understanding emotional eating habits

A good majority of people at one time or the other have a strong and often uncontrollable desire for some particular food, such as a pizza or an ice cream. This is what is generally referred to as food craving – the desire for a particular food even when you are not hungry. This food craving essentially results into an individual impulsively overeating and most of the time on high-calorie, sweet, salty and fat-rich foods.

Eating is one of man’s best pleasures as it serves as a means of rewarding himself after the day’s struggle obviously aimed to achieve this end. Eating traditionally and for most people formerly served as a means of sustenance but over the years the picture has changed due to modernization and improvements in major forms of amusement – food obviously becoming one.

Emotional eating, overeating or food craving – whichever you prefer to call it – is one of the easiest ways to temporarily suppress or soothe an individual’s feelings of loneliness, hurt, deprivation, boredom, or stress. This habit for a good majority of people has become perhaps their biggest obstacle to achieving and maintaining their weight loss goals.

There are a couple of reasons that can be said to be responsible for the emotional eating tendency exhibited by a lot of individuals, some of which are:

Food Labeling and Restriction

There are those who put a self-imposed food restriction on themselves by believing that some foods are bad while others are good. And like Eve in the Garden of Eden, the assumed "bad or forbidden" fruit can often be seen as the most appetizing of the lot. Naturally when something seems about of your reach you tend to develop curiosity and this curiosity often “kills the cat”. It may be something like a piece of that pizza in your fridge, which you might feel your weight loss effort is denying you access to. While initially you may summon the courage to resist the urge, without enough conviction on why you should hold on to your weight loss effort, you may find yourself unable to hold back and just reach out for one and before you know it, the second and maybe even a third.

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With the feeling that you’ve eaten the "forbidden", your guilt increases and then you once again resolutely decide not to "ever" touch it again. You decide to deprive yourself of any indulgence in eating the "forbidden". But before you know it, you are back at it again indulging yourself in the pleasure of feasting on the "forbidden". Before you realize what is happening, you’ve unconsciously created a vicious circle of denial – deprivation – overindulgence over this "forbidden" food. Most people caught in this web have to realize that there is nothing bad or wrong with the "food" you are eating itself, the problem is with how much of it you consume – too much of "anything" is bad. What you need to do is to control your portion and stop labeling some food as "bad" or "good".

Comfort Foods

Consciously or unconsciously, a lot of people turn to food for some form of comfort whenever they are going through difficult or stressful situations. Comfort foods are so called because they are foods often eaten during holidays and special occasions and which when eaten by these individuals give them a feeling of relaxation and reduced stress comparable to what they experience during such occasions.

To a large extent, most people find it difficult to lose weight simply because they love their foods and the comfort they provide more than the idea of having a healthy weight. Turning to comfort foods is so much easy because it is pretty hard to stay sad on a full and satisfied stomach – howbeit temporarily.

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Gender and Hormonal Differences

This might sound strange when talking about emotional eating but the fact is that men and women engage in this habit in different ways and because of certain different factors specific to each gender – especially relating to hormones. Decrease in serotonin – a hormone that plays a role in maintaining a relaxed feeling – and estrogen production just before the menstrual period causes irritability and mood swings in women and often leads to craving for fat-rich foods and carbohydrates. This is so much more intensified when a woman becomes pregnant.

The gender of an individual often determine the type of food they crave after when engaging in emotional eating and this often affects their weight loss efforts in different ways. While men often crave for foods rich in protein such as meat, eggs, and hot dogs, most women rather go for ice creams, chocolates, and bread.

Response to Stress

When stressed, the body requires more energy to function as it goes into what is called a "fight or flight" mode – the body’s defensive reaction to stress or threats. The increased production of cortisol as a result of stress triggers the appetite and most people find themselves feasting on comfort foods to the complete abandonment of their healthy fat loss eating habits.