Emotional eating is not recognized as its own, separate eating disorder. However, it is a problem because it can lead to multiple health issues. Also, emotional eating is frequently seen as a behavior that accompanies classic eating disorders, sometimes as a cause and sometimes as a symptom.
You may have recognized times in your life where you answered a negative or positive emotion by eating and indulging in too much food. Does this mean that you are out of control with your emotions, and you have a real eating problem? On the other hand, this could be normal behavior that is not a real problem, if you don't do it most of the time. The bottom line is this ... you want to know how you can determine if you have a full-blown emotional eating problem or not. Here are a few of the more common signs and symptoms of an emotional eating issue that is out of control.
You have a hunger that attacks suddenly. Real hunger builds up slowly. Emotional eating, also called stress eating, hits you out of nowhere. This is one way for you to recognize emotional as opposed to physical hunger. The urge to eat is sudden and sometimes overwhelming, and this is not how the normal, physiological hunger process works.
You eat mindlessly. You eat just to be eating, while you are watching TV or talking on the phone, and before you know it, all you have around you are several empty fast food wrappers.
You never feel full. When you eat in response to physical hunger, you get full eventually. Sometimes emotional hunger continues to attack long after you have eaten enough food to answer a physical hunger attack.
Emotional hunger is hallmarked by specific comfort foods. If you went without eating for two or three days, even the most hated vegetables would be consumed rapidly. Normal hunger means eating just about anything to satiate your hunger signal. If your eating is emotion-based, you want nothing but a pizza, a cheeseburger, ice cream or some other specific unhealthy, comfort food.
Your hunger signals don't come from your stomach. We have all had a growling in our stomach telling us to eat. Emotional hunger often is a mental craving, instead of a signal from your gut.
If eating causes guilt, regret, shame and self-hatred, you are likely eating in response to some emotion. When your body sends out a signal to your brain to tell you to eat for nutrition-based reasons, you don't usually suffer from negative emotions after eating.
You notice that you eat more when you are in a particular situation or environment. Often emotional eaters develop stress-related patterns of poor eating behaviors. You overeat unhealthy comfort foods any time you are around a specific coworker, in your car heading to and from work, when you are studying for a test, or in some other stressful situation on a regular and repetitive basis.