Have you ever come home after a stressful day and ended up eating a pint of Chunky Monkey? Or maybe you’ve mindlessly eaten a bag of chips at your desk willing the workday to go by faster? Both of these examples are types of emotional eating: eating for reasons other than hunger. While eating when you’re hungry addresses a physical need (providing the body with food in order to function), emotional eating uses food to satisfy an emotional need. Some common causes of emotional eating include stress, anger, boredom and loneliness. Emotional eating can affect your diabetes management because often the foods eaten are high in sugar, fat and calories. This can raise blood sugar and make it hard to lose weight.
So how can you tell if you’re eating because you’re hungry or because you’re stressed out? Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by any type of food. You stop feeling hunger when you have eaten enough to feel full. Emotional “hunger” comes on very quickly and is focused on a strong craving for a particular food, taste or texture. Emotional eating is also often mindless and can lead to feelings of guilt afterward.
Now that we know the difference between physical and emotional hunger, here are some strategies to help manage emotional eating:
- Know your triggers – If you know what it is that causes you to eat (e.g. boredom, stress), you can take action to prevent mindless munching before it begins. Use another activity to distract yourself from wanting to eat. Try going for a walk, talking to a friend or loved one, or listening to music.
- Pause – Before reaching for the bag of chips, stop and think: am I hungry, or am I bored? Wait 10 minutes and see if you are still truly hungry.
- Eat smaller portions – If you wait 10 minutes and still can’t stop thinking about those chips, have a smaller, individual portion to keep you from overeating.
- Practice mindful eating – Slow down and take the time to really enjoy the smell, tastes and textures of your favorite foods. Try not to multi task – make eating your only activity.
- Seek help if you need it – Emotional eating can sometimes be a symptom of depression or anxiety. If you feel this may be the case, talk to your healthcare provider, a diabetes educator or a mental health specialist.
Post content reviewed by Jen Searl, MLS, CHWC