When you hear the term “comfort foods,” a well-balanced meal generally isn’t what comes to mind. We tend to instead reach for “filler” foods to satisfy a void replaced by fullness. Think of a pint of ice cream after a breakup, or takeout pizza after a stressful work day. Eating in such a way creates an unhealthy cycle often leaving you feeling regretful and powerless over food. Identifying when and why you turn to food for comfort is the first step in determining how to avoid making the same decision again.
The first step in breaking the cycle is identifying the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. Rather than it gradually developing as your body requires nutrition, this instead is a desire for instant gratification.
Secondly, the type of food is an indicator of physical vs. emotional. When you are physically hungry, your desire to eat supersedes a desire for a specific food. Healthy options such as a salad or vegetables would satisfy your needs.
Emotional eating is a specific craving meant for instant gratification. Like the immediate need for chocolate and nothing else will suffice. A major problem here is that even when you eat your desired craving, it may never be enough to satisfy your hunger. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
Emotional hunger often leads to regret, guilt, or shame. When you eat to satisfy physical hunger, you’re unlikely to feel guilty or ashamed because you’re simply giving your body what it needs. If you feel guilty after you eat, it’s likely because you know deep down that you’re not eating for nutritional reasons.
Finding healthy alternatives to emotional eating can help lead to healthier habits and avoid repeating the cycle.
- If you’re depressed or lonely: reach out to someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
- If you’re anxious: expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
- If you’re exhausted: treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
- If you’re bored: read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy.
- My favorite thing to do is to make a cup of tea! We have created a bundle of teas designed to prevent emotional eating. Check it out here.
It is also always recommended to reach out to a mental health professional if you are struggling with emotional eating in such a way that it is disrupting your life and/or your mental state.