From an early age people are reinforced into thinking their behaviours will result in specific outcomes (behavioural or emotional). Babies quickly learn that when they cry they will be fed, or hugged or sometimes even punished with either physical or mental abuse. The human brain quickly learns to make associations and connections between positive and negative experiences and thus to seek out behaviours that will quickly result in pleasure. For instance, children learn that temper tantrums will result in the pleasure of receiving a toy, or the displeasure of receiving a smack from a parent.
These associations develop very quickly and if not extinguished early on can persist throughout adulthood. For example, if every time you feel depressed you crave chocolate for comfort and each time you feel these cravings you decide to ignore the cravings and have a piece of fruit instead, eventually you will distinguish your cravings. However, if you sometimes give in to these cravings, maybe once last month and three times this month (e.g. there is no rule to say when you will enjoy the chocolate), your brain will quickly learn that if it persists, eventually you will give in to its desires.
In order to overcome emotional eating you must first become aware of the netagive moods that trigger an overeating episode. According to Dr Thayer (site), emotional eating is closely linked with feelings of tension and tiredness. When you feel these two emotions simultaneously, you’re more like to engage in emotional eating behaviours.
Recognising mild tension
Mild tension is often overlooked when you feel overworked and have to continuously meet tight deadlines. The first step in tackling emotional eating is to keep track of your energy levels and the way you respond as a result of your emotional states.
Emotional eating triggers
Open the link above and save it to your computer so you can edit it at any time. Then record your energy levels, where you were at the time of eating and when you felt hungry for three consecutive days for two weeks. At the end of the exercise you will notice certain patterns arising which will give you a good indication of your emotional eating triggers.
What to do next
Now that you’ve recognised the triggers that lead to emotional eating you can start to catch yourself during times when you know you’re more likely to fall into bad habits.
Learn all about emotional eating
In doing so, you can prevent yourself from falling into bad habits. Below you will find articles on various aspects of emotional eating, as well as reviews and highlights of recent research studies into this area.
Beginnings of Emotional Eating
Exploring Emotional Eating
Why Emotional Eating is Bad For You
Combatting Emotional Eating
Food and Emotional Eating