Most people have an emotional relationship with food. We have all struggled with emotional eating at one time or another. However, there is a big difference between having a cookie every so often when you are stressed and letting food become your main coping skill to the point that you no longer know how to cope without it. Here are four signs that emotional eating is becoming more the rule than the exception…..
1. You eat when you aren’t hungry. This is a big sign that you are eating to numb emotions. When we engage in emotional eating over and over, we begin to lose touch with our physical signals for hunger and fullness. If you eat when you aren’t physically hungry, how do you know when to stop? In this case, we tend to rely on visual cues for fullness. We eat until the food is gone and that means we tend to eat more than we need.
2. We feel guilt and shame when we eat. The purpose of these emotions are to teach us not to hurt others. In this case guilt and shame aren’t justified or helpful. Food is necessary for survival. Feeling guilty or shameful about eating is like feeling those emotions about breathing oxygen.
3. We use food as a reward or punishment. We often use food as a celebration for an achievement or a punishment for “bad behavior” are damaging to our self-esteem. Statements like, “I can’t eat that cookie because I didn’t exercise today” or “I can eat dinner because I went to the gym” typically set us up for overeating as well as guilt and shame.
4. You can’t stop eating. For people who have struggled with emotional eating for many years and end up in the shame spiral, it can lead to difficulty stopping the behavior. We end up on automatic pilot and even though we want to stop because it doesn’t taste good anymore or we know we are no longer hungry, it almost becomes an out of body experience.
If you struggle with your relationship with food, consider entering counseling with a therapist who can help you target your emotional connection to food. By removing these emotional barriers, you can sustain the changes you are trying to make without continuing to sabotage your efforts.