Kepha Nyanumba: Afya Pap Nutritionist
Are you overwhelmed by emotional eating and struggling to stabilize your blood sugars? When you are in that moment, it can be really hard to resist the sweet and savoury temptations that surround you. Emotional eating is the practice of consuming quantities of food usually “comfort” or junk foods in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. Many of us learn that food can bring comfort, at least in the short-term. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional problems or take away discomfort. This habit prevents us from learning skills that can effectively resolve our emotional distress.
Emotional hunger can be powerful and it’s easy to mistake it for physical hunger. But there are clues you can look for to differentiate between physical and emotional hunger.
- Emotional hunger craves specific comfort foods. When you’re physically hungry, you will eat any food irrespective of the taste. But emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant satisfaction.
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. It hits you in an instant and feels overwhelming and urgent. Physical hunger, on the other hand, comes on more gradually. The urge to eat doesn’t demand instant satisfaction.
- Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied once you’re full. You keep wanting more and more, often eating until you’re uncomfortably stuffed. Physical hunger, on the other hand, doesn’t need to be stuffed. You feel satisfied when your stomach is full.
Identify your emotional eating triggers
What situations, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food? Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, but it can also be triggered by positive emotions, such as rewarding yourself for achieving a goal or celebrating a holiday or happy event. Other common causes of emotional eating include social influences. Getting together with other people for a meal is a great way to relieve stress, but it can also lead to overeating. It’s easy to overindulge simply because the food is there or because everyone else is eating.
Steps to Manage Emotional Eating
If you have type 2 diabetes and you’re concerned about how you’re dealing with your emotional response to food, here are some adjustments that may help you curb emotional eating:
- Out of sight, out of mind: Embrace this concept if you really can’t resist the temptation. Creating distance between yourself and sugary, fatty, and salty foods could help you stay on track with healthy eating. You want to be eating nourishing foods most of the time to help keep your sugars in check and feel at your best.
- Recognize when you’re actually hungry. People eat for a variety of reasons, and some of those reasons have nothing to do with hunger. You may find yourself eating simply because the food is delicious and you’re enjoying a pleasurable experience or you may want to celebrate or reward yourself with your favorite treats. If you’re overindulging in food for emotional reasons, it’s important to learn to separate actual hunger from those other reasons, and stick with eating only when you’re hungry.
- Cope with cravings. A craving is a physiological need for a specific food to satisfy a chemical imbalance. This desire can seem uncontrollable, and people with cravings may not be satisfied until they get that particular food. Often, the craving is for foods high in sugar and fats, which can make maintaining a healthful diet difficult. One trick for coping with cravings is to try to use portion management to gain better control over your cravings.
- Professional advice. Emotional eating isn’t an easy behavior to overcome, but it’s an important issue to learn how to control. Professional advice is more critical for people with diabetes as they work to change emotional eating behaviors.