Emotional eating is eating in response to a negative emotion and is triggered by feelings. Many of us have emotional eating in our toolbox to help us cope in challenging circumstances. COVID-19 has certainly been pretty challenging, so you may have found yourself starting to emotionally eat, or emotionally eating more, as a way of coping with the current situation.
Emotional eating is often perceived to be negative, however it can actually be quite a useful tool. It’s our body’s way of letting us know something is up that needs addressing. However, issues can arise if food is your only tool for coping.
Below are a few steps to help you cope with emotional eating:
Make sure it is emotional hunger you are feeling
Firstly, you may be surprised to hear we have more than just one type of hunger. We have our physical hunger, which is when you may feel the symptoms of hunger such as a rumbling stomach and this goes away after you have eaten enough food. We also have taste hunger which is when we crave a particular food and it usually subsides after eating a smallish portion of that food. Below are some questions to answer if you aren’t sure which type of hunger you are feeling.
Is it physical hunger?
1. When was the last time you ate?
2. Have you eaten enough food today?
If you are still unsure perhaps have a snack. If the feeling goes it was probably physical hunger.
Is it taste hunger?
1. Have the foods you have eaten today satisfied you?
2. Have the foods you’ve eaten provided you with a variety of different flavours and textures?
If you aren’t experiencing physical or taste hunger, it could be emotional hunger.
Identify your emotions
Once you know that it is emotional hunger, the next step is to identify what emotions you are feeling. This can be quite tricky for some people to do but there are lots of tools out there to help you put a name to the emotion, for example the emotional words wheel picture below.
What do you need to meet that emotional need?
Once you understand the emotions you are feeling, you can start identify what you can do to meet that emotional need, instead of food. For example, if you feel lonely you could pick up the phone to a loved one; if you feel anxious perhaps some time away from the news would help.
It is still absolutely okay to emotionally eat, however it is only going to provide you comfort in the short term. Having other strategies in place will help to fully meet the need of the emotions you are experiencing.
Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one's own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress. When we deprive ourselves of self-care it can make us less in tune with ourselves, for example our hunger and fullness cues. Set some time aside to evaluate how well you are practicing self-care, for example think about your sleeping habits, are you nourishing your body, how is your work life balance and what are your stress levels like. Perhaps set yourself some self- care goals for those areas that need a little more attention.
If you are finding your emotional eating is becoming quite overwhelming, seek one to one support from a counsellor Registered Dietitian or Registered Nutritionist.