Why Do We Eat When We Get Stressed?

Emotional eating is the act of choosing foods based on your emotions. Linking emotions with foods creates an unhealthy relationship. When we link emotions with food, we give food the power to make us feel happy, sad, guilty, or even disappointed. Eating a double cheeseburger doesn’t actually make you feel happy or sad. In reality, you’ve chosen to associate feelings of happiness or sadness with that particular food. That’s why you can eat a food that you use to make you feel happy but not enjoy the experience of eating that same food on another occasion. Emotions and feelings change from day-to-day and even minute-by-minute.

Eating foods to make ourselves feel better is a common bad habit. The truth is that food is meant to produce energy, nourish, and heal our bodies. That’s it. It serves a physical purpose but should not be used to meet an emotional need. Think of it in terms of putting fuel in your car. You know your car needs fuel to run so you make sure that you gas it up regularly so your engine won’t blow. There are no emotions involved in the process. You give it what it needs without feelings of guilt or joy. And the choice you make about the type of fuel you put in your car is totally based on how well you want your car to perform.

How This Affects You:

Emotional eating often results in poor food choices. We tend to seek out foods that we have linked with “feeling good”. We also tend to crave foods that are chemically engineered to keep us coming back for more. Many processed foods contain additives that can become habit forming or addictive. Sometimes foods and beverages contain addictive chemicals that we become physically and emotionally dependent on such as coffee, energy drinks, and even chocolate. Emotional eating and cravings can lead to weight gain, obesity, food addictions, and cause you to develop chronic feelings of guilt, shame, and powerlessness.

What You Can Do:

The best way to stop bad habits is to develop new healthy ones in their place. It doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying your food. The act of eating should be enjoyable. Especially when you know you are giving your body exactly what it needs. Instead of eating to meet an emotional need, you need to choose foods based on what your body needs or what we at Nourished Minds refer to as “Eating with a Purpose”.

When you eat with a purpose you choose foods that will fuel and nourish your body. Here’s the difference. Say you just had an intense workout at the gym. If you leave the gym and decide to reward yourself with an In-and-Out burger and fries then you are making a choice based on your emotions or out of habit. Whereas, having a grilled chicken breast and spinach salad sprinkled with feta cheese, avocado, and pear slices is eating with a purpose. You make a deliberate choice to replenish your body with a great source of protein, healthy fats, and a nutrient-dense plant carbohydrate; exactly what your body needs to repair, rebuild, and energize.

Here are some tips to help you change your old habit of thought and discover a whole new way to enjoy food and not let your emotions control you.

  • When choosing a meal, ask yourself what your body needs instead of what do I feel like eating.
  • Try to avoid making any decisions about meals when you are highly emotional.
  • Do not grocery shop on an empty stomach or when hungry.
  • Feeling nostalgic about your mom’s homemade brownies is just another form of emotional eating.
  • Don’t let others pressure you into make poor food choices just because misery loves company.
  • Get educated – consult with a doctor, nutritionist, or natural health practitioner to determine your nutritional deficiencies; deficiencies can sometimes cause cravings.
  • When you are prescribed a new medication, ask your physician if the medication can cause cravings, increase or decrease in appetite, or suppress feelings of hunger.
  • Treat your body like it’s the only one you’ve got.
  • Read Your Food Labels.
  • Cook more, eat out less, and save money.
  • Eat with a purpose; before you put anything in your mouth ask yourself if that particular food is meeting your body’s needs. If not, don’t eat it.
  • Allow yourself an indulgence—a sweet treat or a steak dinner…it doesn’t matter; when you give your body what it needs 80% of the time, it can handle a 20% intake of “the bad stuff”.