Eat when you are hungry, stop when you are full – really easy, right? But many people eat for other reasons: because they are stressed or lonely, to drive away grief or fears.
This also works in the short term, because food intake has a calming effect. But because it only lasts for a short time, you often eat too much overall – especially unhealthy and high-calorie foods. When the emotional hunger comes, one is more inclined to reach for ice cream, cake or chips than vegetables. Emotional eating is therefore one of the main reasons for being overweight.
Where does emotional hunger come from?
Many of us have already learned as children that food is comforting: if you are brave at the pediatrician, you get an ice cream as a reward, if you whine, you get biscuits. This coupling of feelings and food becomes entrenched in many people. In adulthood, it becomes a problem for some in the form of unnatural, emotional eating behavior or even an eating disorder.
Differentiate between emotional and real hunger
Anyone who wants to give up emotional eating must first learn to differentiate between emotional and physical, “real” hunger. Most of them are not even aware when they open the refrigerator door out of frustration or stress. The first step in renouncing emotional eating is therefore to observe yourself: When does the cravings occur? Are there certain situations, for example in the evening when you want to relax after a stressful day?
Healthy Eating, Emotional Eating, or Eating Disorder?
If you only eat sometimes for emotional reasons, you don’t necessarily have a problem. For once, such behavior is quite normal. However, if you eat emotionally on a regular basis, you may not have a relaxed relationship with food overall and would do well to deal with the topic. Important: Anyone who has the feeling that they cannot get the problem under control themselves or suffers from an eating disorder such as bulimia, anorexia or binge eating should seek professional help. “In this case it is advisable to see a doctor, a psychotherapist or a counseling center,” says Guido Loy, senior physician and head of the day clinic of the psychosomatic clinic on the Bad Neustadt campus. Further information on the subject is available at www.bzga-essstoerungen.de.
You can do that yourself
Diets are known to be unsustainable when it comes to weight loss. In the case of emotional eating, they can be even more harmful, as they can increase cravings or even encourage the development of an eating disorder. Instead of prohibiting yourself too much, you should rather try to eat balanced and regular meals and to enjoy your meals consciously and mindfully. Eat slowly, pay attention to the taste, smell, texture and try to notice when you feel full.
Tips for cravings
If you notice that an emotional hunger attack is looming, you can, for example, use a previously learned mindfulness or breathing exercise to calm yourself down. Or you write down in a few sentences how you are feeling in a kind of diary. Perhaps you will find ways to feel and satisfy your actual needs instead of “numbing” yourself with food. An inventory in the pantry can also help: Do not buy any unhealthy snacks at all and stock up on healthy alternatives instead.
Healthy snacking: 3 tips
When the little hunger comes on the way or at work, we often use high-calorie items such as chocolate bars. Not only is this unhealthy, it also upsets blood sugar levels and provokes food cravings. Healthy snacks that fill you up without pushing blood sugar too high are better. Try one of these snack ideas for on the go:
- A handful of almonds not only provide energy, but also many valuable fatty acids, proteins, fiber, vitamins and trace elements.
- A piece of dark chocolate with a cocoa content of at least 70% helps with chocolate cravings and should also have various positive effects on health.
- Oatmeal is really filling. In addition to valuable trace elements and vitamins, they contribute to good digestion thanks to their high amount of fiber. And they even help lower cholesterol and blood sugar levels. How to prepare a delicious muesli for in between meals in no time at all: Open a screw-top jar, 40 g oat flakes, 40 g natural yoghurt, 100 ml pure milk, refine with flaxseed, nuts and fruit as desired. Put the lid on, overnight or for a few hours in the refrigerator and enjoy a healthy snack at any time.
Your expert on emotional hunger
Senior physician in charge and head of the day clinic of the psychosomatic clinic on the Bad Neustadt campus
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