Emotional eating and/or drinking is using food or alcohol as a way to suppress or soothe your negative emotions. Major life events or the stresses of daily life can trigger negative emotions that lead to emotional eating/drinking and disrupt your health and fitness efforts and goals.
There is a difference between true physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger is gradual and tied to the last time you ate. While emotional hunger is triggered by things such as stress, worry, fatigue or boredom.
Emotional hunger usually craves junk food or sugary snacks that give you an instant rush. Maybe you feel like you need cheesecake or pizza, and nothing else will do. Emotional hunger often leads to mindless eating.
However, if it’s only occasionally it is not inherently bad, sometimes, a glass of your favourite wine, beer or spirit, or even a big cheesy pizza after a stressful day hits the spot and truly is the self-care you need as it provides an immediate hit of dopamine, which provides you with an immediate sense of comfort and relief.
It is the same with emotional drinking. You might feel that alcohol temporarily numbs emotional stress or pain and makes you feel good. But remember it does not heal it.
Alcohol slows the central nervous system, which can help you feel relaxed in the moment. This is because it floods your brain with dopamine, creating feelings of euphoria. It also inhibits your judgement and memory. Together, these effects can temporarily relieve feelings like stress, unhappiness or boredom.
Yes alcohol can give you temporary relief from emotional pain for a few minutes or hours, But when the alcohol wears off, and those negative emotions come rushing back, it is most likely that you will feel even worse than you did before.”
Making conscious choices is everything when it comes to having a better relationship with food or alcohol. It is important to be able to recognise when emotions are driving your appetite and when you are relying on that hit of dopamine instead of dealing with your problems head-on.
Emotional eating or drinking becomes a problem when it:
- Leaves us feeling worse, whether it’s in the short or the long term.
- Causes health problems, which can range from digestive issues to more serious health concerns, like disordered eating etc.
- Results in feelings of guilt or shame.
- Becomes our primary coping mechanism.
Stop and ask yourself, is this actually making me feel better or worse?
“What action can I take that will help me feel better right now, and also in the future?”
Emotional eating or drinking every once in a while is totally normal, but if you’re doing it regularly, it can move you further away from your goals. Which for many of you could lead to some or all of the above mentioned side effects. So while most of you emotionally eat for a reason, if it’s making you feel generally worse, then proactively planning other ways to cope could be very beneficial.
Some activities that can help to take your thoughts away from emotional eating or drinking include:
- coffee date with a friend or even a phone call can do wonders
- go for a walk, run or cycle
- lifting weights
- prayer or spiritual practice
Whether your “go to” when you are feeling emotional is food or alcohol one of the best tools to truly cope is doing a 45 minute workout each day. This will help lessen stress, boost mood and suppress appetite. Another great idea for when you have the urge to binge eat or drink is to do something that relaxes you such as yoga, meditation, massage or hot bath.
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