Have you ever eaten an entire bag of chips while working on a high-priority project at work and not even realized it? Or devoured a piece of cake at an office birthday party without even tasting it?
How about that cookie-dough ice cream you wolfed down last Friday night when you didn’t have a date?
My "Aha!" moment came a few weeks ago when I was in a car accident. All the while I was dealing with people in the other car, the tow truck guy, the police officer, and my insurance company, you would think I would be sick to my stomach.
No, I couldn’t be that lucky. Instead, my stomach and brain screamed, I’m starving!!
It was then that I realized that whenever my emotional level fluctuates, my brain tells me to eat something. But it doesn’t say, “Go grab an apple.” Instead, it’s luring me to something unhealthy like a candy bar.
Emotional eating is often compared to an alcoholic who needs a drink or a smoker who craves a cigarette.
“No single gene is responsible for making someone obese or alcoholic,” said Richard A. Grucza, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University and lead author of a study published in The Archives of General Psychiatry called "The Emerging Link Between Alcoholism Risk and Obesity in the United States".
“But people who eat or drink excessively may share critical characteristics like lack of impulse control and the inability to stop once they get started, a sort
of missing stop signal.”
How do you know if you’re an emotional eater?
The University of Texas Counseling and Mental Health Center web site says the many differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger.
1. Emotional hunger comes on suddenly and physical hunger occurs gradually.
2. When you crave foods, such as pizza or ice cream, you’re feeling a void that not due to an empty stomach. Being physically hungry will not cause you to crave certain foods. You make choices to fill your stomach.
3. If you’re an emotional eater, you’ll eat even when you are full, while when you're really hungry, you're more likely to stop when you're satisfied.
4. Emotional eating makes you feel of guilty afterwards.