A Dietitian’s Guide to Overcoming Emotional Eating & Cravings

Do you find yourself in the mood for certain foods when you feel sad or worried? For many people, food is a way to manage emotions and is a way to cope with our feelings. If you are trying to lose weight or gain a healthier relationship with food, an awareness of the relationship between emotional eating and cravings is the first step in managing your eating habits.

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What Is Emotional Eating?

Your health status is closely linked to what you eat. The foods you consume are influenced by several factors, including how you feel, your environment, your social situation, and your emotions.

Emotional eating favors overeating high-calorie foods rich in sugar and fats that taste good. You might experience cravings for these types of foods. And it can happen not only when you experience negative emotions but also when your emotions swing toward the positive side.

The problem with emotional eating is that it often leads to weight gain due to the increased consumption of high-calorie foods. Obesity and its associated diseases are the world’s leading diet-related problem. Emotional eating often results from negative emotions and overrides your normal sensations of hunger and fullness.

The negative emotions that are most often associated with emotional eating include:

  • Anxiety
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Worry
  • Boredom
  • Anger
  • Stress
  • Depression

 When you experience negative emotions and eat food that tastes good, the pleasurable response overrides the negative emotions, leading you to feel better temporarily. But later, you might feel even worse and guilty for overeating.

How Can I Tell If I’m An Emotional Eater?

 Sometimes, it can be challenging to know if you are eating because you are hungry or if you are eating because of an emotional trigger. Here are some questions that can help you identify emotional eating:

  • Do you eat more when you are stressed?
  • Do you eat even when you aren’t hungry or after you are full?
  • Do you eat to feel better?
  • Do you use food as a reward?
  • Does food make you feel safe?
  • Do you feel out of control around food?

What Is Binge Eating?

Emotional eating often turns into binge eating. Usually, you’ll overeat without thinking about it, and you don’t stop even when you feel full.

Many people will occasionally binge, for example, at a holiday meal. However, regular episodes of excessive overeating that feel out of control characterize binge eating. Symptoms of binge eating include:

  • Eating an unusually large amount of food over a specific amount of time, for example, two hours
  • Feelings that you can’t control your eating behavior
  • Eating even though you are full
  • Eating rapidly during a binge episode
  • Eating until you feel uncomfortably full
  • Eating alone or in secret
  • Feeling depressed, disgusted, ashamed, guilty, or upset by your eating habits
  • Frequent dieting without losing weight

Binge eating is similar to food addiction, but the difference is often related to the emotional component. Binge eating involves compulsively eating a large amount of food in a short amount of time. Afterward, you may feel guilty or ashamed of the behavior.

What is Food Addiction?

When you have a food addiction, you lose control over your eating behavior when eating a particular food triggers the release of feel-good chemicals like dopamine that affect your mood. Like taking a drug, your brain craves pleasure, and you’ll want to eat more foods that make you feel good. You can also develop tolerance to food, meaning you’ll need to eat even more to get the same satisfaction.

 Signs that you might have a food addiction include:

  • You keep eating certain foods even when you aren’t hungry any longer
  • Often eating to the point of feeling sick
  • You worry that you need to cut down on certain types of foods
  • You’ll go out of your way to get a particular food

Is There Treatment For Emotional Eating?

Yes! There is help available for emotional eating and managing cravings. You want to work with a registered dietitian who specializes in eating disorders. They are the only ones who can provide specific strategies for managing emotional eating, food cravings, binge eating, and food addiction. They can help you determine triggers and find other ways to cope with stress and emotions besides food.  

Some strategies to try when you are developing new coping mechanisms include:

  • Mindfulness practice. Meditation, breathing exercises, and relaxation are helpful when making behavioral changes.
  • Keep a food diary. A record of what you eat and how it makes you feel will help you identify triggers that lead to emotional eating. Your diary can be pen and paper, or you can use a nutrition tracking app on your phone.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Ensure you give your body the fuel it needs, but keep junk food and other temptations out of your house.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes. Measure out portions and think carefully before having a second serving.
  • Seek support from friends and family. If you eat emotionally when you feel sad or lonely, reaching out for support can help boost your mood.

How Can I Get Help?

Here at Your Wellness Center, we do not personally treat or manage those struggling with eating disorders. Again, you want to find a registered dietitian who specializes in this field and is trained and educated on emotional eating, food cravings, and binge eating. 

We suggest searching for “registered dietitians near me that specialize in eating disorders” as a start. Then be sure to make sure they have the proper accreditation and experience you are looking for. 

With that said, if you need help addressing any diet or food concerns, then we can help! Please complete our initial consultation form. One of our providers will review your health history and contact you to schedule a consultation.

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