There are several reasons. First of all, to some extent this is learned behaviour. From childhood, we’ve seen how special occasions are celebrated with treats like ice-cream and cake, and also how a bumped knee or a disappointment can be “made all better” by the judicious gifting of lollipops. As we grow up, we come to associate food with both our sad and our happy moments.
Moreover, because of our evolutionary past, we are programmed to crave high-sugar, high-fat food types. For most of our existence as a species that made sense, because we were restricted to eating what was available in our natural environment. The sugars we consumed came from fruits, and the fat from vegetable and meat sources. Consequently, we ate them only along with the fibres and other nutrients available in the food. With time, we became able to refine foods and extract the sugars and fats we love, giving rise to the availability of food items with much higher rates of sugar and fat than ever occur naturally. While eating large amounts of this sort of food is very bad for us, in the short term it makes us feel good.
Eating as a coping mechanism
Emotional eating as a response to stress becomes a problem when we routinely comfort ourselves during stressful times with high-calorie treats. If we become seriously overweight, our declining health and self-image may well also contribute to further low feelings, leading to a vicious circle. At the same time, emotional eating can become addictive. We experience a “rush” of serotonin as we consume the food we crave, and that natural high becomes something we long to experience again and again.
Once a problem with emotional eating develops, it can seem very hard to find a way out. However, with patience and understanding, we can train our minds to see food differently. Rather than trying to “go cold turkey” and stop doing anything to comfort ourselves during bad times, or celebrate during good, we need to work at decoupling our emotions from the food we eat. For example, we can start this process by devising another “comfort” or “reward”. A long, hot bath with a good magazine to read would be a healthier way to give ourselves a little treat in the context of our daily lives without adding to our calorie load, while the tasty treats we love could be restricted to one day a week, as we focus on establishing a healthier diet the rest of the time.
Who can I speak to about emotional eating?
For help with the issues discussed in this article speak to one of our therapists here at Private Therapy Clinic for a free initial chat or to make an appointment.
What is Emotional Eating, and What Can we Do About it? was last modified: January 7th, 2021 by Private Therapy Clinic
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