While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the odd bit of comfort food, emotional eating can become problematic for many people, who find themselves battling powerful binge-eating cycles.
This can lead to weight gain, which brings with it a whole host of associated health risks (such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease), and can also have a big impact on psychological wellbeing too.
The annual cost to the NHS of treating overweight and obesity-related ill health is £6.1 billion. Our sugar and calorie reduction programmes are tackling the national obesity crisis. Learn more in our blog: https://t.co/40TW1RWCU7 pic.twitter.com/uA1Rk90GTV— Public Health England (@PHE_uk) February 5, 2019
While obesity isn’t always as straightforward as simply eating too much, Alexia Dempsey, a specialist eating disorders dietitian at the Priory Hospital in Roehampton (priorygroup.com), says overeating can be a key contributor – and this can often be dictated by emotions.
This emotional eating can then become a “regular, daily demon” that fuels low self-worth. “Emotional or stress eating is something that affects us all on some level. Daily life can lead to negative emotions like stress, anger, sadness, fear, boredom, and loneliness and, in turn, to emotional eating,” she explains.
The occasional glass of wine after a ‘long day’, or rare tub of ice-cream after a break-up isn’t a major worry. Rather, it’s when emotional eating feels out of control, that Dempsey flags as a cause for concern.>
“Emotional eating often comes on suddenly and feels like it needs to be satisfied immediately,” she says. “It happens as a way of suppressing or distracting negative thoughts and feelings, and is a form of self-soothing. In the short-term, it can feel functional, but in the long-term it can support a cycle of difficult and distressing feelings.”
Sound familiar? Remember, binge eating can also be a form of an eating disorder – and if you are struggling with disordered eating patterns, it’s advisable to seek professional support and speak to a doctor.
There’s lots you can do to help tackle the patterns yourself too. Here, Dempsey shares eight tips to help curb the binge-eating cycle…
1. Have a plan
“Overeating can often be a result of ‘passive’ restriction. You might be running late so you skip breakfast, and then you find yourself too busy for lunch, leading you to rely on ‘grab and go’ snacks. The problem with doing this is that you feel hungry later in the day so you end up bingeing. To avoid falling into this habit, make sure to plan your food for the day to ensure you have regular meals.”
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2. Have balanced meals
“Always try to make sure that there is an adequate balance in your meals, including all of the major food groups – carbohydrates, protein, veggies and fats. This will help you feel full and encourage slow gastric emptying and prolonged satiety.”
3. Don’t restrict
“Restricting can lead to bingeing. This includes restricting food groups as well as missing meals. In my experience, the moment you decide to ban chocolate, crisps or carbohydrates completely, you introduce the idea of these food products to your consciousness.”
4. Avoid distractions when eating“Eating and watching TV, or using laptops and phones, means that you are not engaging with your food and are likely to miss your initial biological cues that you are satisfied with how much you have eaten.”
5. Change your environment
“If you feel like bingeing or are worried that you are about to engage in a binge, try and change your environment. If you usually binge in your front room, get up and move to a different area or head out for a brisk walk.”
7. Plan how to manage the feeling
“Sometimes, we need to distract ourselves from a feeling of wanting to binge. If your trigger time is straight after work, plan an activity or meet up with friends. If it’s late at night, when the kids are in bed or you are alone, have a list of pleasurable activities ready, such as a funny film or box set, have a bath or call a friend for a chat.”
8. Seek support
“Overeating or emotional eating can be highly distressing for an individual. If you are worried about your eating, seek support from a registered specialist professional.”
- Press Association