The Top Reason for Overeating – and How to Beat It
Just like an iceberg, the reason for overeating isn’t just about what we see on our plates, but more about what lies beneath. It may surprise you to know that overeating usually isn’t about actual hunger. In fact, the most common reason people overeat is from a different kind of hunger – emotional hunger.
Emotional hunger is a reaction that our minds and bodies have to things like sadness, stress, anxiety or depression. It triggers the body to crave something in pursuit of feeling satisfied, happy, distracted, or in control. And it’s not just a reaction to negative emotions, as emotional eating can also occur as celebrations, rewards and social situations.
How is emotional hunger different from physical hunger? Physical hunger builds up slowly, and your body feels better after eating (as long as you’re eating the right foods). Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and usually involves the craving of specific foods. With emotional hunger, no matter what or how much you eat, it’s not truly satisfying, with only lingering feelings of guilt to savor once you’re done.
If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Pretty much everyone has experienced, or will experience, emotional hunger in their life. Overcoming it may seem impossible, after all we live in a chaotic world where we are guaranteed to experience a full run of emotions from highs to lows and the emotional hunger that comes with it.
The first step to overcoming emotional eating is simple enough – you must become aware of it. The next time a food craving hits, ask yourself this:
“Would I eat a carrot right now?”
Yes? That’s physical hunger – go for it!
No? Now we’re talking about emotional hunger. Take a pause and think about it. What do you really need right now. Stress relief? Distraction? Exercise?
If you’re truly hungry, almost all healthful foods will appeal to you. When emotional hunger hits, though, gummy bears sound a lot more appealing than carrots. And no amount of gummy bears, no matter how cute, will fix what’s really set you off balance. The second you finish off that giant bag of candies, the “good” feeling goes away. So you move on to the next snack, and the next. And at the end of the day you’re left feeling guilty, still struggling with the underlying issue, and probably just a little bit nauseated.
Facing your emotional hunger is the first step toward stopping overeating. Next is to illuminate and address the core hidden issues that cause these cravings. Ask yourself what’s really the issue? What am I really craving that will make me truly feel better?
Identify and address the issues that are bothering you – and the cravings that lead to overeating will go away.
- If you’re stressed, take action to reduce or eliminate what’s causing that stress.
- If you’re overwhelmed, delegate or say “no” to extra projects.
- Tired? Find out ways to get more sleep. Or ways to improve the quality of your sleep.
Becoming more self-aware of the hidden issues that are the cause of emotional hunger is the best way to understand what caused you to overeat, and how to avoid it the next time around.