We have all done it. Reached for foods to comfort us through an emotional time, whether it be a stressful day at work, an argument with a friend or family member, or even when we are experiencing low self-esteem. If done occasionally, this type of eating behavior is not necessarily problematic, however when it is continually used as a coping mechanism or when food is constantly being relied upon as an emotional crutch, it is then when this eating behavior falls into the ‘danger zone’.
Some dangers of emotional eating can not only have physical effects on health, but also have a huge impact on our emotional well-being and psychological state too. So what specifically are the dangers of emotional eating?
You Tend to Eat Unhealthy Food
Emotional eating usually hits very suddenly out of nowhere and seeks out specific cravings to be filled. Often times these powerful cravings are for sugar and fat filled snacks because of the powerful rush that is experienced after consumption. Seeking out comfort food or food that is connected with positive or nostalgic feelings has been common practice for all of recorded history. Many snack foods (especially candy and baked goods) are associated with memories of fun times or loved ones. Some children develop early obesity when they learn this type of self soothing technique. The methods that are used to produce foods of these types typically contain high levels of salt, sugars, fats and preservative agents.
It is an Unhealthy Way to Cope with Emotions
Emotional eating is often used as a way to avoid dealing with complex emotions. Not every trigger will be the same for each person, but these could include a range of emotions and feelings including anxiety, boredom, loneliness, disgust, sadness, and even joy. The emotional danger is the continued neglect of the real reasons behind these emotions. A feeling of shame or guilt might follow binges. This is especially true when the behavior is hidden from friends or family. If a person uses eating as a way to escape or distract them self emotionally, a vicious cycle can develop. For example, a person who seeks food to cope with stress will create this cycle where weight-related health issues arise, and the chosen coping method is food.
There are Weight-Related Health Risks
Emotional overeating can cause devastating health problems. Beyond the difficulties surrounding obesity, these could include other health issues such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anxiety, malnutrition, digestive problems, menstrual problems, and depression. If you are overeating and appear to be experiencing any of these symptoms or health problems, emotional eating is likely to be a significant factor. Most frightening of all, some of these diseases have dangerous side effects that could interfere with medical responder’s efforts to carry out life saving procedures. Heart disease and diabetes can also weaken the organs and immune system, leaving you susceptible to infectious disease as well.
Mindless eating – Emotional eating causes mindless eating, which over the long term, can have a range of implications on health and weight and not in a good away. Mindless eating is when we make food choices or engage in eating behaviors that we are not even aware we are doing. In other words, we don’t consciously think about what we are doing, we just do it. During times of heightened emotions, emotional eaters do not think clearly or objectively about the food choices they make or the eating behaviors they engage in. When a person eats in response to emotions, they are not typically aware of what they are doing, which is different when compared to eating in response to actual hunger, when our brain is more actively engaged in the decision making processes involved in food choice. Emotional eaters can therefore end up eating a lot more calories, as well as making wrong and unhealthy food choices.
To help you address mindless eating, you can grab a copy of my Mindful Eating Guide HERE.
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