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Are You Eating Because You Are Hungry or Emotional?

January 26, 2015   ·   0 Comments


Are You Eating Because You’re Hungry or Emotional?

By Barbara Brody
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Joseph Goldberg, MD

Food provides our bodies with fuel, but that isn’t the only reason you might eat. For many people, emotions play a strong role. For example, you might eat because you are:

  • Happy (birthday cake!)
  • Sad (who hasn’t indulged in ice cream after a bad day?)
  • Stressed (that 3 p.m. office chocolate break)

Eating for emotional reasons often leads to overeating, since you weren’t hungry in the first place.

An occasional binge isn’t a serious problem. If it happens all the time, you might have binge eating disorder.

Signs That You’re Eating Because of Emotions

Some clues that your desire to eat is purely emotional are:

  • Something stressful happens, and you immediately want to eat. True hunger isn’t affected by things like getting into a fight with your spouse or having a bad day at work.
  • An overwhelming urge to eat comes on suddenly. Real, physical hunger builds up slowly. You shouldn’t go from “fine” to “starving” in an instant.
  • You only desire one particular food. When you’re hungry, you might have a preference (you’re in the mood for a burger, for example) but you know other options would be OK. If you’d only be satisfied by chips or ice cream, assume the urge to eat is emotional.

Still not sure if your desire to soothe your feelings with food has crossed a dangerous line? Here are some misconceptions about emotional eating and binge eating disorder.

Myth No. 1: Eating because you’re upset or anxious means you have binge eating disorder.

It’s true that people who binge often do so to numb emotions such as upsetting, painful, or sad feelings. But most people who turn to food because of how they’re feeling do not have binge eating disorder. “We all have our comfort foods,” says Randy Flanery, PhD, program director for Webster Wellness Professionals in St. Louis, MO.

If you binge, you eat much more than others would in similar situations. Those with this disorder also feel like they have no control over their eating during a binge. They usually feel very upset, guilty, or shameful about their eating. If that sounds like you, see a mental health expert for proper diagnosis and treatment.

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