The Truth about Emotional Eating

emotional eatingIf you’re like many others in America, emotional eating may get the best of you from time to time. Perhaps you are feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, and that bag of Cheetos that you normally wouldn’t even go near starts to look like the best solution to your bad day. New studies indicate that the habit of and desire for emotion-based eating actually begins at a very young age, and parents have the power to prevent it.

Emotional Eating is Born

When a toddler throws a hissy fit and her mother knows that a few pieces of chocolate or a bowl of chips will make the tantrum stop, the mom may simply give the toddler the treat she wants in order to avoid a meltdown. Whether it’s in the supermarket, in a fancy restaurant, or simply during a hectic day at home, all parents can agree that sometimes it’s a relief to use the simple solution, even if it feels like cheating.

But a new study from Aston University suggests that by giving in like that, parents are damaging their child’s relationship with food in the future by teaching that food can solve problems. The group of 3 to 5 year olds in the study who were rewarded with treats were more likely to choose food over other self-soothing techniques in later years, even when not feeling hungry.

While this certainly isn’t the only reason that people get caught in the emotional-eating cycle, it’s important insight to understand why our eating habits form as they do.

Defining Emotional Hunger

Emotional hunger is dramatically different than true physical hunger. While physical hunger builds gradually and is easily alleviated by a bit of food, emotional hunger can be instantly triggered by the craving for very specific comfort foods. Emotional eating usually leads to mindless eating, in which you eat without appreciating the taste or food itself. Most people who eat based on emotions feel guilty and regretful afterward, which is essentially the emotional aftermath.

Quick Tips to Stop Emotional Eating

The most important step to eliminating emotional eating is to figure out your trigger. Is it stress or boredom? Find a different way to alleviate your negative feelings, like working out, taking a bath, or reading a good book. Try to be more aware of what you eat and how it makes you feel, and drink water or chew gum to quench the temptation to eat.