Emotional eating is when you eat for reasons other than being hungry. Anyone can have it happen.
Food is what keeps our bodies going. Since eating turns on the brain’s reward pathways, it makes sense that it lifts mood.
Emotional eating becomes a problem when it happens often and the person doesn’t have any other ways to deal with their feelings.
Even if it seems helpful at the time, comfort eating rarely fixes the real problems. Eating won’t help you feel better if you are stressed, worried, bored, lonely, unhappy, or tired.
This vicious pattern of eating for comfort can make people feel guilty and ashamed, which can be too much for some people.
So many things in life revolve around food. We always have a feast when we have a party. When someone is going through a hard time, bringing them a meal is one way to show you care. When people share food, they get together.
It’s natural to feel something about what you eat.
The point is for you to be in charge of when, how much, and what you drink. There will be times when eating is a good way to handle strong feelings. In other cases, there are better ways to handle things.
Is emotional eating an eating disorder?
Emotional eating on its own is not an eating disorder. It can be a sign of disordered eating, which may lead to developing an eating disorder.
Disordered eating can include:
- being very rigid with food choices
- labeling foods as “good” or “bad”
- frequent dieting or food restriction
- often eating in response to emotions rather than physical hunger
- irregular meal timing
- obsessive thoughts about food that start to interfere with the rest of your life
- feelings of guilt or shame after eating foods you view as “unhealthy”
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating disorders are diagnosed when a person’s eating behaviors meet certain criteria. Many people have disordered eating behaviors but don’t meet the criteria for an eating disorder.
You don’t need to be diagnosed with an eating disorder to seek help. You deserve to have a good relationship with food.
If you think you may have disordered eating behaviors, speak with a mental health professional or registered dietitian.
There are many reasons why eating becomes a way to cope. Difficult emotions may lead to a feeling of emptiness or an emotional void.
Eating releases dopamine . Dopamine is a brain chemical that makes us feel good.
We also develop habits and routines with food. If you always eat when stressed, you might reach for food at the first sign of stress without realizing it.
On top of that, food is legal, and you can get it everywhere. Messages and images about food can increase your feeling of hunger.