Why is emotional eating such a challenge?
We all know that certain foods–“comfort foods”–make us feel better temporarily but then often leave us feeling worse than when we started. So why is emotional eating is such a challenge?
Emotional eaters tend to seek out these foods when experiencing negative emotions like sadness, anger, emptiness, stress, and anxiety for their pleasurable and calming effects. Over time, neural pathways (which connect relatively distant areas of the brain) link the change in mood with the experience of eating–literally rewiring our brains.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” – Hebb’s Rule
Our bodies and brains come to expect and demand emotional overeating, causing the urge to overeat any time we feel negative or painful emotions. An urge is really any thought, feeling, sensation, etc. that encourages you to overeat and is triggered by an emotional response such as feeling lonely, having an argument with a significant other, or being stressed out. Following these urges is what perpetuates the habit of emotional overeating and keeps us stuck and struggling.
The two most important things to understand here are that (1) we overeat because of our urges to do so and (2) we have these urges because of habit.
- We overeat because of our urge to overeat, which means we don’t overeat in order to cope with life or some underlying emotional problem. Negative feelings act as triggers which induce the urge to overeat, but they are not the cause of the behavior.
- We have these urges to overeat because of habit, which come from our rewired brain after repeatedly eating to improve our mood.
Since there is only one cause of each and every time we do this, all we have to do to break out of this vicious cycle is to stop following our urges to overeat when experiencing negative emotions!
Simple enough, right? But you can’t just say “Okay, brain, I’m done with this emotional overeating stuff, so turn off those irresistible urges.” Once the habit is established, you need to retrain your brain by not acting on those urges to overeat.
We have to learn how to deal with our urges to overeat to free ourselves of the emotional overeating habit. We will learn how to do this in part two of this post.
Read on for more great information and tips from Nick in Emotional Overeating Part 2: What can we do about it?