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Emotional Eating: I'm Hooked On A Feeling

Oct 5, 2007
For many people, food does more than fill our stomachs - it also satisfies feelings. But when you quench those feelings with comfort food when you're not experiencing true hunger - that's emotional eating. And emotional eating is one of the leading causes of weight gain.

What are the telltale signs of false hunger and how can they be overcome?

The first step is awareness. We need to understand and observe how and why we eat. The best way to do this is to keep a food journal, listing what you eat and when as well as how you were feeling at the time. Don't make a conscious effort to change your patterns, just record what you eat. After a few weeks, you'll quickly realize the following:

- Often we eat without hunger, purely out of boredom, unhappiness, stress or another emotional reason.

- Most people eat on the go - often performing another task when eating (watching t.v., working through lunch, etc)

So what's the next step? Simple awareness may change some of your habits but it won't bring lasting change. Becoming aware of the difference between emotional hunger and true hunger is the key to healthy eating patterns.

There are several differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, according to the University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center web site:

1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly; physical hunger occurs gradually.

2. When you are eating to fill a void that isn't related to an empty stomach, you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your need. When you eat because you are actually hungry, you're open to options.

3. Emotional hunger feels like it needs to be satisfied instantly with the food you crave; physical hunger can wait.

4. Even when you are full, if you're eating to satisfy an emotional need, you're more likely to keep eating. When you're eating because you're hungry, you're more likely to stop when you're full.

5. Emotional eating can leave behind feelings of guilt; eating when you are physically hungry does not.

We need to learn to eat. We need to learn to tune in to our own hunger signals and determine if we are feeding genuine hunger or something else.

Ask yourself "Am I really hungry?" (If the answer is "I'm not sure," then you're not).

The first pre-requisite to eating is hunger. Genuine hunger -- not appetite.

The concept of eating only with hunger appears simple and obvious. Yet eating when hungry is also the most difficult dietary advice to apply. Let me repeat that: eating with genuine hunger is the most important, yet the most difficult diet principle to apply. Why? Because of conditioning, wrong living, and emotional baggage.

So how do we know we're really hungry? Signs include:

- The mouth salivates .
- The mind is optimistic, clear, and happy.
- Hunger persists when we wait.

Signs of false hunger include

- Dry mouth, coated tongue, bad breath.
- Headaches.
- Rumblings in the stomach.
- Stomach cramps and pains, nausea.
- Hunger disappears when we wait.

Determine if you're hungry. If you're not sure, then it means you're not hungry! If you have any of the signs of "false hunger" listed above, then you are not hungry. When we are hungry, we know it!

If you were about to eat and realize that you are not hungry, the correct thing to do is to wait for true hunger to naturally come. I recommend waiting for an hour -- just an hour -- and see how that hunger feeling has changed. You can choose in that hour to go for a walk, catch up on some work, read, do some yoga, etc.

Also note that the best way to cultivate genuine hunger is to engage in vigorous physical activity on a regular basis.

Emotional eating leads to weight problems. Learning to recognize whether you're eating out of genuine hunger or in reaction to your environment is the best way to ensure optimal health.
About the Author
Deborah Carraro is an avid nutrition, health & fitness enthusiast. Tired of feeling tired and drained all day? You're in for some surprises once you learn to make delcious and nutritious smoothies. Visit http://www.smoothiesforhealth.com
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