Reaching for chocolate or chips has more to do with wanting something sweet or salty. It’s for the soul. And this is called emotional eating.
summarizing the essentials
- For many people, eating has been associated with their mental state since childhood.
- Many adults reach for food, especially in stressful situations.
- In the worst case scenario, this can lead to an eating disorder.
- Being mindful of your eating habits is the first step to getting out of the negative spiral.
Ending a stressful day with treats in front of the TV can feel like a form of self-care. If you are familiar with this situation, you are not alone.
Because: What we eat does not only depend on the feeling of hunger. Rather, it has to do with habits and emotions. We often regulate the latter with the help of food.
To put it bluntly: We believe that chocolate bars will make it easier for us to deal with sadness, anger or stress.
The connection between food and comfort
“When we eat, we release hormones of happiness, including those that help calm the body’s tension system,” says psychologist Cornelia Fiechtl. “Food can be empowering and comforting, which makes us feel better.”
Nora-Sophie Nöh, a psychological consultant, naturopath and body therapist knows why. “For many people, eating behavior is closely related to mental well-being.”
We learn early in life that we can regulate our emotions through eating.
One possible explanation: breastfed babies associate the experience of feeding with feelings of security and closeness. “In later childhood, it is also very typical to console or reward with sweets,” says Nora-Sophie Nöh.
Food regulates the nervous system
Emotional eating occurs mainly in stressful situations. But also in cases of despair, arguments or loneliness. To recognize these patterns in yourself, it is important to take a look at your eating habits.
“You have to look at yourself to notice when you have a special craving for something sweet,” says Cornelia Fiechtl. Behind this pleasure there is usually a greater tension in our nervous system.
According to Nora-Sophie Nöh, anyone who cannot find a way to process or express this tension often seeks help. “It could be food, cigarettes or constant phone use.”
Feel your body again
In addition, the snack raises blood sugar levels and gives us a real energy boost. That’s why it’s hard to deal with.
“Eating helps a lot of people feel better about their bodies. It’s something positive in the short term, but it can lead to addiction in the long term,” warns Nora-Sophie Nöh.
In addition, such eating habits can affect the intestinal flora. “If we eat a lot of sweets and have a high sugar consumption, the bacteria in our gut also change,” says Nöh.
Gut flora plays an important role in the production of happiness hormones. “Bad nutrition can have a negative effect on our mood.” In the long run, sweets can make us really unhappy.
Foods with negative connotations
When emotional eating becomes a concern it is individual. “The moment a person suffers, it becomes a problem,” says the psychologist Fiechtl.
“If a person constantly has a bad conscience or has the feeling: I’m no longer in control, I’m losing control.” Then the food is always associated with a negative taste and burdens the affected.
In addition, feelings of guilt and shame are important signs, says Nora-Sophie Nöh. “If the eating exceeds the weight or if the affected people are ashamed of the lack of discipline.”
At its worst, emotional eating can lead to an eating disorder, even if it results in you forbidding meals.
Escape from the vicious circle
In order to be able to move away from emotional eating behaviors, mindfulness must be practiced. “It is essential to observe one’s own feelings. “Many sufferers have an emotional urge to eat when they have a lot of things, but at the same time they don’t have a lot of resources in their day-to-day life,” says Fiechtl.
Resources can be: short breaks, exercise or hobbies. Small islands of everyday life that give us energy.
Another problem is that eating behavior is often automatic. “We go into the cupboard, take out the chocolate and don’t think too much,” says Nora-Sophie Nöh. “But the first step would be the break between the need and the response.”
Because then there is room for alternatives. It’s important to feel your body again.
“You can reconnect with yourself through physical exercise or special breathing techniques. But sports, yoga or music can also be helpful. This is the only way to escape from this automatism,” says Nöh.
Find a healthy balance
However, emotions and eating behavior are so closely related that we cannot separate them in all situations. “If your loved one is sick or stressed, it’s perfectly fine to eat a little more chocolate,” says Nöh.
In addition, emotional eating is firmly anchored in our society, as Cornelia Fiechtl says. “We don’t eat coffee and cake because we’re hungry. It’s about celebrating and eating together.”