With exam review days here, it means finals are approaching, and we are forced to recognize and reflect on what seems to be one of the only plausible method of easing our pain: emotional eating. To put it simply, emotional eating is the idea of using food to alleviate or suppress negative emotions, such as anxiety, boredom, sadness, anger, etc.
“I stress-eat around midnight when I’m studying for my exams,” Yunji Sohn, a junior at SAS mentioned.
The majority of people are left to satisfy their emotional needs, rather than physical hunger when engaging in the art of stress eating. Unfortunately, food is not the most effective strategy when it comes to satisfying other needs. Eating may put you in a good mood for a while, but it does not mean the stress simply goes away or guarantees that you become immediately emotionally stabilized.
This leads to the next idea that food instantly becomes a distraction. If you’re worried about an upcoming event, such as exams, known to be a huge point of interest at SAS, you may choose to focus on eating comfort food instead of actually dealing with the situation. This, in turn, causes the build up of more stress.
One reason why you should stop emotional eating is because half the time, the end result will only remain the same. The effect of stress eating is only temporary, and the emotions you were feeling will likely return full circle. Eventually, the more you become aware of it, the stronger the emotions get.
This practice can also lead to an addictive, unhealthy diet as it doesn’t attain the necessary level of nutrients and calories one should typically take.
Not only that, for most young adults (at least in my experience), stress eating tends to add a greater burden by forcing people to worry about health and weight gain. This can then lead to an unhealthy, deadly cycle: whenever your emotions trigger you to overeat, you begin to get into the habit of eating whenever you’re feeling a certain way. You then beat yourself up for getting off track with your weight-loss plan, and you feel so disappointed and frustrated at yourself, triggering the emotions and causing you to overeat all over again!
The gist of it all is that emotional eating is unhealthy, both emotionally and physically. This practice can also lead to an addictive, unhealthy diet as it doesn’t attain the necessary level of nutrients and calories one should typically take. You’re usually emotionally eating when your body doesn’t need the food, causing you to take in extra calories, leading to weight gain. After some time, you could become overweight or obese, and it’ll put you at risk for more health problems, such as type 2 diabetes. Research also shows it can make you more likely to suffer from depression in adulthood.
Instead of emotional eating, there are other ways that can help you with coping. Here are some tips that might be better alternatives for you:
1. Keep a food diary
Write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat, and how hungry you are. Over time, you might start to realize that you have picked up on the habit of eating more as your emotions are unstable—a sign that you should reflect and stop.
2. Tame your stress
If stress contributes to your emotional eating, try other stress management techniques which have been proven to benefit your health, such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
3. Have a hunger reality check
Think about the question: “Is my hunger physical or emotional?” If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not hungry. Give the craving time to pass.
4. Get support
You’re more likely to give in to emotional eating if you lack a good support network. Lean on family and friends or consider joining a support group to help you out. Sharing your problems can also be a good way to release the negative emotions.
5. Take away any temptations
Don’t keep hard-to-resist comfort foods in your home. If not, you’ll continue to be tempted to reach out to them. If you feel angry or blue, postpone going to the grocery store until you have your emotions in check.
6. Don’t deprive yourself
When trying to lose weight, you might limit calories too much, eat the same foods repeatedly, and banish treats. This may just serve to increase your food cravings, especially in response to emotions, causing you to eat much more. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, reward yourself with an occasional treat, and get plenty of variety to help curb cravings.
7. Snack healthier
If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a healthy snack, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with low-fat dip, nuts, or unbuttered popcorn. You can also try lower calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if they satisfy your cravings.
8. Learn from setbacks
If you have an episode of emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from the experience and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that’ll lead to a better lifestyle.