Emotional and physical hunger – how not to confuse the signals?
How often do you want to eat a piece of chocolate or a bag of chips after a busy day at work? And if you quarrel with a loved one, then the best medicine is a piece of cake with a bite of ice cream. Why is this happening, and how to cope with emotional hunger?
What is emotional hunger? Emotional hunger occurs when a person tries to cope with a psychologically difficult situation. Food acts as a reward or consolation that creates a sense of peace and tranquility. After a difficult conflict or an unpleasant conversation, an emotional glutton is drawn to the refrigerator at the end of a busy day. From time to time, the situation repeats itself. As a rule, similar situations and the same emotional triggers serve as a reason for eating.
What Science Says
With an eating disorder, the patient eats a large amount of food in a short period and cannot cope with repeated binge eating. Psychologists call this compulsive overeating. This diagnosis is made with constant overeating. For example, a person overeats for at least six months at least two days a week.
Emotional gluttons have a less regular relationship with food, with symptoms manifesting as erratic periodic breakdowns. Periodic “jamming” of stress and overeating after severe emotional trials is not considered a pathology. This problem is prevalent mainly in countries with a high quality of life index. Up to 30% of the inhabitants of these countries eat food, succumbing to emotions, but not because of physiological hunger.
Constant hunger: Causes
Emotional gluttons respond by overeating to stress. They subconsciously associate the emotional world with food and use food as an opportunity to feel better. After a surge of unpleasant emotions, a person goes to the refrigerator. However, initially, these emotions have nothing to do with food. Common causes are fear, anger, or loneliness. Everyone has their motives. One reaches for a chocolate bar after a busy day at work. The second goes to a burger joint after breaking up with a loved one.
The reasons are also simpler. For example, lack of sleep or poor nutrition. In this case, starting with a simple check of your daily habits makes sense.
Symptoms of emotional hunger
Feelings of emotional and physical hunger are very similar. However, the physical develops slowly and is accompanied by specific physical signs. For example, rumbling in the stomach or trouble concentrating. At the same time, any product can satisfy this hunger.
With emotional hunger, things are different:
- Eating is based on emotions. The real feeling of hunger does not play a role here.
- A person usually wants junk food – very high-calorie or too sweet foods.
- Food helps reduce stress.
- Emotional gluttons often experience negative feelings after eating. For example, guilt for lack of willpower and fear of gaining weight.
The norm is four meals a day. Three main and one small snack. Between them, there should be intervals of 3-4 hours. So feeling hungry 3-4 hours after your last meal is normal. But if you want to eat more often, you should suspect emotions.
When Emotional Eating Becomes a Problem
We all deal with stress daily. The desire to “eat” stress is a natural reaction. One-time overeating will not cause much harm. However, some people experience constant emotional hunger. Here we can talk about the psychological dependence on food, and you should contact a psychologist to solve the problem.
By eating food as a reward, reward, or consolation, the addict does not solve their problem. On the contrary, the patient expresses dissatisfaction with his eating habits and spoiled figure. As a result, psychological stress also increases. Along with it, the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases increases. Emotional eating can quickly turn into an eating disorder. At the same time, a person often cannot distinguish between physical and emotional hunger.
In especially severe cases:
- A person constantly consoles himself with food;
- He experiences psychological stress and a sense of loss of control;
- The only way to deal with negative emotions is food;
- The patient does not feel the strength to change the situation independently.
Can food make you feel better?
Actually, yes. Food can have a calming effect on the body. This happens in different ways:
- The pleasant taste of food helps a person feel better.
- Food also gives energy and strength.
- Each of us associates certain foods with pleasant memories – usually pleasant ones. For one, strawberries will remind you of a romantic picnic in nature. For another, chocolate has become a taste of childhood.
- Sometimes psychoactive substances are present in food, like theobromine and tryptophan in cocoa. They cheer up. However, the positive effect only lasts for a while. Food stimulates the senses. But the taste and smell of food quickly disappear. Therefore, the effect of these psychoactive substances lasts, at best, a few hours.
Who is prone to emotional overeating?
Why are some people prone to emotional hunger while others are not? Psychologists still do not know the answer to this question. But there are some assumptions.
Some people can only calm down by eating a certain food. This habit may be from childhood. For example, the mother is consoled with sweets after falls and injuries. In adulthood, a person unconsciously perceives sweets as a “cure” for troubles.
Psychologists also do not exclude biological influence. Some people can be very sensitive to food rewards. That is, their brain responds very well to the effects of food. One will eat a chocolate bar and feel short-term relief. And the other from the same product will receive much more pleasure, which will provoke the onset of the development of dependence.
How to treat emotional eating
Is it possible to overcome the constant feeling of hunger? Yes! It is possible and necessary to eliminate this habit and learn new behavior. First, you need to understand the reasons for overeating. If the reason is a negative factor, think about how to improve your life.
- Stress at work? Talk to your boss about reducing your workload. Or consider changing jobs or even activities.
- Are you alone? Find a hobby, and meet new people.
- Are you living with a toxic person? Isn’t it time to leave or at least build personal boundaries?
- Are you eating fear? So you definitely won’t solve the problem. Turn around to face her.
- Are you bored in the evenings? Go for a walk, go to the movies, read a book.
- Is food a distraction from work? Replace it with a glass of water and a circle around the office.
As a first step, you can separate your emotional hunger from junk food. Does a hand reach for chocolate? Replace with carrots. It doesn’t solve the problem. But it starts an important process of change. It also mitigates negative effects, such as guilt and obesity.
Often people overeat without thinking. Therefore, mindful eating training is also important. Every time before eating, ask yourself:
- Am I physically hungry?
- Will any food satisfy my hunger? Or do I need this chocolate bar?
Therapy for emotional gluttons
Constant feelings of hunger can become a real problem. The reasons are different. If you cannot figure it out independently, it is best to contact a psychologist. In individual meetings and groups, people usually learn:
- skills of self-observation, mindfulness;
- distinguish between physical and emotional hunger;
- control the impulse to eat;
- look for new outlets for emotions.
Understanding the problem is the first step.
Our whole life consists of a series of obstacles. Every day is a new challenge. This is how all people live. Overeating will not help in solving psychological problems. On the contrary, it will slow down your path and may stop it forever. But you have read the article to the end, and this is the first step toward understanding the problem. Time for the second step. Make a list of causes of emotional hunger and find a replacement for each. You will succeed!