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Are you someone who chooses to turn to food if you face stress and anxiety? Does stress eating make you feel better? Do you want to quit emotional eating? If the answer to all of those questions is yes, then this blog is for you.

In this blog Dr. Nisha Chellam, Founder and Internist at Holistic ICON in conversation with Tricia Nelson, Emotional Eating Expert and Founder of Heal Your Hunger, delves deep into exploring answers for frequent questions about Emotional Eating such as:

  • What is Emotional Eating?
  • What makes some people become emotional eaters?
  • What are the root causes that trigger emotional eating?
  • Who is more susceptible to emotional eating?
  • How can you control emotional eating?

So without any further adieu, let’s get started!

What is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when food becomes a frequent go-to resort for someone when they face any kind of stress, anxiety, or high-pressure situation. It’s particularly unhealthy if the person becomes so obsessed about eating when under stress that it almost becomes an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What starts off as Emotional Eating?

A person’s inability to channel their stress emotions is the root cause of emotional eating. There can be a lot of reasons for someone to get started with emotional eating but the most common factor that’s seen in most emotional eaters is that they’ve undergone a trauma of some kind. For example, it could be a mental illness, sexual abuse, alcoholism, physical abuse, or some kind of addiction in your family that could have squeezed someone towards addiction, and since food is most easily accessible so they generally go back to it as a coping mechanism to get their fix. It almost becomes like a vicious cycle where the person gets an emotional trigger, they go in distress and turn to eating as their coping mechanism, then feel a sense of guilt or shame for feeling this way and this cycle goes on.

What are certain personality traits that make an emotional eater personality?

Two traits that are commonly found in most emotional eaters are:

  • Emotional eaters are people’s pleasers and resentful
  • They are caretakers and supportive people

Most emotional eaters didn’t have a strong sense of self while growing up, could be because of their family dysfunction or due to some other trauma and they don’t know who they are, where they stop, and where the other person begins. They start looking for validation from outside and seek a sense of worth from outside of themselves.

And often when they don’t get the level of response for which they put all the efforts or did all the work but somehow it didn’t get the expected response or praise or validation, they become resentful about it and they say “ok, they didn’t see my effort, but I see it and I deserve it” and reward themselves by starting to eat incessantly, as a mechanism to give themselves the compensation for the praise they never got.

How can anyone recognize that they have the problem of emotional eating?

To some extent we are all emotional eaters, we are all on the spectrum. The problem happens when someone gets on the extreme end of the spectrum. Simply put, the less you have control over yourself when it comes to emotional eating, the greater will be the impact and the more control you have on yourself the less will be the impact of emotional eating.

What tools can anyone use to recognize or be aware of it, to get some degree of control?

For anyone who believes that they’re overeating or have a problem with emotional eating can be watchful of any of the below three signs or feelings that usually become a trigger to turn to emotional eating and these three are: Pain, Escape, Punishment, short for PEP test as designed by Tricia.

The PEP Test

P: Pain

When you face a deep effect of some past trauma and pain erupts from it and you want to numb that pain. So food becomes that source which helps you numb the pain and you start consuming it obsessively as it has become your pain killer.

E: Escape

When you are afraid of someone or something and don’t know how to control your fear, you are just looking for ways to escape reality. So you turn to food as a mode to check-out from what’s making you fearful, worried, or anxious.

P: Punishment

When you are guilty of doing something that you did or believe you don’t deserve something positive as a compliment on losing weight or resent something that you did and want to punish yourself, then again you turn to food for it.

What can they do by themselves before finding someone like you to help with the nitty-gritty?

  • Give yourself some time: Don’t be ready to say yes every time someone approaches you for help. Take some time to check-in with yourself if this is something you really want to do or can handle. Don’t give an impulsive ‘yes’ just to please someone, give yourself some time and get back with an authentic answer corresponding to what you truly feel.
  • Learn to say no: Only do as much as you won’t regret it even if you didn’t get the expected reward.
  • Create a morning routine: Morning routines help in creating a reservoir of strength right at the beginning of the day which you can access later anytime in the day as you feel you’re getting surrounded by stress.

How do you make a shift?

  • Get a coach: Seek professional help and support to address this issue
  • Go for group coaching because in group coaching people heal from each other, they share their stories with each other and the love that comes from each other is what becomes the healer.
  • Join or build a community: Be a part of a community of others who are in their healing journey just like you. 
  • Schedule a consult here