HYDERABAD: Do you find yourself searching for food in the kitchen or ordering online when you are upset or stressed? Do you find comfort in food and just can’t seem to stop munching? The practice of emotionally reaching for food to suppress and soothe negative feelings is called emotional eating.
S Sri Lekha, a counselling psychologist, explains what causes someone to eat because of their emotions. She says that stress, when not handled well, can lead to different coping mechanisms, one of them being eating when emotional.
“Stress is a reaction to pressure, it could be due to any reason. A minimal amount of stress is healthy, but when this interferes with one’s daily life, it becomes a cause for concern. Stress can take up different coping mechanisms. While some turn to alcohol, sex or drugs, some turn to food. Chronic stress affects food preferences and eating regulation, which can lead to emotional eating. One might eat as a response to suppress or soothe negative feelings and to make themselves feel better, but this is only temporary as it does not satisfy emotional needs. Instead of solving the problem, people turn to food as a replacement and do not address the trigger.”
She goes on to list how one can identify physical and emotional hunger. “When the cravings are abrupt and for only specific foods, it is emotional hunger. One binge eats and doesn’t have a sense of fullness and later feels guilty.
On the other hand, physical hunger is gradual and the desire is for a variety of foods. One can feel full and can stop and there are no negative feelings attached.”
Sanjushree VH, psychologist and researcher, explains that stress eating is a result of someone going through negative emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, guilt, powerlessness etc. She says food is considered as a coping mechanism as it is the primary need for any human and improves the emotional state when low. She lists how one can reduce emotional eating and that the primary goal is to first identify the stressor and work on that.
“Firstly, it is important to identify the stressor and work towards that. Secondly, one can exercise, meditate, do yoga and form a daily routine. It is advised to also maintain social support groups as this helps regulate feelings and keep one’s emotions in check. Apart from this, one should not skip breakfast or any meal as the body requires energy to reduce stress.” She concludes by saying that it is important to pay attention to the symptoms when daily life is affected as it could lead to eating disorders.