How do we put on weight? Many people think that their weight gain is caused by some sort of major metabolic slowdown or that they are less active than they used to be. However, the truth is really much simpler than this; most overweight people simply eat too much, too often. It really is that simple. What is hard to explain is why this happens. People want to lose weight but keep eating too much food. The answer is usually emotional eating.
Emotional eating does not just mean eating when you are feeling upset about something. It is eating during any episode where your emotional state has changed. Some people respond to stressful situations by not eating, others by eating too much.
The signs of emotional eating are clear – following an event you will find yourself munching away on a pre-meal snack. Sometimes you may find yourself eating while cooking a meal. Often this is because your mind is on other things and you are on autopilot.
So, why do we do this? Emotional eating is likely to be another one of our defense mechanisms. In the past, stressful events may have resulted in a major threat to life. To avoid the risk of starvation following a prolonged food shortage people would binge eat to put on as much fat as possible. Few people have this problem today.
Next time you have a stressful day in the office or argue with your partner, remember that you food supply will not be affected. You do not need to empty the cookie jar or eat a tub of ice-cream because the food will still be there tomorrow.
It is important to understand how strong the link between emotion and natural desire is. The same impulse that excites you and makes you behave in irrational ways in the presence of an especially attractive person also controls your appetite when you are emotional in other ways. Learn to control you hunger and learn to spot the signs of emotional eating. Here are a few simple tricks to stop it.
This may sound weird at first, but it really can work. Leave yourself a friendly notice in the place you keep your comfort food, on the fridge or inside a cupboard door. When you go to get something to eat you will see a note. Write something like “Remember, you promised yourself not to snack. Take a short walk instead“.
Lock away your
If leaving a note does not stop you go one stage further. Put all convenience food and snacks in a lockable cupboard. The action of having to get the key to gain access to the food might provide just enough time for you to be able to make a conscious decision to not snack.
It is amazing how much additional food we can eat without really thinking about it. Every small snack can add 100 Calories and larger snacks are often like small meals, providing 300-400 Calories. When you eat without thinking, and especially when prompted by some sort of emotional event, you can consume thousands of additional Calories every week.
Keep a diet diary
This is another reason why it can really help you to keep a food diary when trying to lose weight. If you write down your emotions along with everything you consume and exercise you will get a better idea of what triggers you to eat. If you can avoid the triggers you can avoid emotional eating.
People who fail to get adequate sleep are far more likely to eat too much food. Eating helps to keep us awake and alert so constant snacking is use by some people to help get through the day.
Eat three meals a day
Skipping meals often results on over-compensation later in the day. Skipping breakfast or lunch may seem like a good way to eat less food but we tend to eat far too much in the next meals, or just snack our way out of hunger.
Being more conscious about your emotions and how it affects your eating habits can help you to take control of your diet. Also, being more conscious of what you are eating at all times will help you to ignore the desire to eat more often.
Psychological therapy can help you to switch off the desire to binge eat when stressed or upset. Therapies include cognitive behavioral therapy, an adapted form of dialectical behavior therapy and interpersonal therapy. All of these are designed to teach people how to change bad habits.
Resources of emotional eating
The NHS provides a good summary on binge eating and covers both causes and treatments: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Binge-eating/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Children suffer from emotional eating too. School playground fights and bullying can have an impact on child health: http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/emotions/emotional_eating.html
The CDC website also covers this topic well: http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/eating_habits.html