You're Sad, Not Hungry: 5 Ways To Identify Emotional Eating

by Stefani Pappas

How many of us have scooped out the Ben & Jerry's after an awful breakup? Maybe you got fired at work and you decide to make it all better with a greasy slice of pizza on the way back home.

Food can act as comfort — that big, warm hug you need at the end of a rough day. It’s easy to turn to food for stress relief or a reward.

But, when are you physically hungry and when are you succumbing to emotional eating? Stress, sadness, loneliness, social influences and habit can lead us to eat away our emotions. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t solve emotional problems.

There are certain body signs that can help us distinguish physical hunger from emotional eating:

1. It Develops Suddenly

Emotional eating hits you very suddenly and can lead to intense cravings. However, physical hunger is more of a gradual process and develops over a longer period of time.

Maybe you just ate, but suddenly feel the need to find some chocolate after a stressful incident? Emotional eating could very well be the culprit.

2. It Hits Above The Neck

Physical hunger strikes below the neck, like the growling sound you hear from your stomach after a long day without food. Stomach pains can also be signs of physical hunger.

If you’re focused more on texture, taste and smell of food, and feel as though you can't get the hunger cravings out of your head, you are likely emotionally eating. Listen to your body next time you are craving something and see where the sensations originate.

3. It’s Specific

When you’re physically hungry, your body is just craving food in general. Almost any type of food sounds good when you haven’t eaten for several hours.

When you are experiencing emotional hunger, there is often a particular food or brand you are craving. Most likely, you are craving fatty foods or sugary sweets that will provide an instant rush.

4. It’s Persistent

Physical hunger subsides once you are full. However, emotional eating persists even when you have sensations of fullness.

If you still feel propelled to eat after you already feel full, this is likely a sign of emotional eating.

5. It Leads To Guilt

Eating in response to physical hunger leads to a feeling of satisfaction after you eat. Emotional eating often leads to guilt and disgust for stuffing your face.

The emotional issue you faced prior to eating is likely still present, and overeating has done no good. This is a vicious cycle you can avoid if you are aware of the emotional eating signs.

Now that you know the telltale signs of emotional eating, try to be more conscious of your body and cravings next time you head to the pizza shop after a stressful day.

If you feel cravings starting to come on, take a moment to pause and reflect on your state of mind and the circumstances of your day. What are some more productive things you can do to address your stress?

Incorporate daily times for exercise, relaxation and connecting with others to help create healthy habits on a regular basis.

Make sure you get enough sleep to help control your appetite and reduce food cravings. There are other ways to address your emotions that will be more productive.

If you are feeling depressed, call someone who makes you happy or talk through the issue with a friend who will listen. If you’re anxious, try exercising to relieve some tension.

If you’re feeling emotionally exhausted, unwind with a warm bath and cup of hot tea. If you’re bored, read a book or have some friends over to keep you company.

Try one of these strategies next time you feel compelled to give in to emotional eating and listen to your body to determine whether or not you are actually hungry.