Emotional Eating – When A Little Becomes A Lot

‘’All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.’’ ~ Charles M. Schulz.

 

Don’t you agree? After a long day at work, there’s often nothing better than a few squares of chocolate with a coffee.

 

This is one of the many roles food has to play in our lives. At its most basic it provides us with the energy and nutrients needed for daily tasks. Food is very much a social outlet; we share dinners with family members, brunch with friends, and chats over the hum of the microwave in the office at lunchtime. We also use food as a way to treat and reward ourselves, like with a little chocolate, or a few cookies from the tin. There’s nothing wrong with that. But for many people, food is also a source of comfort, distraction, and escape, more serious than a break after work.

 

The difference between the odd treat and something more, lies in our emotions and feelings at that moment in time. When someone turns to bars and bars of sharing chocolate, or second/third/fourth helpings of dessert after dinner-guests have gone home, it is rarely because they are still hungry. Eating like this is not eating to nourish ourselves or to socialise, it is eating to hide emotions we don’t really want to deal with.

 

Do you eat alone when you’re stressed, sad or lonely, not to satisfy hunger but in the hope of feeling better? This is emotional eating.

 

Emotional eating occurs as a result of strong thoughts, feelings and emotions that we don’t feel able to deal with. Instead of confronting these emotions, people turn to food to try to hide what the problem really is. When the square or two of chocolate becomes multi-packs of bars, biscuits and buns, there is a problem.

 

Do you feel completely out of control when this happens, like you have no power to stop this continuous eating? Will you keep eating one particular ‘bad’ food, or even a mixture of everything in the cupboard all at once, without stopping? This is binge eating.

 

Binge Eating Disorder is characterised by the inability to stop eating, despite not being hungry, as a result of difficult emotions and feelings triggered at a certain point in time. Binge eaters tend to binge alone, as there are often strong feelings of guilt and shame after the binge, adding to the whirlwind of negative thoughts and emotions already causing the binge in the first place. Binge eating can be experienced by anyone, male or female, a teenager, a young adult, someone in their 30’s, 40’s… it is not an exclusive disorder. In fact it is becoming increasingly more recognised as a serious issue, impacting all groups of people from children right through to adults in their 60’s, often when they are being diagnosed with weight-related problems such as Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardiac problems.

 

Binge Eating Disorder has been given its own recognition in the medical professional’s diagnostic manual, the DMS-V which is published by the American Psychiatric Association, highlighting it as a very real mental health issue. Sunny Sea Gold, author of ‘Food: The Good Girl’s Drug’, wrote an article recently for the US National Eating Disorder Association, applauding the addition of Binge Eating Disorder to the DSM-V, as it means that medical professionals now should know about, and understand, Binge Eating Disorder and how to deal with it.

 

Emotional Eating and Binge Eating Disorder does not mean that someone has no self-control whatsoever. It may be that when certain emotions arise, they lose all ability to deal with them and instead food becomes a safe and comforting outlet through which to drown these emotions. To work through Binge Eating Disorder and Emotional Eating, the starting point is to identify the triggers and sources of the emotions causing the binge. Tracing them can then allow the person to begin to deal with the emotions that arise and recognise that food is neither the answer, nor the enemy.

 

So don’t deprive yourself of a little piece of chocolate this evening, everything in moderation! But if you ever find yourself reaching for your third or fourth bar despite being full up, stop and ask yourself how you are feeling at that moment in time, did something in particular happen today, and consider the real reasons why you may be wanting more of that comforting chocolate.