Do you come home from school and raid the cupboard for food? Or maybe you can’t seem to finish that last part of your assignment so you open up the packet of biscuits and finish them in one sitting?
Many of us eat because we are stressed, anxious, upset, angry, depressed, watching a movie, hanging out with friends or just because we have nothing better to do. These are all natural emotions and activities that are part of being a human but what happens when you take the phrase ‘food as medicine’ to the extreme and food becomes the way you deal with feelings instead of to satisfy hunger?
May I introduce - ‘Emotional Eating’, you’ve probably met before.
To some extent we’re all emotional eaters, like how we usually manage to find room for dessert after a filling dinner. But many people, especially girls, can struggle with emotional eating, causing serious weight gain, eating disorders and poor body image.
While indulgence foods may boost energy and improve mood in the short term, these sweet feelings often quickly vanish and you’re left with the feeling you were trying to avoid, plus guilt’s now joined the party. This can trigger a vicious cycle and is why it is important to know the difference between physical and emotional hunger.
Next time you reach for a snack, think about which type of hunger is the driving force behind it.
Top Tips To Help Manage Emotional Eating
Exercising – gets your endorphins going which help improve mood and provide energy.
Listen (and dance) to your favourite music.
Spend some time with friends.
Aim to get 7-8 hours sleep every night – when you lack sleep your body finds other ways to compensate, like craving sweet foods.
Reach for a drink of water first - sometimes we think we’re hungry when we’re thirsty instead.
Questions to Ask Yourself
You can also ask yourself these questions about your eating:
Have I been eating larger portions than usual?
Do I feel a loss of control around food?
Am I anxious over something, like school, a social situation, or an event where my abilities might be tested?
Has there been a big event in my life that I'm having trouble dealing with?
Am I overweight, or have I recently put on weight more quickly?
Do other people in my family use food to soothe their feelings too?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, then it's possible that eating has become a coping mechanism instead of a way to fuel your body. Chat with your doctor and he or she can put you in touch with professionals who can put you on a path to a new, healthier relationship with food.
Michaela Papst (Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist)