Almost everybody overeats once in a while. Whether it is an extra serving of a scrumptious holiday meal or a second helping of a snack, occasional overeating is not a health issue. However, overeating becomes a problem when it is in response to negative moods or emotions and moves outside of the type of overeating that everyone can identify with.
Emotional eating is consuming food when you feel worn out, hopeless, on edge, nervous, frustrated, or even bored. It does not satisfy you physically. Instead, it mostly occurs in the absence of physical hunger. Engaging continuously in emotional eating increases your chances of developing Binge Eating Disorder (BED).
Relationship Between Emotional Overeating and Binge Eating Disorder
Emotional overeating becomes Binge Eating Disorder (BED) when it is regular, excessive, and out of control. BED is a serious condition and eating disorder where you frequently consume excessively large food amounts. You cannot stop eating once you have started, and you lose control over your eating. You may feel embarrassed about your behaviour and even commit to stop it, but you cannot resist the compulsive desire to eat.
Unlike people with bulimia, with BED, you do not regularly compensate for the extra calories through the use of laxatives, vomiting, or excessive exercise. You may try dieting or eating regular meals, but diet restrictions may increase the impulse to binge eat. The severity of BED depends on the frequency of bingeing episodes in a week. If you binge at least twice weekly, for six months, you meet the diagnostic criteria for Binge Eating Disorder;
BED often causes obesity or unwanted weight gain, which indirectly encourages more compulsive eating. You may experience feelings of guilt and disgust, and develop related psychological conditions such as anxiety or depression. These feelings lead you to continue using food as a coping mechanism, and the vicious cycle continues.
To manage and stop binge eating, it is crucial that you understand its causes and symptoms.
Causes of Binge Eating Disorder
You can suffer from BED regardless of age or gender. It occurs more in women compared to men, and it usually begins in late teenage or early 20s. Although the exact causes of BED are unknown, some factors increase your risk of developing the disorder. The factors are:
- Psychological factors: There is a strong correlation between binge eating and depression. Having negative feelings about yourself, your accomplishments and your skills, body dissatisfaction, stress, and availability of binge foods of choice promote BED.
- Biological factors: Biological predispositions such as genetic mutation or hormonal irregularity may be linked to food addiction and compulsive eating. Also, you are likely to develop BED if a close family member has a history of eating disorders.
- Dieting: People with BED often have a dieting history. Dieting or restricting calorie intake during the day can trigger binge eating, especially if you are exhibiting symptoms of depression.
- Social and cultural factors: Traumatic experiences such as abuse of any kind can enhance the risk of emotional eating. Social pressure to remain thin and critical comments about your body or weight may make you vulnerable to BED.
Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder
Most people with BED are obese or overweight, but some are of healthy weight. BED usually causes shame and embarrassment due to your eating habits. Therefore, you may attempt to hide the symptoms. Some of the emotional and behavioral signs and symptoms are:
- Consuming unusually large food amounts in a short time
- Eating when you are not hungry and continuing to eat after you are full
- Normal eating behaviour when with others and a distinct difference in behaviour when alone
- Feeling out of control and unable to control what you eat or to stop eating
- Hoarding or hiding food for secret consumption later
- Eating very quickly during binge episodes
- Frequently eating in secret or alone
- Lack of sensation or feeling numb while bingeing
- Finding relief from feelings of anxiety and stress only from food
- Inability to experience satiation regardless of the amount of food you consume
- Dieting frequently, often without weight loss
- Feeling upset, guilty, ashamed, disgusted, or depressed about your eating habits
How to Stop Emotional Overeating
If you have BED or are experiencing emotional overeating, you may feel compelled to hide your behaviour. However, it is important to acknowledge when the issue becomes severe enough that it’s time to seek professional help.
Like with any eating disorder, recovery will involve working with a nutritionist or dietician to address the food symptoms directly while working with a therapist on the underlying emotional factors.
Here are some ways a professional may work with you to gain control and stop emotional overeating.
Awareness is crucial
Emotional eating is also referred to as mindless eating because your unconscious habits drive you. For you to change your behaviour, you must be aware of how your emotional eating happens, the feelings that precede your emotional eating, and understand why you are eating. By learning patterns, you can anticipate when you may struggle and get ahead of the bingeing or emotional eating symptoms. A professional can help you make these connections, drawing on their experience and by having an objective vantage point.
Identify your triggers
Identify the feelings, places, and situations that contribute to your urges to eat. Emotional eating is mostly due to negative feelings, but sometimes, it can result from positive emotions as a way of rewarding yourself for achievement. Emotional eating often occurs due to:
- Feelings of emptiness or boredom
- Stuffing unpleasant emotions
- Childhood habits
- Social influences
Find alternative ways of managing your feelings
Understanding your triggers and the cycle of your emotional eating is often not enough. You can work with a professional to find alternative ways to fulfill emotions that do not involve food.
Practice mindful eating
Practicing mindful eating develops an awareness of your eating habits and helps create a delay between your trigger and your behaviour. As an emotional eater, you may feel powerless over your cravings and an unbearable urge that demands instant feeding. Mindfulness helps make you present and aware, and helps you stop the habit of acting on your desires without thinking.
Learn to face your problems and accept all your feelings
Emotional eating arises from feelings of powerlessness over your emotions. You use food to avoid dealing with your problems and emotions. It is critical to find coping mechanisms that are solution-based and practice ways of assertively dealing with issues without using food to cope or to stifle your feelings.
When you allow yourself to feel the uncomfortable emotions instead of suppressing them and can process them in a safe space, they subside and become powerless over you. You do this by becoming mindful and learning how to stay in touch with your emotional experience. You are then able to manage stress and emotional issues that trigger emotional eating.
Talk to a Professional for Help!
If you try all the self-help techniques, and you still cannot control your emotional or binge eating, you may need therapy. Our health professionals will help you understand your triggers and how your emotions relate to your eating disorder. Do not suffer in secret. You can talk to a therapist in confidence and regain control of your eating habits.