Emotional Hunger

Latrice Marie Winston (courtesy photo)

One day I looked in the mirror and I just did not see all the changes I had been working so hard for. What I failed to realize was that, even though my eating patterns had improved, I was an emotional eater. 

Many of us struggle with the challenges of emotional eating – eating for reasons other than hunger. Instead of physical symptoms of hunger initiating the eating, emotions trigger the eating. We often associate emotional eating with depression, and then the customary stuffing of our faces to fill that void. I’ve been there too, but it’s bigger than that. 

Like many, I thought emotional eating only occurred when I was sad or bored, but I also ate when I was content or happy. As African Americans, we tend to celebrate everything with food. When my fiancé was accepted to an MBA program, I cooked him desserts; it felt natural. 

After looking in that mirror and realizing my relationship to food, I began to keep a food journal. I noticed that during my busiest days I wasn’t quite eating enough, and on slack days I was eating too much. 

While keeping my journal, I was forced to think about everything I was putting in my mouth. Over time I was able to determine the differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger: 
1) Emotional hunger occurs suddenly, and physical hunger occurs gradually. 
2) Eating to fill a void with requests for specific food is emotional eating. When you’re physically hungry, you are far less choosy, and you will stop eating because your stomach feels full. 
3) Emotional eating tends to be instantly satisfied. 
4) Emotional hunger provokes guilt, while physical hunger doesn’t. When upset, I desperately wanted something sweet, like doughnuts or ice cream. After eating them, I felt bloated and guilty.

Once I became aware of my emotional state, my physical actions changed for the better. Here are a few tips to help you deal with emotional eating. 
• Use a journal to help recognize emotional eating, and learn the triggers within yourself. Tracking your food intake will force you to become more self-aware. 
• Make a list of things to do when you get the urge to eat and you’re not hungry. Carry it with you. Work through your emotions without food. 
• Stay productive. When you get bored, those cravings tend to sneak in. Warning: When you’re tired, you may want to eat to keep yourself awake or busy. If you’re able, take a nap or recognize the craving. Your body is telling you it needs rest, not more food! 
• Lastly, when it comes to comfort foods, we may experience anxiety that may lead to emotional eating. To help with this, allow yourself some of the foods that you love, because this isn’t a diet – it’s a new way of eating. 

Latrice Marie Winston lives in Brooklyn Park, and blogs at latricemarie.blogspot.com