Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor
We eat to feed our bodies, respond to hunger signals but more importantly, to feed a feeling, according to Heather Hatfield in a WebMD feature. Food will do more than just replenish the system but will also feed your feelings. You will go for your favourite ice cream, pizza, chicken and chips or black forest cake to feel happy.
This is known as emotional eating, which is more than responding to hunger signs. It is a condition in which large portions of food, usually 'junk', is consumed.
It is estimated that 75 per cent of overeating is caused by emotions, which leads to ill-health including weight gain and obesity. When you eat and you are not hungry, the body will not need the extra calories, and these get stored as fat which can lead to obesity.
Comfort foods are eaten to obtain or maintain a feeling, especially a good feeling. But people tend to eat these foods when they are feeling low or depressed to soothe emotions. It is easy to become addicted to comfort foods.
According to WebMD, there is a distinct difference between emotional eating and eating because you are hungry.
1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly while physical hunger occurs gradually.
2. When you are eating to fill a void that is not related to hunger, you will crave for a specific food such as ice cream or chocolates. When you eat because you are hungry, you will have balanced meals.
3. Even when you are full you may have a craving for a particular food to meet your emotional needs, compared to when you can stop eating because of hunger.
4. When eat for emotional satisfaction, you will experience feelings of guilt.
Triggers to emotional eating
It is important to identify what triggers the need to overeat or eat comfort foods.
Emotional: eating in response to emotions like tension, anger, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Social: being around others at social events and feeling the need to 'fit in' with the crowd.
Situational: seizing an opportunity to eat or to associate with certain events like cook-offs or food sampling at events.
Thoughts: as a result of negative sense of self and feelings of hopelessness, you make excuses for eating.
Physiological: eating in response to physical symptoms such as hunger and pain
Kick the habit:
Keep a food diary and record your feelings at the time of overeating. You should see a pattern developing over time.
Exercise moderation if you must have comfort foods by dividing the foods into smaller portions and use one portion at a time. Eating raw foods and vegetarian meals are menu ideas to overcome emotional eating. These are foods high in fibre and provide bulk to give satiety, and so you would tend to crave and eat less of the fattening comfort foods.