Emotional and binge eating are real problems in the United States. Studies show that four in 10 Americans have some kind of eating-related problem.
The obesity epidemic is widely talked about, the Internet makes health and nutritional information easy to access, and yet many still struggle with overeating.
While the physical aspects of overeating and weight gain are constantly talked about, the emotional and mental aspects are often overlooked.
This leaves men and women who struggle with weight management with inadequate tools to get healthy. Managing weight is about more than punching into the gym six days a week. It’s about taking care of the emotional and mental causes behind weight gain as well.
If you can’t stop eating, but know you need to change your life, take comfort in knowing that you’re one of millions of Americans struggling with the same issues. Then accept that you aren’t overweight because you’re inadequate, lazy, or unworthy.
You are worthy, and you deserve a long, happy, healthy life!
Take a look at these common causes of emotional and binge eating and learn some tools to overcome your weight issues for good!
What is Emotional and Binge Eating?
Both emotional and binge eating are eating-related problems that often act as coping mechanisms for handling stressful or traumatic events.
Often, these overeating habits develop at a young age and follow people into adulthood. They are often triggered by emotional events and may occur without the individual realizing it until they’ve already eaten more than their body can handle.
Emotional eating happens when individuals use food to feel better when they are unhappy, frustrated, or stressed. It often comes on suddenly and leaves the individual feeling better for a moment, which is then followed by feelings of guilt and self-loathing.
Binge eating is similar, but it occurs more sporadically. It is often accompanied by feelings of guilt, disgust, and depression during and/or after eating. And, unlike eating disorders like bulimia, the individual doesn’t attempt to “make up” for overeating by taking extreme actions toward weight loss.
During both types of eating, the individual continues to eat far after they feel full. They may eat very quickly, eat alone, and prefer “comfort foods” that are high in fat and sugar. Often, they can feel sick and ashamed after eating, but can’t stop.
What Causes These Types of Overeating?
There are many reasons for overeating. Sometimes it’s a physical cause, such as insulin resistance that causes the individual to crave sugars and carbs, but often times it stems from an emotional place.
Overeating habits often start in childhood. Some children turn to comfort food as a way to cope with family stress or bullying, other children grow up in households that don’t stress good eating habits and may inherit overeating tendencies from their parents.
One theory suggests that food becomes a reward mechanism at a very young age. Children are rewarded with cake and ice cream on birthdays and buckets of candy on holidays. This encourages children to associate high-sugar and high-fat foods with happiness. Conversely, high-fat and high-carb foods at funerals may teach children that food can be used as comfort in upsetting situations.
When habitual overeaters enter adulthood, they tend to use eating as a coping mechanism. Clinical psychologist Jennifer Kromberg, has worked extensively in women’s issues and eating disorders. She found five major reasons for emotional or binge eating.
- Unawareness. Often, individuals aren’t conscious about their eating habits. They aren’t aware of how quickly they eat, what they choose to eat, or how often they eat. This can stem from a lack of health education at home and in schools.
- Food as Your Only Pleasure. Eating sugars and fats releases opioids in the brain, which is the same active ingredient in cocaine, heroin, and other narcotics. “So the calming, soothing effects you feel when you eat ice cream and BBQ potato chips are real,” says Kromberg. “And breaking these habits can be like kicking a drug habit.” In order to manage overeating, one must find other sources of pleasure in their lives.
- Inability to Tolerate Difficult Feelings. Negative feelings are demonized in our culture. Many children aren’t taught proper ways of expressing their emotions and this can result in numbness as an adult. Instead of expressing negative emotions, these individuals turn to food as a way of coping with feelings of sadness, anger, rejection, or boredom.
- Body Hate. Hating your body is one of the biggest factors in emotional eating. Although it seems counterintuitive, it makes sense that shame and hatred rarely inspire life-changing decisions. Many people believe they will love their body after losing weight, but the solution actually comes in reversing that idea.
- Physiology. This includes conditions such as insulin resistance, but also habits like waiting too long to eat or not getting enough sleep. Both cause cravings and overeating, but can easily be managed by adopting healthier habits.
Although these drivers behind overeating aren’t easy to overcome, they are possible to overcome. Like Dr. Kromberg says, it takes shifting your consciousness, learning to love your body, and a lot of new habits, but it is possible and the rewards are numerous.
How to Reform Your Eating Habits
Moving from an eating disorder to a healthy weight is a big challenge. But remember, you can do it! To help choose a safe path that you will actually be able to stick to for life, talk to your health-care professional. Make sure you consult a doctor before making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle or diet.
Managing your weight comes in two forms. First, you have to manage your diet and cut down on those comfort foods that aid in the vicious cycle of overeating. Second, you need to manage the emotional factors that lead to and follow overeating. This is crucial to making a lasting change to your body.
Since it’s the most difficult, we will start with how to manage emotional factors.
Manage Your Emotional Triggers
Food releases chemicals in the brain that make food an easy scapegoat in difficult situations. In order to fight emotional or binge eating, you need to understand what your triggers are and find new ways to cope with those emotions.
- Keep a food journal. This will help you train your mind to eat consciously. Many people don’t even realize how much or how often they eat. Keep a food journal and be strict about what and when you eat. At first, the journal doesn’t have to be about counting calories, just creating awareness. Fill the notebook with inspiring quotes and images that will keep you going when times get tough.
- Learn to manage stress. Everyone struggles with stress management. But, that means there are infinite tools and information out there to help you cope. Vow to find something that works for you, whether it be journaling, meditation, or exercise. Don’t give up if one thing doesn’t work at first. Managing stress and pushing through difficult situations will do wonders for your health, and life in general.
- Fight boredom. It’s easy to reach for a bag of potato chips when we are sitting around bored, but that is a habit that needs to be broken. Have contingency plans set up for times you find yourself boredly wandering the kitchen. Have a friend you can call, an activity you like to do, or make a list of new things you want to try when you’re bored.
- Have a support system. No one can do it by themselves. Weight management is difficult for people at any stage, so find a support group that can help you achieve your goals. Reach out to close friends and family to keep you accountable and consider joining a local support or fitness group that can help you work through the more difficult aspects of weight management.
Take Your Health Seriously
Living overweight has serious consequences. Hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are just a few of the potentially life-threatening conditions that accompany weight gain.
It’s time to take your health seriously. And it won’t be as scary as you think! Set up a game plan and rely on your support system, and you can achieve anything!
- Stick to three meals a day with snacks. Going all day without eating and having one big meal invites gorging, and eating constantly doesn’t give your body the chance to feel full. Get in the habit of keeping high-protein, healthy snacks on hand to help you overcome cravings and give you a boost of energy in between meals.
- Get enough sleep. When you feel tired, your body craves sugar to give it an extra boost, but eating a bunch of bad food doesn’t solve the problem at hand. Rearrange your schedule to make sure you get seven to nine hours of sleep a night. It’s not going to be easy, and it’s not supposed to be, but it will be worth it when you feel more energized the next day.
- Avoid temptations. It’s hard to go to your favorite restaurant and not order the usual, or walk down the soda aisle without grabbing a single bottle. Stay far away from these temptations. Cook your own healthy meals for the week on Sunday and package them so they’re easy to grab in the mornings, and ask a friend to go grocery shopping with you to keep you on track. You might even end up saving quite a few bucks this way. Bonus!
- Find a way to tolerate exercise. You don’t have to love it, but you should do it. Not only is exercise important in healthy weight loss, exercise helps get rid of cortisol, the stress hormone, and releases endorphins, which make us feel happy and in control, helping with the depression that often accompanies eating disorders. There are a ton of different kinds of exercise out there, so be brave and find one that you tolerate, if not love.
- Get help from supplements. Your diet has probably been lacking in essential vitamins and minerals. Even the healthiest eater has a hard time getting their daily recommended values, so supplements are there to help. You can find supplements that help you reach your daily values while also aiding with other problems like exhaustion, sadness, or hunger. Try using all-natural meal replacement shakes or stress relief supplements, like Nature’s Sunshine’s AnxiousLess.
Overeating disorders are serious conditions that can’t be cured with a quick fix. They require commitment and serious lifestyle changes. And blaming yourself, feeling unworthy, and being overcome with shame won’t help you reach your goals.
Weight management is absolutely a physical issue, but it is just as much an emotional issue. The vicious cycle of depression and blame won’t help you become the person you’re meant to be. It will just sink you deeper into the hole you’re in.
Making this life change is worthwhile. Your quality of life will improve in every possible way, and you deserve that. With a combination of support, consciousness, and lifestyle changes, you can overcome your emotional or binge eating and be the person you’ve always been deep down.
This is the first step, take it today!