Do Your Emotions Affect Your Eating? Why it’s Important to Know

Have you ever tried to lose weight on your own? Or tried the newest and greatest fad diet? Do you get angry with yourself for overeating or having a lack of willpower, panicking as the pounds come back—sometimes more than you lost? Maybe your mood or your emotions are affecting your ability to be successful.

There have been many studies done on why we overeat, what messages we tell ourselves about food, and our overall relationship with food. Let’s look at what type of eater you are and start to correct your relationship with food. We want you to be as successful in your weight loss journey as possible.

  1. The Chaotic Eater: This type of eater has little to no routine to their eating and will often times skip meals. They also tend to over extend themselves and keep themselves as busy as possible so that when they do become hungry they will grab whatever is most available, often times not the most healthy. Planning ahead is not in this eater’s vocabulary. The Chaotic Eater really has no idea how many calories they have consumed and many times cannot tell you what types of food they have eaten throughout the day. Chaotic eating is often marked by skipped meals, waiting too long between meals or not having enough balance in your food choices. This can lead to feelings of being unsatisfied with food.

    Unfortunately, skipping meals, waiting too long to eat, and not having balance in food choices can throw your metabolism out of sync. Your body slows down because it doesn’t get a steady supply of fuel and doesn’t know when calories will come again. With poorly balanced food choices, hunger signals can be all too frequent and physical food cravings can be off the charts.

    Tips: Start scheduling time for your meals in a relaxed environment as you would any of your other important appointments. Breakfast should be no more than 2 hours after waking up. Lunch should be 4 to 6 hours after breakfast. Dinner should be 4 to 6 hours after lunch. Meals should be eaten at a table, from a plate, while sitting in a chair.
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  3. The Social Eater: Social Eaters tend to overeat when they are with friends or family. We tell ourselves messages such as, “It’s ok to eat this because everyone is eating it”, or “Even though I’m not hungry I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings”.  If the Social Eater is unwilling to confide in their friends and family about their weight loss struggles, this could set the Social Eater up for failure in their weight loss journey.

    Tips:  We suggest that you talk to your friends and family about your weight loss struggles. If you are out with your friends and family and feel you have to eat everything they are eating, this sets you up for failure. Let them know where you are in your weight loss journey and ask them for help. This can help to lessen your fear of hurting people’s feelings because you’re not eating a big piece of Aunt Judy’s famous strawberry cake. If you are going out with friends and family, ask to go to a restaurant where you know you can choose healthy options.
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  5. The Deprived Eater:  This is someone who tries to eat as little as possible. Many times they will restrict foods they deem as “bad” such as all sugar or all carbs so they can lose weight as quickly as possible. The Deprived Eater will enter into a cycle of restriction then overeating due to the body and mind rebelling against this restriction.  A Deprived eater will continue to emotionally sabotage any efforts of weight loss.

    Tips: If you are on a diet that is restrictive, stop now! According to Dr. Gould in Psychology Today, “Although diet plans can provide important nutritional information, we can see that diets don’t and can’t work if they don’t address the real reason why you overeat”. Do not restrict foods. This is not sustainable and eventually you will become frustrated and binge. Yes, you will lose weight, but it is very likely you will gain it back, plus some. It is fine to control portion sizes, eat more fruits and veggies, and skip a desert or two. Not only will you lose weight this way, you are more likely to keep losing and be healthy too.
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  7. The Emotional Eater:  Emotional eaters will turn to food whenever they feel any heightened sense of emotion—whether it be positive or negative. Emotional eaters will eat when they feel stressed, angry, anxious, excited, accomplished, etc. During emotional times, food always seems to be available. Funerals? There is always a casserole or 20 laying around. Get the big promotion? Dinner celebration anyone? Emotional Eaters convince themselves that it is ok to eat when their feelings are heightened because it helps to feel comforted and calm down.

    Tips: We suggest you start keeping a journal of when you overeat with the emotions you are feeling throughout the day. This way you can go back to your journal and see what times of the day are the hardest and what emotion you were feeling in order to change this trigger. For example, if you notice you are overeating at night because you are sad or lonely, try calling a friend for a walk, or talk on the phone instead of reaching for food. Being able to recognize your emotion is the first step to changing bad habits.
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  9. The Solo Eater: This eater will use food to fill a void. Oftentimes people who have little to no support will turn to food for comfort. These eaters tend to eat out more, consuming more calories than eating at home, and will usually overeat for comfort. When this eater does eat at home, they generally eat in front of the TV or computer to not feel as lonely. However, this gives a disconnect with food and how much is being consumed.

    Tips:  If you do not have a lot of support, and going out to eat keeps you from feeling lonely, we suggest you research your food before going out. There are many apps for that! You can also go to restaurant’s websites and choose a restaurant according to how many healthy options they have. Also, make sure you fully chew your food before swallowing and put your fork down between bites. This allows your body to send signals to your brain that you are full.

With so many different types of eaters, you may find yourself struggling in one of these areas, or all of them. The important thing is to start exploring your relationship with food. There are many tools available to help you.  If you would like more information on becoming aware of how your emotions affect your eating, make an appointment with one of our physicians, our dietitian, or our behavioral health specialist.

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