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Overcome emotional eating

TEMPTATION: Using food as a way of trying to solve other problems in your life is not healthy

OCCASIONAL EMOTIONAL eating is normal. Everyone has celebrated with food before, that is what birthday parties, Christmas dinners and summer barbecues are all about. But emotional eating can become a serious problem when it leads to negative emotional and physical imbalances in our lives.

Frequent emotional eating can easily become a destructive cycle. Emotional eating becomes entrenched in the lives of its sufferers when they use food to regulate their mood, cope with stress or overcome feelings of anxiety or boredom instead of tackling the problem.

This type of behaviour can easily lead emotional eaters to become overweight or obese because many of them feel hungry most of the time.

Satisfying this insatiable hunger with food, many emotional heaters will consume far more calories than their body needs and they gain a lot of weight, which becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, to lose.


Here are some common signs of emotional eating:

· Eating when not physically hungry.
· Eating during times of strong emotions, like anger or depression.
· Eating when bored.
· Rapid eating.
· Eating immediately after arriving home from work.
· Eating alone out of embarrassment at the quantity or type of food being eaten.
· Eating until uncomfortably full.
· Feelings of disgust, depression, or guilt after overeating.


Recognising emotional hunger (as apposed to real physical hunger) is one of the keys to overcoming or staving off frequent emotional eating. Some of the characteristics of emotional hunger include:

· Emotional hunger comes on suddenly.
· One minute you’re not hungry at all, and the next minute you’re starving.
· Often craves specific food, like pizza, a cheeseburger or sweet food.
· Begins in the mouth and the mind, not the stomach.
· Often accompanies an unpleasant emotion.
· Involves automatic or absent- minded eating.
· Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied when you’re full.
· Emotional hunger makes you feel guilty.


To find out if you might be an emotional eater, rate yourself on the following statements about your current lifestyle and eating habits (adapted from the book Fattitudes: Beat Self-Defeat and Win Your War with Weight, by Jeffrey R. Wilbert, Ph.D. Norean K. Wilbert, St Martin’s Press, NY, 2000.) using the scale:

0 = Never
1 = Rarely
2 = Sometimes
3 = Often
4 = Almost Always

1. I try to lose weight, but always fail.
2. I don’t feel in control of my eating.
3. I often eat when I’m not hungry.
4. I eat food when I’m stressed or upset.
5. I eat food for pleasure or as a reward.
6. I think about food a lot.
7. I can’t stay on track when dieting.
8. I binge eat.
9. I feel ashamed of myself and my eating habits.
10. Food helps me deal with feelings.

Multiply your results to get your total score, and then analyse your results:

0 - 10. It is very unlikely that you are an emotional eater.
11 - 20. You engage in some emotional eating, but it is unlikely that it is harmful.
21 - 30. You are a moderate emotional eater and should consider professional assistance.
31 – 40. You are a heavy emotional eater. Professional assistance is highly recommended.

What to do if emotional eating is a problem

Here are some suggestions that may help you overcome problematic emotional eating:

· Become aware of your motivations for wanting to eat.

· When you feel like eating, ask yourself if you could possibly be upset instead of hungry.

· Keep believing in yourself. You are in control and have the power to make changes in your life.

· Develop new mood regulation strategies. For example, share your problems when anxious, and exercise when you’re bored.

Remember, we’re all emotional eaters to some extent. It is nearly impossible not to be in the Western world, where eating is an integral part of our celebration rituals and a fundamental aspect of our family and social life. But when emotional eating interferes with your health and happiness, you know it is time to do something about it – and the sooner the better.

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