Depressing thoughts or circumstances may result in a feeling of emotional emptiness. To fill the void, some people rush for a quick fix. At that particular moment, gulping down your favorite fizzy drink with a massive chunk of pizza or burger and topping it up with your favorite dessert may seem like the only solution.

Still, have you ever asked yourself the connection between food and emotions?


What Causes Emotional Eating?

Based on a report by Harvard Special Health, a section in the human brain craves sugary or junk food as a source of energy when we feel low. When consumed, a reward system in the brain, known as the mesolimbic dopamine, gets rejuvenated.

It is human nature to repeat something that gives an incentive. That way, a speedy source of solace in food may progress to addictive emotional eating.


How to Differentiate between Physical and Emotional Eating

Finding ways around a tendency requires one to discern the main characteristics before working on them effectively. It is important to note that particular food cravings can get so powerful that one may mistake them with usual hunger pangs.


Here are some of the traits to help you distinguish between emotional and physical hunger:


1. Hits Abruptly

Emotional eating yearning starts instantly and slowly then becomes overwhelming and pressing. However, an average hunger pang comes more steadily and does not spike at a higher rate. In short, the craving does not feel like a need that requires urgent intervention.


2. Craves for Certain Foods

Almost anything on your plate would satisfy normal hunger pangs. In most cases, one craves healthy foods like fruits and vegetables. On the other hand, emotional hunger usually leads to seeking foods that give an immediate energy burst like wheat, junk and sugary meals.


3. Mindless Eating that Does not Satisfy

Have you ever eaten an entire box of fries and a pint of an energy drink without taking notice? Sometimes, you may even find the food tasteless or not satisfying at all. For that reason, you may end up overeating or uncomfortably overstuffed.

Bear in mind that you are more aware of what your body needs when you are in your right state of mind. That way, it is easier to get satisfied, control portions and embrace healthy eating.


4. The Craving is Not in Your Stomach

Physical hunger may start with a growling tummy or a twinge. Conversely, with emotional eating, the feelings resonate in your mind, and you cannot get them off even when you try. You may also notice that you yearn for specific color, texture, or flavor in your food.


5. Causes Shameful or Guilty Feelings

At times, you probably know that whatever you put on your plate does not meet your nutritional needs, as a result, your conscience may give you some warning signs when you overindulge. Some of these warning signs may include feelings of regret, embarrassment, frustration or guilt. In rare cases, it may lead to depression or other food disorders like anorexia, binge eating and bulimia.


How to Distract Yourself from Emotional Eating?


Breaking out of any habit requires time and resilience. Yet, you may start small with an activity of about five minutes when the craving hits. Such sidetracking actions include:

  • Going for a walk or a jog.

  • Dancing to your favorite music.

  • Avoiding tempting environments where you can get quick access to junk food.

  • Calling a close friend or a relative for a chat.

  • Sharing your journey with others through support groups.

Note that, distracting options may differ from one person to another. So, settle for a choice that works best for you and helps to resist the food cravings effectively.


It is important to note here that minor lifestyle changes may go a long way in helping you manage emotional eating, such as:

  • Keeping a food diary where you record what you eat, how much of it, and your the emotions involved.

  • Exercising regularly, which has been proven to reduce the production of stress hormones, leading to a decrease in stress, insomnia, anxiety and depression.

  • Eating healthy and clean whole foods and creating better eating habits.

  • Practicing regular relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation and pranayama (breathing), all of which have the benefit of enhancing Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and reducing stress, heart rate and high blood pressure.

  • Counseling, where you get to share your problems and learn how others were able to solve their problems. In the process, you may find a solution or find comfort in knowing that other people faced the same issues and got over it.

  • Neuro Linguistic Programming (“NLP”) – is a means of “programming” your brain through language and other forms of communication to operate more efficiently and in ways that are most beneficial to you.

Bottom Line

Emotional eating is not a practice we can wake up and drop. Instead, we need to identify the factors that lead us to it. Sometimes, fighting it our own way, may not yield much. Consider sharing your predicament with a counselor or close people around you for emotional support if need be.