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Understanding Emotional Eating

Food, the nourishment for our lives, can be loaded with issues. In our troubled relationships with food, emotional eating ranks at the top of the list. Understanding the phenomenon and recognizing the symptoms are great ways to start redefining your relationship with food. The first thing to understanding the problem is recognizing the traits of emotional eating.

Psychiatrist Roger Gold, an authority on this issue, outlined some characteristics of emotional eating at They are:

  • Hunger that comes on suddenly: Physical hunger comes on slowly. Hunger from emotional eating often comes on quickly and suddenly.
  • Craving very specific foods: Cravings for specific, usually unhealthy foods is a sign of emotional eating. Often people like the rush they get from satisfying their cravings. That rush is fulfilling emotional hunger.
  • Urgent hunger: Physical hunger, unless you haven't eaten for a very long time, is usually pretty patient. It will wait for food. Emotional hunger demands to be satisfied immediately.
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  • Unconscious eating: When you're eating for physical reasons, you are usually mindful of what you're doing. If you catch yourself eating "just because," then it's likely you're eating for emotional reasons.
  • A sense of guilt after satisfying your hunger: Feeding your body what it needs is not something to feel guilty about. If you feel guilty after you eat, it's likely because part of you knows you're not eating just to satisfy physical hunger.

If these traits are prominent in your relationship with food, now might be a good time to try to break the habit. Pay attention to your emotional triggers by keeping a journal of what you eat, when, and why – trying to very specific if it was physiological hunger that lead you to eat or an emotional incident. Journaling will help you figure out your eating pattern.


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