Emotional Eating: When Diets Don’t Work

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food in response to feelings instead of hunger.

Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.

And believe it or not, 100% of experts believe that obesity is caused by overeating.

And with researchers forecasting that by 2030, 86.3% of American adults will be overweight or obese, maybe, just maybe we should take a closer look at Emotional Eating and it’s cousin Binge Eating.

A Closer Look

Over the centuries, human beings have evolved to thrive on certain types of food. Sure, we can survive on lesser quality food, but our health will suffer for it.

The Good Stuff:

Vegetables, Fruit, unprocessed Animal Protein, and smaller quantities of Seeds, Nuts, Grains and Dairy.

Keep in mind that there is a wide variety of human dietary practices based upon geography and food availability. But this list encompasses pretty much all of the good stuff.

The Bad Stuff:

Processed foods – The more processed they are, the worse they are for our health. e.g. Trans Fats, High Fructose Corn Syrup and just about any kid’s meal at a fast-food restaurant.

So, how come “when you’re happy, your food of choice could be steak or pizza, when you’re sad it could be ice cream or cookies and when you’re bored it could be potato chips.

Food does more than fill our stomachs. It also satisfies feelings, and when you quench those feelings with comfort food when your stomach isn’t growling, that’s emotional eating.

And emotional eating seldom involves the good stuff. Our bad moods drive use towards the processed foods that satisfy our taste buds, defective insulin receptors and most importantly our serotonin receptors.

Ahhh serotonin. Wonderful stuff. Powerful stuff.

So what’s the big deal?

What’s wrong with treating myself after a hard day?

Well, this tendency to use certain foods as though they were drugs is a frequent cause of weight gain, and can also be seen in patients who become fat when exposed to stress

So, How Can I Tell The Difference Between Real Hunger And Emotional Hunger?

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn’t related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, usually something creamy or sweet or salty or crunchy or all of the above. And only that particular food will meet your need. Actual hunger usually doesn’t involve such specific cravings.

3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Even when you are full, if you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to keep eating. When you’re eating because you’re hungry, you’re more likely to stop when you’re full.

5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

Are You An Emotional Eater?

Maybe, maybe not.

If you want to be sure, here is a test from our good friends at Psychology Today that will let you know if you are an Emotional Eater.

Eating Disorders &
Emotional Eating Test

62 questions, 30-35 min

Do you have issues with food? Do you overeat, binge or obsess over calories? The Eating Disorders and Emotional Eating Test will assess your eating habits. It will evaluate whether your relationship to food is mentally healthy or damaging. It will also assess whether you have tendencies towards certain documented eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

After finishing the Eating Disorders & Emotional Eating Test, you will receive a detailed, personalized interpretation of your score that includes diagrams, information on the test topic and tips.

So, Are you an Emotional Eater?

If so, come back tomorrow.

I hate to do this to you, but I am going to have to split this topic into a couple of posts.

In my next post, I will cover the strategies that are being used to combat Emotional Eating. I will also spend some time looking at the phenomena of Intuitive Eating.

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4 thoughts on “Emotional Eating: When Diets Don’t Work

  1. I really wish diagnosis equaled successful treatment.

    Addictions need to be identified and treated as an addiction. Creative strategies do not work, because they depend on the addict to do them.

    It’s not pretty, but we are faced with ugly necessities.

  2. Not so sure about 100% of experts agreeing obesity is caused by overeating – it’s a bit long, but if you have time take a look at…

    http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=4362041487661765149&hl=en&fs=true

    I’m not at all convinced by everything he says, but some of his points are quite convincing! I know from experience that if I put on weight I need to eat better and exercise more and that’ll bring it down, and that’s probably true for most people. Maybe not everyone, though?

  3. I love reading Gary Taubes’ work. Very thought provoking.

    I am going to have to set aside some time (71 minutes???) to watch this.

    Thanks for the link Shadowduck

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