Emotional eating triggers influence almost all of our lives. Think about that rough week at work that ended with greasy pizza, hot wings and beer. Perhaps you tell yourself that you’re too tired to cook or you deserve to have something special to begin the weekend. These reasons may be valid. You may also be self-medicating the condition of stress with high fat and simple carbohydrate foods. We live in an age where emotional eating is more common than we admit. I’d like to share what I consider to be five intense emotional eating triggers that shape your life!
Emotional Eating Triggers
Stress drains our physical and emotional energy stores. We often seek sugar or simple carbohydrates like white pasta when we’re stressed. Simple carbohydrates are absorbed rapidly in the body for immediate energy and has the same effect as sugar. In addition to the immediate energy boost, sugar prompts the release of mood-enhancing endorphins like serotonin and dopamine. We may also engage in mindless eating when we’re stressed. This leads to overeating like diving down to the last chip in the bag or carving through a large pizza without the company of a friend.
The second emotional eating trigger on my list is boredom. You may have found yourself deciding to go out to eat just for something to do. You may find yourself chowing on take-out in front of the tv or snacking on pop-corn and hot dogs at your kid’s baseball game. Were you hungry or did you eat for something to do? We gain pleasure from eating. And eating breaks the cycle of boredom.
Anxiety or fear might also drive us to eat. We may experience life events that cause us to hide behind food. Perhaps someone you loved emotionally abused you or made you feel unloved. Perhaps they even left the relationship. Food might become a life preserver for you. That one thing in your life that is constant. You might even subconsciously overeat to stay overweight. You may subconsciously believe you’ll be less attractive and not have to go through the pain of a future relationship. It feels safer to hold onto what’s always been there for you — food.
This brings me to the fourth intense emotional eating trigger which is comfort. As previously stated, when we lack love or we’ve been hurt in the past, we may eat to bring comfort. Seeking comfort through food seems to go all the way back to birth. A baby is fed when she cries. As we grow up, we begin to associate favorite dishes with certain memories. When we’re missing mom, perhaps we want to eat that cheesy casserole she used to make. When we’re sick, perhaps we go for mashed potatoes or chicken noodle soup. Emotional eating isn’t always about binge eating. It isn’t always about eating high calorie snack foods. Emotional eating refers to eating in response to an emotional need rather than a physical need.
The final trigger in my list is eating to reward oneself. You might eat to celebrate or just because you’re in a social situation. To give an example here, let’s say you stopped by a party. You had already eaten but everyone was having a good time. The grill smelled wonderful. The cake and desserts looked awesome! You decide that you deserve to overindulge just this once. Everyone else is eating. You just want to be social. You allow yourself to slip into mindless eating.
Emotional eating triggers can result in uncontrolled mindless eating. This can pack on pounds, impact blood pressure and cholesterol levels, blood sugar, and other health indicators. Emotions drive cravings, food choices, portion sizes, and appetite. They seem to override the physical mechanisms of the human body to regulate food intake. One has to wonder why we engage in emotional eating if it sabotages our health and derails our weight.
Along with these five intense emotional eating triggers, you might add anger, sadness, loneliness, resentment, shame, depression, hopelessness. Emotional eating can be caused by a lack of unemployment, relationship issues, the need for acceptance or love, health issues, or fatigue. And, I’m sure this list is not all-inclusive. Almost all life situations can prompt intense emotions. Where there are intense emotions, food can fill the void or make us feel complete. The key is to recognize when we’re in the path of danger and to stop emotional eating in its tracks. Emotions are a great part of our life. We just need to balance those intense emotional eating triggers, so they don’t drive us into unconscious eating. What kind of emotional eating triggers have you experienced?
Julie Butts is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition® (IIN™), the American Fitness Professionals and Associates (AFPA), and the American Council on Fitness (ACE). She is a certified health coach and weight management specialist who combines holistic and conventional wisdom to support women who crave lasting weight loss. Her personal mission is to inspire, educate, and promote lasting weight loss through healthy balanced living. She offers a variety local and online programs to support her clients and is known as The Lifestyle Mentor for Lasting Weight Loss™. Subscribe to her newsletter to receive your free copy of Awareness! Weight Loss Success For The Average Woman and to gain access to her free monthly mentoring calls.