How many times have you reached for that packet of chips when dealing with an annoying boss? Or how about that pizza with extra cheese, and those cookies when you know you just ate lunch? Emotional food cravings know no rhyme or reason and are often times our Waterloo when it comes to eating right. No longer seen as a mere personal battle with weight gain, emotional eating is a well-known reason behind unhealthy food habits for many. Today, we're looking at how you can recognise and control emotional eating. Let's begin!
What is emotional eating? A 2006 study claimed that the desire to eat in obese people is akin to drug cravings in addicts. Think - comfort food. As children, we form close associations between occasions and different foods. Cake means good times. Cookies mean reward. Gulabjamuns mean festivals. Kheer means a loved visitor. Soup means a cold and cough. And so on.
As adults, we continue these associations, and truly believe that chocolate and ice cream are our rewards for doing anything right. Emotional eating is a form of validation. We experience emotional cravings for food when we feel that we deserve a little something sweet or crisp, because we've been good. On a side note, have you ever noticed how you lose your appetite when you've made a mistake?
How can we recognise emotional food cravings? How do you decide which type of hunger is real, and which is just your body being a bit spoilt about food (read: emotionally craving something)? Here's what you must ask yourself -
- Am I hungry or am I hungry for one thing in particular? Most emotional food cravings are specific, because your body has associated some mood with that particular food, and only that food can solve the need of the hour. When you're truly hungry, the hunger isn't so specific.
- Is this sudden hunger? Real hunger builds slowly, while a hunger based on emotional craving swoops in unannounced.
- When did I eat last? If you ate anything worth about 200-500 calories, less than 2-3 hours ago, then you're probably just experiencing an emotional craving.
How you can start fighting emotional food cravings today: If pizzas, cookies, samosas, vadapavs, cakes and pastries are your comfort foods, which you crave nearly every single day - you have an emotional eating problem. Now that we've identified how you can tell real hunger apart from emotional cravings, let's look at how you can steer away from emotional eating -
- Identify the trigger - Is it a boss, an annoying colleague, a string of nasty emails, a particularly pesky relative? The next time you grab that cola, stop for a second and assess the trigger.
- Explore your food options - This one's tough, but not impossible. Go through the whole line-up of foods you crave and find one option that isn't unhealthy. Remember, you can't overeat even when eating healthy food. But at least this'll be a step towards cutting the bad foods out.
- Does it have to be food? Get on that hands-free, talk to someone you like, while cleaning your room, or cooking something nutritious. Read a few pages of a book, or listen to some music. Gradually replace food as a validator with something else.
- Don't entirely cut out your comfort foods - Keep them as occasional treats (once a fortnight or month). Cutting them out will lead to a collapse in your determination sooner or later.
- Measure portions - If you must eat those chips, then portion them out. Don't eat from the bag.
While emotional eating or emotional food cravings can reach drastic heights, you can begin curbing this lifestyle problem today. Be true to yourself and maintain a food journal so that you can assess your food intake. We almost always eat more than what we remember.
*Image courtesy: © Thinkstock photos/ Getty Images
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