Maybe you had a particularly bad day at work. Or, you had an argument with a family member. Perhaps, the weather forecast is rain all weekend, and you are already feeling stir crazy. Any of these scenarios, as well as many others, can trigger emotional eating.
Emotional eating occurs when we consume food to soothe feelings rather than to satisfy physical hunger. While many of us indulge in emotional eating from time to time, it is when such behavior becomes habitual that it can affect someone’s health, weight, and emotional well-being.
For many people, emotional eating begins in childhood. Perhaps your parents gave you a favorite candy if you performed well in school, or you were treated to late-night milk and cookies if you had a bad dream. Such “rewards” can sometimes cause people to equate food with comfort, approval, and even love. Consequently, it’s hardly surprising that many of us have grown into adults who unconsciously view sweets as a reward.
Besides familial factors, scientists have found that, in some individuals, certain chemicals in the brain that control hunger, appetite, and digestion are imbalanced. Researchers are continuing to investigate biochemical or biological causes for emotional or uncontrolled eating. So far, it seems that high-fat foods, such as ice cream, may activate certain chemicals in the body that create a sense of contentment and fulfillment.
If you occasionally overindulge in popcorn while watching a movie, don’t worry about it. But, if you find yourself dealing with emotional stress daily by reaching for food, think about creating a plan to break the cycle. Next time your emotions begin to overwhelm you, try taking a walk, writing in a journal, exercising, or drinking a cup of herbal tea. If you need help, talk to your health care provider.