Emotional Eating

The term “emotional eating” is a common expression used to describe patterns of eating that are fused with different mood states. It is most common to think of emotional eating as a response to feeling sad, tired or bored, but emotional eating can often be associated with celebration, joy or when enjoying the company of others. Regardless of the moods associated with emotional eating, the goal of emotional eating is always to change one’s mental state through the consumption of food.

When emotional eating, different mood states act as powerful urges to reach for food, most commonly sweets or comfort foods, that provide relief from uncomfortable feelings or make us feel better.

Examples of when people are likely to engage in emotional eating behaviours include:

  • When bored, people eat to change their mood state.
  • When frustrated at work, people eat to change their mood state.
  • When looking for something to do on a weekend, people eat to change their mood state.
  • When tired, people eat to change their mood state.
  • When worried about a personal relationship, people eat to change their mood state.

Emotional eating can be very effective in the short term in shifting moods. As a result of this, it can rapidly become a habit that is heavily reinforced as a quick and easy solution to feeling better.  In addition to potential health consequences of eating not for the purposes of nutrition or gaining energy, often emotional eating will lead to significant feelings of guilt. This guilt will tend to last longer and will have a stronger impact than the initial feelings of pleasure gained from emotional eating.

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