Emotions control us, whether or not you like to admit it. This even includes emotional eating, one of the biggest weight loss hurdles. It’s not just about self-control, though. Emotional eating stems from psychological and biological reasons. When feelings fuel food, there’s a greater chance for poor choices. It takes away from mindful eating. Yet, health depends on that mindfulness, so it’s thinking about.1 Again, self-discipline isn’t the only factor. Here’s why emotional eating happens, and how you can stop it.
Reasons For Emotional Eating
1. Emotional Eating Gives Pleasure
Eating can induce “feel good” emotions. Some people do it when they’re bored, while others just like to feel good. Sweet foods are a major culprit. Sugar actually increases beta-endorphins, a type of opioid neuropeptide.2 And yes, this brain chemical is the same one that’s released during exercise.3 They’re part of the brain’s reward system and gives you a pleasurable “high.”4 Obviously, despite the similar effect, exercise and sugar have very different outcomes. But it does explain why cake and cookies make people so happy.
2. Emotional Eating Due To Stress
Stress eating is very real. After all, when the brain is pre-occupied, who wants to think about food? Making healthy choices feels like a lot of effort. It’s no surprise that people make poorer food choices during of stress.5 About 38 percent of adults do it! Of those people, 33 percent use it as a distraction, while 27 percent do it as a form of management.6 Our culture teaches us that avoiding feelings is better than dealing with it. Sadly, this mindset is the perfect recipe for emotional eating.
3. Emotional Eating Due To Exhaustion
Sleep is necessary for normal, healthy brain function. If you don’t get enough shut eye, thinking and learning will suffer. It also makes you more vulnerable to emotional eating. When you don’t sleep, the “hunger hormone” ghrelin increases. Meanwhile, the “satiety hormone” leptin takes a nosedive. It’s the perfect setup for a ravenous appetite.7 As cravings pop up, you’ll be too tired to fight them off. It’s also hard to fight brain signals when you’re running on empty.
How To Stop Emotional Eating
1. Find Healthier Distractions To Stop Emotional Eating
Instead of eating just to pass the time, distract yourself. Freshen up your home with a cleaning spree. Try a new hobby or wrap up random errands. You can even take a walk or call an old friend, two things that can also boost endorphins. The main difference? You won’t pack on the calories. Know that television isn’t the best choice. It’ll distract you and your eating, a habit that’s linked to weight gain.8
2. Learn How To Manage Stress
We know that it’s easier said than done. However, it’s a life-long learning process, and you need to start somewhere. By practicing healthy stress relief, you can reduce the chances of emotional eating. Recognize what you can’t change. By shifting your mindset, you can learn to accept and move forward. Doing things you love, like gardening or painting, can also help. Remember, you don’t need be a pro to reap the benefits. Just have fun with it. Yoga, meditation, and exercise also provide relief.9 Physical activity will release those endorphins, too!
3. Get Enough Sleep
You’ve heard it time and time again: Sleep is important. It’ll help you stay productive, making the workday a little less miserable. Most importantly, emotional eating will be less likely. There’s a reason why sleep prevents obesity, diabetes, and poor immunity. The more rest you get, the better food choices you’ll make. Your overall health will flourish.10 Aim for 7 to 8 hours each night. If you have trouble sleeping, practice good habits like limiting screen time and caffeine at night.11
If you’re an emotional eating, don’t be down on yourself. It takes time and awareness to adjust your habits. By looking at the bigger picture, you can beat emotional eating.
|↑1||Mason, Ashley E., Jennifer Daubenmier, Patricia J. Moran, Jean Kristeller, Mary Dallman, Robert H. Lustig, Michael Acree et al. “Increases in mindful eating predict reductions in consumption of sweets and desserts: data from the supporting health by integrating nutrition and exercise (SHINE) clinical trial.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 20, no. 5 (2014): A17-A17.|
|↑2, ↑5||Fullerton, Donald T., Carl J. Getto, William J. Swift, and Ian H. Carlson. “Sugar, opioids and binge eating.” Brain Research Bulletin 14, no. 6 (1985): 673-680.|
|↑3||Harber, Victoria J., and John R. Sutton. “Endorphins and exercise.” Sports Medicine 1, no. 2 (1984): 154-171.|
|↑4||Sprouse-Blum, Adam S., Greg Smith, Daniel Sugai, and F. Don Parsa. “Understanding endorphins and their importance in pain management.” Hawaii medical journal 69, no. 3 (2010): 70.|
|↑6||Stress and Eating. American Psychological Association.|
|↑7, ↑10||Why Is Sleep Important? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|
|↑8||Distracted eating may add to weight gain. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School.|
|↑9||Learn to manage stress. MedlinePlus.|
|↑11||How Much Sleep Is Enough? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.|