Emotional Eating: What Experts Say about Eating for Comfort vs Enjoyment

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Are you like me? Do you eat your emotions? And on the daily?

It seems like many do, and if we give in to it too much, it can lead to serious, long-term consequences. Because while it’s completely OK to eat for comfort, we should only do so in moderation.

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Experts agree that if we eat for comfort and it becomes a habit, we can hurt ourselves physically from overeating, while also doing emotional damage because we’re using food to avoid facing our feelings.

Karen R. Koenig, an eating psychology expert, blogger and author shared this with Huff Post about comfort food:

“A misleading misnomer if there ever was one, comfort is not something we want to keep associating with food. We want to file food in our brains under nourishment and occasional pleasure. We want to seek comfort through friends, doing kind things for ourselves and engaging in healthy activities that reduce internal distress.”

Sarah Allen, a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders has some additional advice:

“As soon as you start looking for food, stop. Think, ‘Am I hungry? Do I need food in my stomach, or is one of my triggers going off? What do I need right now?’”

But yeah, that’s good and all… but why is it so hard to NOT do those things?

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Susan Albers, author and clinical psychologist, explains the underlying factors.

“When we’re stressed, our bodies are flooded in cortisol. That makes us crave sugary, fatty, salty foods.”

Cortisol is the body’s main stress hormone. It regulates how our bodies process all the macro nutrients we consume (carbs, fats, proteins), so when stress and anxiety enter our emotional equation… we carbo-load like crazy.

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The experts agree that while a hormone like cortisol is a powerful trigger to comfort eat, we need to practice more mindfulness when eating. So instead of letting our mood drive consumption, we need to concentrate on meals, not snacks. Also, emotional eating usually ends up in overconsumption, which means we aren’t even tasting the food we eat. Experience a meal, savor the flavors and understand how you feel when you’re full.

One last bit of advice? Never go cold turkey. People put unrealistic expectations on themselves, which leads to being unable to meet goals. Start off with manageable, achievable goals and then continue to build up to your ultimate goals, whatever those may be.

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Basically, enjoy those treats! Because we deserve them. But try to view eating that cookie or candy or baked good or WHATEVER as a way of enjoying yourself, not consoling yourself.