Within my young lifetime I have seen the explosion of food related media. It is increasingly clear that people love anything food related… and why wouldn’t they? Food and emotion are undoubtedly connected (a gift and a curse) which brings us to an interesting paradox. Food is a great way to stimulate connections, show thanks, and is one of lifes greatest pleasures.
Unfortunately the dark side of the food and emotion spectrum is a term called, “emotional eating.” You may have heard this term thrown around before with its associated buzzwords like comfort foods. My family and I even deemed our own word for emotional eating called the “crunch.” The crunch represents that popcorn you eat as a nightcap, or the handful of crackers you mow down as your watching TV. It is a funny way to represent emotional eating because most times the craving for the crunch exists at times where you are completely satiated (full). In my experience women in particular seem to be very susceptible to “the crunch,” and it represents a huge reason as to why people cannot take control of their eating habits.
To throw out a more surgical definition than the crunch, “emotional eating” is eating for any other reason then hunger. Yes this definition is meant to be very broad and as social beings it is clear we eat for many reasons other than hunger. However I would like to emphasize the need for people especially Americans to regain a sense of their hunger.
When I say hunger I mean the physical sensation that occurs when your body “needs” food. When you eat for emotional reasons you are satisfying something else. It can be different for many people but often emotional eaters crave sugar, alcohol, or high fat. Mostly high calorie nutrient sparse foods that give you a burst of neurotransmitters that make you feel really really good…for a really short time. Over time this cycle reinforces itself and can really do some damage to your body.
Taking control of your emotional eating can be very helpful but often times difficult for some people as food has been their only crutch. The first step is to recognize your emotional eating by identifying your triggers. In my own experience I noticed I had emotional connections to food when I was bored… which seems to be a common emotional trigger to eating. Others include eating for sadness, happiness, low self worth, anger etc…
Depending on your level of emotional eating fixing your habits can range from being somewhat simple to very difficult. Identifying your triggers and when you feel the need to eat, asking yourself, “am I really hungry.” If the answer is no you are not hungry then go about solving your emotional eating by doing another enjoyable activity. This could be anything from messaging a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, watching a favorite clip on you tube, reading my blog, or going for a walk, basically any other activity than can replace the feeling to eat. Some people suggest doing a couple pushups or excercising. Yoga, relaxation, and meditation are other popular options. In reality it is going to be person specific.
For some people emotional eating is a little bit harder to just fix. Sometimes these people have been using food as self-medication. Trying to control their depression or anxiety with food is serious and underlying issues must be resolved, and therapy, meditation and other such methods should be employed.
Over the last couple of years my research interests have slowly evolved and I ponder quite a bit about how people perceive their own body image. Dieting itself is often a time where people are particularly susceptible to emotional eating. I think on a subconscious level dieting for some people is an admittance of dissatisfaction with their bodies and self worth. Hopefully in the future I can help this country get back to a healthy standing. Too many poor girls and boys suffer a living hell because of their eating disorders and body dysmorphia. It is my job to remind people that dieting is just one of the many ways to improve your self confidence… It may take a while to reach a body you are satisfied with but you can change your mindset today. At the end of the day your physical appearance is the tip of the iceberg of the great person you are. Dieting should be a slow enjoyable process filled with foods your body actually needs and a period of self-reinvention and acceptance. Exist outside the unrealistic messages the media sets forth and everyone can be a lot happier. Work on your body composition goals day by day in a realistic manner, and focus your worries on much more meaningful things. You don't need to look like a greek god to be happy!