  • You feel that eating food can take your mind off your problems and make you feel instantly better
  • Could eat food, even if physically full, just because it’s there
  • Can be as a result of boredom, stress or emotional upset
  • You may feel like you can carry on eating, even if you feel uncomfortably full or even sick
  • Often crave junk, sugary or salty foods
  • You tend to eat more than you normally would
  • Often guilty feelings are associated with this kind of eating 

How can you control emotional eating?

Emotional eating often stems from feelings of sadness, boredom, stress or other strong emotions. Even eating for happiness, such as associated a cinema trip with popcorn & sweets, or eating dessert after a big meal when dining out. You may feel that it’s hard to control and even derail attempts at improving your health.

There are strategies you can adopt though which can help you to break this pattern. For instance:

  • Realise that emotional eating isn’t due to your lack of self control, it’s an emotional response. So you can work on changing your situation in that moment or how you associate food with it
  • If you’re eating for a particular emotion, then try & change that situation in that moment. So if you’re bored, then pick up a book or ring a friend or family member. If you’re feeling emotional, write down your emotions to help you process them. If you’re going to the cinema, take some healthy snacks such as nuts, or eat a decent meal before you leave home.
  • This may seem like a too-easy solution, but it takes a little time but you can change these patterns especially when you know you’re doing it for your own health and emotional well-being.
  • Make sure you eat regular meals. Often emotional eaters can reduce intake to try to ‘save’ calories but this strategy almost always back-fires as this leads to true hunger which can make the situation even worse. So stock up on healthy meals & snacks, have a cooking day and prepare some tasty meals and freeze in portions so you can just reheat when hunger takes a hold. Get some healthy snacks and keep them to hand and get rid of unhealthy foods.
  • Rid your cupboards of ‘trigger’ foods which are foods that you find particularly tempting when you are feeling the urge to eat.
  • When you eat out, try & be more aware of your feelings of fullness. When you reach almost full, push the plate away or asked for it to be taken away. If it’s there you may continue to pick at the plate, without really wanting it.
  • The same thing at home, serve yourself a smaller portion that you really want; knowing you can go back for more if you want; chances are you will feel satisfied with what you’ve got. You can always put the rest in Tupperware and have it for lunch the next day!

Food is a source of pleasure and enjoyment.  The most important thing is to keep the dialogue going between you and your stomach so you stay in control of your eating! With any habit, it can take a few weeks to change it, but you can and it will be so worth it in the long run. Afterall we all want to enjoy our food and not feel guilty about eating, or have meal-times control our lives

Posted by Linda O'Byrne
Atkins Nutritionist