Have you ever celebrated a big promotion or some life event with a celebratory dinner complete with your favorite “feel good” foods? Or have you had to deal with sadness, and to help you deal with your emotions, a gallon of rocky road ice cream seems the perfect prescription.
We do it all the time. We answer emotional needs by eating. We may or may not be physically hungry, but nonetheless, we consume "comfort food" in response to the way we feel. This is called emotional eating. While emotional eating is not an eating disorder itself, it is a common symptom of people with eating disorders.
Put very simply, emotional eating is when you use food to manage your moods. Often, this is an unconscious response, rather than a rational choice.
Sadly, this is not an uncommon practice. Those who study eating disorders believe that as much as 75% of all eating takes place because of emotions. That is a staggering statistic. That means that most of the time when you eat, you are not simply trying to give your body the nutrition it needs to function properly. Most of the time, you are trying to regulate your mood with food.
Emotional Eating Wrecks Your Diet Plans
How powerful is eating for emotional needs? A study reported in Obesity magazine showed that emotional eaters who successfully lose weight by following some diet are much more likely to gain that weight back than non-emotional eaters.
This doesn't mean normal celebratory eating because of a birthday, holiday or anniversary.
Some emotional eating is good. When you are spending time honoring a celebration or holiday with friends and family, and good food is a part of that celebration, you create wonderful memories that you can look back on and smile. Rewarding yourself with your favorite comfort food at the end of a week successfully following a strict diet just makes sense too.
The problem occurs when you consistently turn to emotional eating as a coping mechanism. You overeat on a regular basis, and the foods you focus on are generally not that good for you. Constant emotional eating can lead to eating problems such as night eating syndrome or binge eating disorder.
Why Eating to Manage Moods Doesn't Work
People who overeat to calm their emotions usually feel bad about what they're doing. They are upset about their relationship with food. After they have consumed a lot of comfort food in order to make themselves feel better about something, they realize what they have done. This causes them to feel distressed and frustrated at themselves.
Guess what happens? They answer those negative emotions with food. This creates a vicious cycle where poor health, obesity, overweight, diabetes and depression are often the rewards for this unhealthy eating practice.
If you are concerned you may be responding to your emotions with food too frequently, talk to a therapist or mental health professional. You may also want to take the emotional eating test offered for free by Psychology Today. That test takes about 25 minutes.