If you have ever watched a romcom or sitcom you are likely familiar with the image of someone sitting on the couch, crying post break up, eating ice-cream straight from the tub. Or perhaps you remember being bribed with a lollypop as a child after an injection at the GPs. Or perhaps you have celebrated a significant life achievement with dinner at a fancy restaurant.
It is little wonder then that many of us have come to use food as a reward or as a way to feel better. Eating, or often overeating, in response to emotional states rather than physical cues of hunger has been termed emotional eating. In moderation emotional eating is not cause for concern.
However, if you do find yourself turning to food, especially foods high in fat, sugar and/or salt as your main strategy for managing negative emotional states then you may be at risk of:
- increased weight gain and increases in BMI over time.
- greater difficulty losing weight during weight loss interventions.
- developing more severe eating disorder symptoms.
Mindfulness based interventions targeting emotional eating, and other unhelpful eating behaviours, have been shown to be effective. These interventions typically involve mindfulness training, daily mindfulness practices, learning to tell the difference between hunger and other emotional states (e.g., stress, sadness), and mindful eating exercises.