Eating ensures that your body gets the energy it needs to get you through the day. But if you find yourself eating when you’re sad or when you’re not really hungry, you may be experiencing emotional overeating. Figuring out the underlying reasons why you overeat is important if you want to improve your eating habits and manage your weight.
Most of the time, negative emotions like anxiety, boredom, loneliness and sadness can make you overeat. Detailed below are five reasons why people overeat, and tips on how to improve your eating habits.
You may overeat to avoid dealing with negative experiences
Unlike binge eating that’s motivated by a need to feel full, emotional overeating is often caused by the need to fill your senses with food instead of facing an unpleasant emotional reality.
Avoidance triggers emotional overeating. When you’re emotionally overeating, you crave food not to sate physical hunger but to avoid dealing with painful emotions.
It can be hard to avoid emotional overeating because of a negative experience, but if you want to address this, you’ll need to be more mindful of why and how you eat.
Did you know that it takes your stomach 20 minutes to let your brain know that you’re already full after eating? If you want to eat, chew each mouthful several times. Enjoy the scents, flavors and textures of every meal. Once you’re done eating, take a break to see if you’re still hungry.
You may overeat to avoid dealing with painful feelings
When you go through negative experiences like a messy breakup or unemployment, you may overeat to escape painful feelings.
Emotional overeaters turn to food to deal with negative feelings like:
But instead of dulling your emotions with food, it’s better for your overall health to face these emotions instead of eating too much. Talk to a friend you trust or consult a therapist who can help you find healthier ways of processing negative emotions.
You may overeat because you don’t like the way you look
Don’t get too hung up on the numbers on your weighing scale. Instead of obsessing over your weight and overeating because you’re not losing weight, focus on exercising to have fun and become healthier.
The same goes for the food you eat. Manage you portions, learn to cook delicious foods and use healthier ingredients so you can have your cake and eat it too. When you do snack, make healthy choices.
You may overeat if food is the primary or only source of joy in your life
Delicious food is something you can enjoy, but not when you constantly eat because it’s the only thing that makes you happy.
Do you feel comforted when you eat foods that contain ingredients like dairy, fat, gluten, salt or sugar? That’s because these ingredients contain compounds that have the same effect as opioids on your brain. (Related: Bad eating habits that cause weight gain.)
Don’t let food manipulate your emotions. List down things that make you happy, like listening to your favorite music, reading a book or gardening, and set aside time to enjoy these hobbies instead of eating mindlessly.
You may overeat because your metabolism has issues
While negative emotions often cause emotional overeating, it can also occur due to low blood sugar.
When your blood sugar gets too low, your body makes you eat to get the carbohydrates you need to boost your blood sugar levels. But sometimes, you eat too much.
Some people have reactive hypoglycemia, where their bodies release too much insulin because of the sugars released when they digest carbs. Ironically, eating foods that contain carbs, sugar and starches makes their blood sugar levels go down, instead of up.
If you find yourself reaching for a bag of chips when you’re feeling sad or you’re trying to avoid some issues at work, take a minute to compose yourself. Focus on dealing with your feelings in a healthy way to avoid emotional overeating.