Causes of Emotional Eating and How Do I Stop Them?

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Hey there!

How’s your relationship with food? I only ask because I know many women will testify that emotional eating is a challenge they face daily.

Food is a big part of our lives, isn’t it? It gives us joy and warmth, especially when it’s shared with loved ones.
When we’re happy or we achieve a milestone, good food is always part of our celebration.

So, when does food go from friend to foe?

The answer is simple – when we use it to cushion our emotions.

Don’t get me wrong: I also love comfort food. We all do! I mean, who doesn’t love indulging in ice cream or a slice of moist chocolate cake once in a while?

In this article, we are going to find out why eating makes us feel so good, the causes of emotional eating, and how we can stop it!

Causes of Emotional Eating and How Do I Stop Them?

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating, also called stress eating or binge eating, happens when you use food to cope with feelings and emotions instead of satisfying hunger.

One study, published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH), explains that emotional eating happens when you overeat in response to negative mood and emotions.

While this is the most common definition, researchers are now saying that stress eating may also be triggered by positive feelings. According to experts, we are all emotional eaters to some extent. But when stress eating becomes a habit (without us realizing it), it can have a huge impact on your weight, health and overall well-being.

It can be challenging to undo the patterns of emotional eating, but it is possible to break off this unhealthy habit. The first step is to know the causes of emotional eating, so you can better understand what drives you to eat your feelings!


Understand the Science Behind Emotional Eating!

Why does eating make you feel happy and contented?

Nope, it’s not just because the delicious taste of food! The causes of emotional eating are plenty, and we’re here to walk you through them.

First, your brain generally perceives eating as a pleasurable experience. When you eat, your brain is happy that you’re nourishing your body. The brain then rewards you by producing feel-good neurohormones, like dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.

These feel-good neurohormones, once activated, boost your mood, make you feel calm and relaxed, help you manage stress better and relieve you from pain (both emotional and physical).

Researchers have a term for this: “ingestion analgesia, literally pain relief from eating”. So, when you’re sad, frustrated or hurt, eating gives you instant relief – that’s right: you’re not just imagining the happy feeling, though it is technically your brain that creates that reality. In addition, this happy feeling even safeguards the body’s survival process, as it ensures that you’re going to eat again to keep staying alive.

So, when does eating go haywire?

When you’re stressed, your body needs more energy and immediate support to keep it going. As a result, you crave for food items that can give you instant glucose. These include high carb food (such as pizza and pasta), sugary food (like candies, soda, ice cream and cookies), and salty food (such as crunchy chips and all sorts of junk)!

Stress eating gives you the temporary feeling of satisfaction and elation, but when the pleasure of eating disappears, we usually end up feeling worse. This is when we acquire the self-blame and begin to feel the heaviness (literal and metaphorical) from overeating.


Causes of Emotional Eating During Menopause

According to clinical psychologist Megan Roehrig, stress is the number one reason why menopausal women tend to binge eat. During the transition, you may feel lost, empty and lonely – and these stressors may trigger plenty of emotional eating.

Life transitions during midlife could also be one of the causes of emotional eating at this time. Emotional situations can lead to bouts of emotional eating. When the little ones move to another city for their studies or work (a.k.a. “empty nest syndrome), both mom and dad turn to food to fill the “emptiness” of their home. Aging parents that needs our attention can make us feel overworked and overwhelmed.

Yes, certain emotions and situations can make you turn to food. However, research suggests that a menopausal woman’s fluctuating hormones also cause binge eating.

To make sense of this relationship between hormones and food better, a study by Michigan State University, claims women are more likely to engage in emotional eating during their menstrual cycle.

Does that make sense to you?

I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of cravings when Aunt Flo comes visit!
This is because during the first half of menstruation, estrogen and progesterone levels rise and you become extra sensitive to environmental cues. Have you noticed that your nose suddenly gets hyper? Like you can smell everything! If your friends are eating, it automatically makes you want to eat!

Then, in the second half of your cycle, estrogen and progesterone levels decrease, and you are 2 to 4 times more likely to turn to increased amounts of stress eating. This is because low sex hormones also suppress the production of your feel-good hormones. As a response to the emotional distress, you then find comfort in food.

As you may have realized, this scenario also happens in menopause! During the different phases of menopause, hormone fluctuations happen which may lead to emotional eating. A whole host of other symptoms, like sleep disturbances, mood changes, anxiety and depression, may also occur which lead to binge eating.

Who here has lived this scenario? After a long day at work, you come home and have a glass of wine to unwind. This is where you need to be careful, ladies! With your glass of wine comes a bit of munching and nibbling here and there, and before you know it, you’re already carrying several extra pounds from a few nights of mindless eating.

It is quite understandable how stress eating tends to increase your risk of heart problems, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, diabetes and gut issues as we don’t typically binge on fruits and veggies for that instant gratification.

How Do You Know If You’re an Emotional Eater?

Now that you know the possible causes of emotional eating, it’s time to find out if you’re an emotional eater! Here are some signs to look for to see if you’re eating your feelings out!

  • You don’t want other people to know your manner of eating.
  • You tend to shy off and feel guilty about the way you eat.
  • You can’t stop eating even if you want to.
  • You have trouble losing weight.
  • You always eat when you feel happy.
  • You eat even if you’re already full.
  • You get random food cravings.
  • You use food to cope when you’re frustrated or overwhelmed.
  • You don’t wait to get hungry before you start eating.
  • You unconsciously eat throughout the day.

10 Ways to Stop Stress Eating

1. Identify your emotional eating triggers
One of the most helpful ways to prevent stress eating is to identify your triggers. You can use a food journal to keep track as you listen to your body’s cues. If you feel like you’re heading to the kitchen, write what you’re feeling at that moment. It’s also good to list what you ate throughout the day to see if there is a pattern in your emotional eating. Learn how Brooke Castillo can help you with Food Journals (5:26)

I listen to Brooke’s podcast all the time and she has plenty of good stuff that make a whole lot of sense. Try listening to her other podcasts too!

2. Rewire your brain
Do you know that our brains are still wired as they were in the primitive Stone Age, a time when food wasn’t readily available and our only means of survival was killing wild animals and foraging in the wilderness?

As a result of this scarcity, scientists believe that each time our ancestors ate, their brains were always in survival mode. The brain then developed a reward system where food brought pleasure to the body.

Unfortunately, these wired systems still exist in our brains today. Since the brain doesn’t have the ability to change in an instant, we have to support and rewire our own brains with a healthier and more evolved mindset!

We must train our brains to believe that we are no longer living in primitive times – nowadays, food is found everywhere! Let us not give in to our basic impulses. Read our article about positive mindset to help you go through this journey with ease. If you haven’t tried intermittent fasting, now is also the best time to try it! It reprograms you to take your mind off food. Read all about intermittent fasting in our article here .

#emotionaleating wired by nature---but changed through nurture.Click To Tweet

3. Find better ways to manage stress
Had a long, rough day at work? If you want to relax and unwind, eat a balanced meal and look for healthy ways to rejuvenate!

You can do a quick yoga session, meditate, go for a walk or a jog, talk to a friend, do deep breathing, play a game, read a book and listen to good music. You can also get a massage, a warm bath or get intimate with your hubby – you can do countless things to manage stress better than eating your troubles away!

4. Eat real and healthy food
Change your diet and eat more plant-based and whole foods. Eat more leafy and cruciferous greens, whole grains, nuts and seeds.

Add fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi for good digestion. Eat more fish and shellfish, as they are rich in healthy fats and protein. Fill your plate with good fats, like olives and avocados. These healthy food alternatives will help you feel full throughout the day – remember, the gut and the brain are in constant communication with each other.

5. Prepare healthy food alternatives
Nuts and seeds are some of the best food alternatives to munch on if you feel like eating. If you’re in the office or traveling, almonds, cashews, pine nuts and macadamia can come in handy! Gobble down some berries, watermelon, kiwis, grapefruit, cantaloupe, oranges and peaches as they have high-water and low sugar content. Sliced carrots, celery, cucumbers and snap peas are good vegetables to chew on as well.

6. Find non-food substitutes to enjoy
A hobby keeps you occupied, helping you avoid emotional eating. Drawing, painting, knitting and exercise are some of the fun ways to get rid of emotional eating! Divert your focus by doing your chores, like washing the dishes, tilling the garden or cleaning the car.

7. Use herbs and essential oils
Herbs and essential oils really do work, and I use them myself! Adaptogenic herbs are good at fighting stress and they also help balance your hormones.

Some that I have used are Ashwagandha, Chasteberry, Damiana, Maca and Black Cohosh. When it comes to essential oils, I love lavender, bergamot, lemon grass and chamomile.

8. Love yourself
Dont be hard on yourself, you’re doing the best you can. You deserve to be pampered and loved. If you’re overworked, take a break. Go out with your spouse and enjoy the day together! Bring back the younger yearswatch movies or go to the beach. Enjoy a day at the spa with your girlfriends, or simply get a long, uninterrupted sleep and rest! These are among the best ways to regain your strength and refresh your mind, without adding the pounds.

9. Seek help
As I always say, you know your body best and the next best thing is to work with the experts! If you need help, you can go to a nutritionist, psychologist or counsellor to assist you in overcoming emotional eating.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a method which pays attention to how a person thinks that may lead to emotional eating. Its basically looking into the root cause of the situation. A lot of people tend to avoid or hide their emotions behind eating. CBT helps you identify and acknowledge the existing emotions and looks for ways to resolve them.

Dr. Berg talks about 8 emotional eating tips which includes avoiding certain environments, where you know food is going to be displayed (3:53):

10. Fix insulin resistance
Sometimes, an unresolved disease could be the culprit to your unexplainable craving. One example is insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance happens when our cells become insensitive to insulin, a hormone, produced in our pancreas, which mainly regulates our blood sugar. Insulin moves sugar from the blood into cells to be used as energy.

With insulin resistance, your cells block sugar from entering because there’s already too much of it in the body. This leads to high blood sugar levels and your cells being deprived of sugar. As a result, you crave sugar and carbs. Problem is, the more you give in to your cravings, the more they intensify, because your cells won’t allow the sugar in.

For this reason, you’ll experience a relentless desire to eat, even though you’re not really hungry. It’s actually a never-ending cycle of eating and craving!

To improve your insulin sensitivity, you have to revamp your eating habits. Combining a keto green diet with intermittent fasting is a great way to start dropping your insulin. Add more leafy greens – such as kale, spinach, cabbage, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower – into your diet. Load up on omega 3s, like salmon, sardines and herring.

When it comes to fasting, consider the 16/8 method. Have your first meal of the day around lunch and take the last meal at around 7pm. Try it for a couple of weeks, and you may find yourself forgetting about your carb cravings.

This article is about emotional eating but when you have your insulin in check, are doing Keto and practicing IF, you will stop having constant cravings in between meals. You will not think of food as a supplement to happiness, like you used to do.

I actually overcame my own cravings and bad habits, following just the way Dr. Cabecas Keto-Green program is done. Join now as I know it will benefit you in so many ways!

Intermittent fasting is also a great way to reduce body weight, clear a foggy mind, relieve the body from aches and pains and to improve overall health. Learn more about intermittent fasting here.

I think many of us are either experiencing or have overcome problems with emotional eating. Even the healthiest eater can have this problem at some point in her life. The best thing we can do is to look for the root of our behavior.

Knowing the causes of emotional eating will not only help break off unhealthy eating pattern, it could also relieve some mental and emotional pain you may have been carrying in your Life.

What feelings and emotions have you observed that trigger you to emotionally eat? What unhealthy eating patterns show up when these triggers arise? Tell us in the comment section below.

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