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  • Janelle Hunt

In Denial Of Emotional Eating

I recently taught a class on emotional vs physical eating. I started the class by asking who felt they were an emotional eater, at which point about half of the class identified they emotionally ate. Well then, let’s identify what exactly physical vs emotional eating means and which category you fall into majority of the time.

Physical Cues

Emotional Cues

Hunger comes on gradually

Hunger comes on suddenly

Hunger can be satisfied by any food

Craving for specific food

Fullness can be felt after a certain amount is eaten and one is able to stop eating once satisfied

No amount of food can satisfy

Feel physically empty, stomach growling, dizzy, headache, etc

Eating for any reason outside of true physical hunger - emotions, boredom, food tastes or smells good so eat more than needed, eating because food is provided at the party or in front of us

After I spent some time explaining this chart, the whole class was able to identify that they all do indeed emotionally eat. The reality is, we all emotionally eat at times, but the degree varies depending on the frequency that it happens, and the quantity of food consumed. We all link food with certain memories and we’re either taught or have learned to use food for enjoyment, to comfort ourselves, or try to satisfy a particular emotion we’re feeling. There is actually nothing wrong with some emotional eating; I bet you didn’t think you’d hear that from a dietitian! It does become a problem though when it begins to affect someone’s weight negatively – either up or down - or starts to control someone’s life to the point where food becomes their primary coping tool, leading to a complete loss of feeling and lack of eating according to true physical hunger/fullness cues. So maybe it’s time to stop beating ourselves up if we have a little something because it just sounds comforting or good. What would happen if you actually acknowledged that some emotional eating is normal and gave yourself permission to have food at times for this purpose? The key is to make sure you incorporate other coping tools, so you have balance.


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