What Is Emotional And Mindful Eating?
Stress eating is consuming food in response to your feelings, especially when you are not hungry. Stress eating is also sometimes called emotional eating. Emotional eating means that your emotions — not your body — dictate when and how much you eat.
Sometimes the strongest food cravings hit when you’re at your weakest point emotionally. You may turn to food for comfort — consciously or unconsciously — when facing a difficult problem, feeling stressed or even feeling bored.
Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you’ve just consumed.
The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger
Emotional hunger can be powerful, so it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to help you tell physical and emotional hunger apart.
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t feel as dire or demand instant satisfaction (unless you haven’t eaten for a very long time).
Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, almost anything sounds good—including healthy stuff like vegetables. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do.
Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating. Before you know it, you’ve eaten a whole bag of chips or an entire pint of ice cream without really paying attention or fully enjoying it. When you’re eating in response to physical hunger, you’re typically more aware of what you’re doing.
Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
Emotional hunger isn’t located in the stomach. Rather than a growling belly or a pang in your stomach, you feel your hunger as a craving you can’t get out of your head. You’re focused on specific textures, tastes, and smells.
Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
3 Ways to Stop Stress Eating
There are different ways to control emotional eating and turn your stress into a more positive experience. But all three methods require you to examine and change your habits. So you need to be committed if you want to stop stress eating for good.
Find the Source of Stress
Many people have stress triggers that cause them to eat. Perhaps there are relationship issues that cause pain. Or perhaps family or work stress has gotten out of control. If you can identify your triggers, then you can take active steps to tackle stress before it gets out of control.
So how do you find triggers? Keeping a weight loss journal helps. Carry it with you in your handbag or briefcase and jot down notes throughout the day. Write down what you eat and how you felt when you ate it. Also, take notes on the environment and the people who were with you when you ate. These may provide clues to your triggers.
Find New Ways to Relieve Stress
Once you know what causes you to eat more, set up healthy systems to avoid eating in those situations.
For example, if your work environment is stressful. Identify one friend who can walk with you during your lunch hour to avoid excess calories and promote healthy activity. Do you get stressed out at home? Set up a small meditational space or quiet corner where you can go to relax or take deep breaths. If school is a source of stress, find community groups that share your interest or sign up for a sport.
Get Help for Emotional Stress
If your own methods don’t stop stress eating, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many social workers and psychologists are trained specifically to deal with emotional eaters and find solutions to curb the habit.
A trained professional may be able to help you set boundaries with people who cause you stress or change your environment for the better. He or she may also be able to tackle issues that cause you to ruminate or run to the fridge when you don’t need food.
What is mindful eating?
Mindful eating is a practice that develops your awareness of eating habits and allows you to pause between your triggers and your actions. Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, you feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now. Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.
Take a break before you give in to your craving
Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.
Can you put off eating for five minutes? Or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait.
While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.
How to practice mindful eating?
Eating while you’re also doing other things—such as watching TV, driving, or playing with your phone—can prevent you from fully enjoying your food. Since your mind is elsewhere, you may not feel satisfied or continue eating even though you’re no longer hungry. Eating more mindfully can help focus your mind on your food and the pleasure of a meal and curb overeating.
- Eat your meals in a calm place with no distractions, aside from any dining companions.
- Before you start to eat, take a moment to consider what it took to produce your meal, from the farmer to the grocer to the cook.
- Try eating with your non-dominant hand or using chopsticks instead of a knife and fork. Eating in such a non-familiar way can slow down how fast you eat and ensure your mind stays focused on your food.
- Allow yourself enough time not to have to rush your meal. Set a timer for 20 minutes and pace yourself so you spend at least that much time eating.
- Take small bites and chew them well, taking time to notice the different flavors and textures of each mouthful.
- Put your utensils down between bites. Take time to consider how you feel—hungry, satiated—before picking up your utensils again.
- Try to stop eating before you are full. It takes time for the signal to reach your brain that you’ve had enough. Don’t feel obligated to always clean your plate.
- When you’ve finished your food, take a few moments to assess if you’re really still hungry before opting for an extra serving or dessert.
Begin by accepting all your feelings
While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.
Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention.
To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating.
Also read – Ways to stop Emotional eating