Woman in water at sunset stroking her arm in a soothing manner.

Do you wait until you feel an aching in your stomach before firing up the grill and cooking dinner and then eat until you are ready to burst? Do you turn to food as a coping mechanism when you feel emotionally overwhelmed? Does chocolate cake or a pizza slice make you feel happy and like you’re on top of the world?

Self-awareness is crucial to a healthy diet and lifestyle, particularly when it comes to what you’re eating and why you’re eating it. In this post, we’ll be discussing three different types of eating (pleasure, emotional, and dysfunctional) and how to overcome each.

Eating For Pleasure

According to Harvard Health, eating for pleasure is sometimes called “hedonic eating.” This type of eating occurs when you crave a particular food because it makes you “feel good,” both physically and emotionally. Pleasure eating is more psychological than physical.

Pleasure eating will come from food triggers, and often, your “guilty pleasures” are unhealthy foods like ice cream or pizza. As you’re eating what you crave, your body will release the hunger hormone called ghrelin. The ghrelin release tells your body that you’re still hungry, even though your stomach is filling up quickly.

Your favorite foods will also activate your brain’s reward system, just like drugs do, forcing the release of feel-good hormones that boost your mood. You learn to love this “high” feeling and turn to the food whenever you want to feel great. This trigger-reward system was created by habit, which luckily means it can be re-wired!

The clear indicators that you’re eating for pleasure are: You eat unhealthy foods, you eat in excess, you feel good afterward, and you have strong cravings that you feel you cannot control or ignore.

Emotional Eating

We all face strong emotions in life, whether they’re positive or negative. Many people cope with extreme emotions through healthy coping mechanisms like exercise, reading, art, or music. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s not unusual to turn to food for these same benefits.

Here’s how it works.

Something stressful or emotional happens, such as stress on the job, a looming divorce, unemployment, or even your upcoming wedding. Food has always been there for you when people weren’t, so you order your favorite food (pizza, ice cream, burgers, etc.). You begin eating to fill the void, and you continue eating well-after you’re satiated.

To figure out if you’re eating for emotional reasons, think about what happens right before you eat to excess. Are you feeling bored, sad, lonely, or angry? If so, you may be using food to cope with your emotions.

Dysfunctional Eating

Dysfunctional eating will take the most significant toll on both your physical and emotional health. Rather than eating when you’re hungry, your eating pattern becomes a bit more erratic. Sometimes you go 12 to 48 hours without any type of sustenance (fasting). Other times, you’re consuming meals that contain thousands of calories in a single sitting.

There’s no consistency in your diet or eating patterns.

Most instances of dysfunctional eating will arise in those who have underlying eating disorders. For example, you might be on a 24-hour fast because you believe it’ll help you lose weight quickly and attain your “ideal” figure. Though, binge-eating isn’t uncommon if you’re a dysfunctional eater, as you may still be fighting cravings and food triggers.

The vital sign that your eating is dysfunctional is if you’re always at one extreme or another, whether you’re fasting for days or eating huge meals.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know why you’re eating what you’re eating, it’s time to do something about these unhealthy dietary patterns. Employing some non-food soothing strategies is a good place to start! These soothers, or coping skills, can help immediately by distracting you from the urge to eat, delaying the eating until you are physiologically hungry, and they disrupt the current pattern so that you can start to replace it with one that works for you.

Most importantly, give your body and mind time to adjust to your new eating patterns —and treat yourself with massive compassion when you give into your urges. Progress is not linear and change doesn’t happen overnight–and it is OKAY!

Self-compassion encourages mindfulness, or noticing your feelings without judgment; self-kindness, or talking to yourself in a soothing way; and common humanity, or thinking about how others might be suffering similarly.

Rachel Simmons

To grab a helpful toolkit to help you plan out your soothers and try ones until something works, just click on the image below.

Black Woman seated and practicing yoga with a smile. Text reads: Soothing Skills Toolkit for Emotional and Binge Eaters.

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