What are the causes of emotional eating? The main reason people eat emotionally is to avoid difficult feelings or emotions.
Once you start to eat to avoid difficult emotions, it can become a hard habit to break.
Emotional eating is the #1 sabotager of all weight loss efforts. In order to lose weight permanently, you need to find ways to deal with your emotions without eating.
Every emotional eater has unique triggers or causes of emotional eating. Here are 3 of the most common:
#1 Dieting Frustrations
Yes, sad but true. Diets are one of the top causes of emotional eating.
Years of dieting can give you what I call a dieting mentality. The dieting mentality makes you think of foods in terms of black and white, good and bad.
This is a good food, that is a bad food. Therefore, if I eat a good food, I’m good and if I eat a bad food I’m bad. Eating fruit makes me a good person, eating chocolate makes me a bad person.
These kinds of food rules are rigid and almost impossible to follow. And when you fail to follow them perfectly, you get upset with yourself and this leads to emotional overeating.
The diet mentality also sets us up for the ‘What the heck’ effect. Most of us are familiar with this phenomenon.
It usually starts when we make one little compromise on our diet. We then think ‘What the heck – I’ve blown it so I might as well go all the way’.
For example, maybe you had one chocolate chip cookie – which wasn’t on your diet. Then you think ‘What the heck – I’ve had one. Now I’ve blown it so I might as well finish the entire row of cookies’.
If you weren’t dieting but listening to your body, you may have had 1 or 2 cookies and been satisfied. But the ‘what the heck’ effect has now pushed you into 5, 6, 7 or even 10 cookies. Plus, you’re now dealing with the guilt and regret of overeating.
Dieting also sets up a feeling of deprivation. Who wants to eat cardboard tasting food while watching family and friends indulge in pizza and ice cream?
We humans are not good with deprivation. We’re like rubber bands – if we’re stretched too far one way (depriving ourselves with melba toast and celery), we’ll snap back just as far the other way (nose down in pizza and brownies).
Feelings of deprivation can cause us to eat everything in sight once the diet is over. And this usually doesn’t stop until all that weight we lost (plus more) has piled back on.
#2 Ignored Emotions
Ignored emotions are another one of the causes of emotional eating.
Many of us may know instinctively that we are emotional eaters. However we can be completely oblivious to our internal emotional states on a moment-by-moment basis.
Ignored emotional issues are one of the main reasons we find ourselves scarfing down butter brickel ice cream in the middle of the night or noshing on 3 slices of cold pizza the moment we walk in the door from work.
Sometimes we know why we’re overeating – we’re mad at a spouse or upset at the boss.
However there are times we find ourselves eating – and we don’t even know why. I believe it’s because we don’t address the little emotional issues during the day.
We keep them inside where they build and build. Eventually we’re face down a bowl of ice cream, with no idea why we can’t stop eating.
Try to address your feelings as they come up. Deal with them, feel them and then release them. Try not to let them build up.
For example, maybe a coworker knocked over your coffee, then a customer yelled at you, then your car got a flat tire. And when you got home – the final straw – your dog threw up on the new carpet.
You’re going to feel frustrations over every one of these incidents. But try to deal with each one separately as they come up, feeling the feelings and then letting it go.
Then you won’t have a huge buildup of frustrations at the end of the day, boiling over into a raging demand for pizza and chips.
#3 No Soothing Skills
Lack of soothing skills is one of the main causes of emotional eating. One of the reasons we’ve turned to food for comfort is because – at some point – we’ve found that eating soothes our emotions.
There’s nothing like that rush of sugar and caffeine in a piece of chocolate. Or the solace of melting cheese with extra pepperoni on our favorite pan pizza.
But overcoming emotional eating is all about learning to sooth yourself with things other than food.
Part of becoming a mature human means developing skills to sooth your emotions that are healthy and build you up (not build you out).
One of the reasons we get stuck in emotional eating is because we’ve no idea how to sooth and comfort ourselves. Many people go their whole lives never hearing that they are responsible for comforting themselves emotionally.
What can you do? Start building a set of activities that you enjoy. These should be activities that you can use to sooth yourself emotionally.
They may be anything from reading your favorite book to taking the dog for a walk to watching an old movie (like Wuthering Heights) to writing in a journal to going shopping for a new pair of shoes.
Then practice these activities the next time you start to feel you need a good emotional pick-me-up.
There are lots of causes of emotional eating. The three causes above are some of the most common. By being aware of them you can help nip binges in the bud.
Emotional eating can become a deeply ingrained habit that is hard to break. If you are an emotional eater, you must learn to treat the root cause of your weight problems.