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Most of us eat because we are hungry, but, for emotional eaters, it is a tendency that arises every time certain emotions or stressors are experienced. Unfortunately, eating to suppress negative emotions doesn’t eliminate those emotions. We examine emotional eating and provide ways to find obesity help in Houston, including tactics to prevent the events and triggers that can cause it.

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What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is the tendency to respond to negative feelings by consuming large quantities of food. Often, because these foods are consumed in order to suppress negative feelings, the food consumed is very rarely enjoyed.

The Emotional Eating Cycle

The cycle of emotional eating begins with a stressor. Events occurring in daily life, such as financial pressure, relationship conflicts, health issues, work, or fatigue are all common triggers for emotional eating.

Over time, emotional eating can become something that one does unconsciously in response to these stressors. Because eating is an ideal distraction from the above emotions, they are never dealt with, and so they return.

Those who eat in times of stress or depression often experience shame or guilt after doing so, which can cause a cycle of continued overeating and, ultimately, continued weight gain. As well, the types of food typically consumed during emotional eating—processed and junk foods—tend to accelerate weight gain.

Emotional eaters often experience temporary relief, only to have to face a return of negative emotions and the guilt and shame of not meeting weight loss goals. This leads to more negative feelings, and the cycle is perpetuated.  Ultimately, many turn to procedures like gastric bypass surgery to help them lose excessive weight, it is very important to know that success with Medical and/or surgical weight loss is very dependent on addressing the issue of emotional eating in these circumstances.

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Can Stress and Depression Actually Cause Hunger?

Yes. Cortisol levels tend to rise during stressful periods, which can lead to the feeling of physical hunger. However, hunger can also be psychological. Experiencing negative emotions can cause a person to feel emotionally empty. Filling this void with comfort food creates a false sense that one is whole, albeit temporarily.

Unlike physical hunger, emotional hunger typically has a rapid onset that demands instant satisfaction. An emotional eater will typically crave specific foods. Unfortunately, feeling physically full doesn’t satisfy emotional hunger.

Triggers for Emotional Eating

Emotional eating has several triggers beyond those mentioned previously. A person may engage in negative self-talk, which can trigger the desire to eat.

A person who chooses not to seek support when stress or depression occurs may instead turn to emotional eating. The same is true if a person does not engage in stress or depression-relief activities or simply doesn’t understand the differences between emotional and physical hunger. Finally, emotional eating can be the result of boredom, or habit.

Food as Reward

Some people who engage in emotional eating in their adult years do so because they were rewarded with food as children. This practice can teach a child that food is a healthy way to handle emotions.

Many who engage in emotional eating have stated that doing so is the only thing they have to look forward to. Others have said that they do so in order to have their emotional needs met. Still others use food as a way to celebrate their successes.

Why Food Makes Us Feel Safe

Food will make us feel safe when we feel anxious, depressed, or unworthy. Typically, these emotions have deep roots in childhood or past traumas and, if left to continue doing damage, will often result in a deepening cycle of emotional eating. A person may initially associate a favorite food with a positive memory; however, this can quickly become a coping mechanism when this food is consumed in the face of stress or depression.

How to Stop Emotional Eating

Regardless of the reasons you may have begun emotional eating, the good news is that there are several ways to stop, as well as options to deal with your emotions in healthy ways.

Know Your Triggers

The first step to stopping emotional eating is to be more aware of why and when you eat. Knowing your triggers will help you identify when your emotional eating typically occurs and cause you to become more conscious of your eating habits.

Make a Note of It

Now that you know when and why you’re eating, tracking it with a food journal is the next step. Before you reach for food, write down what you’re reaching for and why. Being able to see this in front of you will allow you to pause and think about what you’re eating. It also gives you the opportunity to deal with your emotions in a different way.

Learn How to Relax

There are a host of techniques out there aimed at reducing stress levels and elevating your mood. The simplest of these is to simply breathe. Focusing solely on the sound and feeling of breathing helps to calm the emotions and allows you to center yourself.

You may enjoy spending time in the outdoors, listening to music, or engaging in a creative activity like painting. Whatever you love to do, incorporating it into your daily life can have a significant and positive impact on your stress levels and emotions.

Techniques like Tai Chi and Yoga help to increase your fitness level while they quiet the mind and put you in touch with your inner self.

Replace Empty Calories with Healthy Foods

Swapping out processed, sugary foods for a wide variety of healthy choices can also help you stop emotional eating. Not only will you avoid consuming excessive calories, but you’ll also be putting your health first by ensuring your body is nourished.

Fresh vegetables and low-fat dip can provide a satisfying crunch and nutrition. The way you eat can also help; instead of depriving yourself of the foods you love, enjoy them occasionally while you eat larger amounts of healthy foods.

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Go Easy on Yourself

If you have a setback, remind yourself that you are human and forgive yourself. Think about the experience with the goal of learning from it and planning how you will avoid it in the future. Remember all the positive changes you have made, and credit yourself with taking this step for your lifelong well-being.

Talk to Someone

Whether it’s a friend, family member, online group, or therapist, having some kind of support network is crucial. While it may not be easy to talk about at first, opening up to someone can help you to lighten the load you carry and give you new perspectives on your life and the emotions you’re experiencing.

Explore Other Options

If you want to stop emotional eating and have tried to lose weight before without success despite your efforts, it may be time to learn more about Medical and bariatric surgery in Houston. Among the available options, gastric sleeve or bypass remains popular choices for those wanting to lose weight.

What Is Gastric Bypass Surgery?

The gastric bypass procedure involves splitting the stomach into two parts. The smaller part is about the size of a chicken egg and is connected to the intestines. The larger portion is connected farther down. The procedure causes you to feel full for longer due to the smaller stomach size. Also, because food bypasses a part of the small intestine during digestion, your body absorbs fewer calories and nutrients. All of this leads to significant weekly weight loss.

Stopping emotional eating can change your life for the better. If you are struggling with unwanted weight, Bariatric Care Centers can help with gastric bypass and other weight loss procedures in Houston. Learn more about our highly trained team and how they can help you achieve your goals for a healthy life; visit us online, or call to book your free consultation: (713) 339-1353.

Disclaimer: This is only for general information. All patients should consult their doctors prior to following any of the recommendations in any articles, posts, or videos. Every patient has individual needs and limitations that only their treating physicians can be aware of.