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Food is the body’s fuel – but it’s also much more than that. Most people learn early in life that food serves other purposes besides nutrition.
Your mother may have given you ice cream, along with hugs, when you hurt yourself as a child.
You may have been rewarded with a special dinner at a restaurant when you earned straight A’s in eighth grade.
Maybe as a college student, you got in the habit of munching on food as a way to get through exams.
Today, you may keep using food to fill emotional needs, contributing to your weight management difficulties.
Using food this way is very common. People eat to reward themselves, celebrate occasions, and entertain others, often allowing food to become the center of social activity.
People also eat to calm their nerves and comfort themselves. Many use food to numb themselves from emotional pain, hoping food can stifle anger, rejection, or sorrow.
Almost all of us are ruled by habit. We eat when the clock tells us to-even when we’re not hungry.
Over Eating – Hunger versus Emotional Needs
Successful weight management usually involves developing new insights about emotions, social situations, and food.
- First, it’s helpful to acknowledge that overeating may have served a useful purpose in helping you get through stressful events. But now it’s possible to come up with other ways to meet your emotional needs.
- Next, it helps to recognize the difference between hunger signals – internal cues of hunger and fullness – and emotional need. This sounds straightforward, but many people confuse the physical discomfort of sadness, anger, and fear with the physical discomfort of needing food. You may “feel hungry” all the time because you’ve been conditioned to substitute food for more directly meeting many emotional needs.
Over Eating and Emotional Triggers
How can you untangle your emotional connections to food? One way is to use a food diary to identify emotional triggers. Keep an accurate record for at least one week of what you eat, when, and where. Include how you feel when you were eating. Ask yourself: What happened today to make me feel this way? You may discover patterns that reveal the emotional cues that cause you to turn to food.
Once you’ve tracked down a pattern, try to find an alternative to eating that will soothe your emotions.
For instance, you might find out that your worst food binges happen on Sunday nights, just as you’re anticipating a tough week at the office.
Or maybe your eating seems most out of control around your parents, who find fault with your new love interest. Try to deal directly with your anger. Call a friend and vent your feelings. Take a career class. Talk to a counselor. If you’re lonely, reach out to other people. Join a health club. Plan a vacation.
Stress deserves particular attention. More than two-thirds of overweight adults report that they eat when they’re stressed. When you’re stressed out, you may eat too much or make unhealthy food choices, such as reaching for a bag of potato chips when you otherwise would eat fruit.
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