Could You Have an Eating Disorder?
Do you find yourself gaining weight during times of stress? Do you fear boredom because you know you’ll simply eat to fill the time? These are just some of the symptoms of emotional overeating.
If you think you may suffer from this relatively common eating disorder, here are some signs and symptoms that may help you identify whether or not this is what you’re struggling with.
If you have a binge eating disorder or emotional overeating problem, you may stuff food in and not even really taste it or realize what you’re doing. It’s as though you are “out of it” and just mindlessly stuffing food into your mouth.
Feelings of Guilt and Shame
Many people with emotional overeating disorders feel really embarrassed and hateful of themselves after they’ve got through with an eating binge. The problem, of course, is that these negative feelings may make you reach for more food for comfort.
Eating in Secret
Because of being embarrassed, may emotional overeaters will eat in private, reserving their “naughty” foods for when no one is looking.
Always on My Mind…
Do you think about food all the time? Do you feel anxious about the prospect of leaving the house without snacks or money to buy food? Constantly thinking about food (food obsession) may be a sign that you have an emotional overeating disorder.
Sometimes, emotional overeaters will eat and eat to comfort themselves, and then feel sick afterward. Obviously, this is your body’s way of telling you you’ve eaten far too much more than is good for you; but for emotional overeaters, this sickness does not necessarily deter the next binge.
Identify Your Triggers
Emotional overeating is usually triggered by something – emotions, yes, but sometimes we need to be more specific than that. Identifying your personal triggers can go a long way toward helping you overcome the disorder. Basic trigger categories include:
* Emotional – Eating to relieve boredom, stress, or anxiety
* Psychological – You may eat in response to negative, self-destructive thoughts
* Environmental/Situational – You may eat simply because the opportunity is there. Also in this category is the habit of eating while doing another activity, such as reading or watching TV.
Do any of these signs and symptoms describe you? If so, don’t despair – there are treatment options available for emotional overeaters. Check with your healthcare provider for advice on therapists or specialists in your area.
Could Your Weight Gain Be the Result of Emotional Overeating?
Weight gain is frustrating enough, but when you can’t seem to identify the cause(s) of it, the frustration is compounded. Emotional overeating is a somewhat sneaky problem – because it can involve mindless eating, it’s the sort of thing that can occur without you realizing it.
If you are having trouble figuring out what’s causing your weight gain, here are some tips on identifying emotional overeating (as opposed to just overeating).
Seemingly Unexplainable Weight Gain
If you are gaining weight and you can’t seem to figure out why, this is (ironically) a sign that the problem may lie with emotional overeating. As noted above, you often don’t know you’re doing it when it comes to emotional overeating.
You may even be working out regularly and preparing healthy meals and still gaining weight, because you are mindlessly eating other foods when you feel negative emotions.
A Sudden Urge
Sources say that emotional “hunger” comes on quite suddenly, perhaps in the form of an irresistible craving for a certain food or just the urge to eat right now.
True hunger is usually more gradual than that – unless you have low blood sugar or have gone a very long time without eating, true hunger does not usually take the form of an urgent need to eat a whole lot right away.
More and more the connection between emotional overeating and depression is being discovered. Do you feel depressed periodically? When you even think of feeling depressed, what goes through your mind?
How do you cope? If you are picturing a big serving of your favorite comfort food, then this may be a sign that your overeating is emotion-based.
Are you going through a stressful time in your life simultaneous to your weight gain? Have you seen that pattern before? Stress, with its accompanying anxiety and other negative feelings, can trigger someone to overeat in response to those feelings.
How do you feel after you eat? Are you consumed with guilt? Do you feel ashamed? These feelings are signs that you have a problem with emotional overeating. Normal eating to satisfy normal hunger does not make a person feel guilty.
As many parents know, genuine hunger usually means that you’re more open to various food options. In emotional overeating, though, cravings may be so specific that no other food will do to satisfy your “hunger.” You feel like you have to have that particular food to feel satisfied.
What Causes Emotional Overeating Disorder?
Emotional overeating disorders can be difficult and devastating for those who suffer from them. What makes this happen? Why is it that some people, knowingly or unknowingly, turn to food for comfort? Here are some thoughts and ideas on those questions.
Emotional overeating disorder is a general term that refers to any of various eating habits where genuine hunger is not the motivational factor.
It is more common among women than men, but men are not immune – especially young men in their teens and twenties. Those who suffer from this disorder associate food with emotional comfort, and will turn to eating to escape negative feelings.
For some with emotional overeating disorder, the problem stems from past traumatic events. Someone who suffered sexual abuse, for example, or some other kind of sexual trauma may overeat in response to feelings of anxiety and confusion.
The result is a fatter body, which some sources suggest may cause the sufferer to feel “protected” from being attractive to the opposite sex. Subconsciously or consciously, the sufferer wants to be unattractive. Other examples of past trauma or unmet needs may cause a person to turn to emotional overeating.
People who suffer from low self-esteem and a negative self-image may seek escape by overeating. In a way, emotional overeating is a physical expression of what the sufferer feels inside, and the resulting weight projects the same image of self-disrespect.
Like alcoholics, those who struggle with emotional overeating may be unconsciously using food as a drug. Eating numbs or dulls the emotions that might be too hard to deal with otherwise.
Studies indicate a strong correlation between depression and emotional overeating. Ironically, sometimes as depression grows worse a sufferer loses weight; weight loss means the sufferer is not eating as much, and therefore not engaging in his or her coping mechanism.
Prolonged, unrelieved stress can have a profound effect on the body. Stress stimulates the body to produce, among other chemicals, the hormone cortisol. Cortisol apparently has a hunger-stimulating effect, and as the stressful emotions increase along with the cortisol, a cycle of emotional eating can play out.
There are triggers or causes of emotional overeating that are not necessarily in the categories above. Some examples might be:
* Oral need or a need to satisfy your mouth’s need to do something
* Social pressure or embarrassment at eating in public, resulting in overeating in private
* Financial stress
* Relationship difficulties
Lifestyle Choices: Learn to Overcome Emotional Overeating
Overcoming emotional overeating can seem overwhelming, and setbacks can be expected. But the good news is, there are lifestyle choices that you can make to help overcome this problem.
The key word is choice – you can choose to follow a healthy lifestyle. Sometimes it helps to break things down into small, specific steps you can take (just trying to lead a “healthier lifestyle” is a bit vague!). Following are some of these specifics. And remember, setbacks and relapses are not unusual. Don’t beat yourself up; just start fresh tomorrow.
Experts are in general agreement that regular exercise three to five days a week is most beneficial. This exercise should consist of at least 20 minutes of cardiovascular exercise (such as vigorous walking, jogging, biking, etc.) followed by some light toning or weight training.
Committing to this regimen full-force is not necessarily the best way to go; if you can only exercise once or twice a week, that’s still better than nothing and will hopefully pave the way for more in the future.
Exercise is said to relieve emotional overeating in several ways. For one, exercise produces endorphins which are the body’s natural “feel good” hormones.
For another, exercise prevents boredom and mindless eating, which is what you might be doing if you weren’t exercising! And finally, exercise will likely boost your self-image, helping to break the cycle of low self-esteem and poor self-image that “feeds” emotional overeating disorder.
Never underestimate the healing power of nature! For those with emotional overeating disorder, choosing to spend more time out in nature can be particularly beneficial.
After all, in the natural realm there are no media messages to mess with your self-image, and being in nature connects you to your origins and the origins of food.
Some experts theorize that detachment from food and its natural source plays a role in emotional overeating disorder.
Getting involved in nature and exploring and appreciating it can go a long way toward reconnecting with our biologically normal view of food. Maybe you can kill two birds with one stone and do your regular exercise outdoors!
Weight Loss Surgery: Can It Help with Emotional Overeating?
If you have trouble with emotional overeating, you may have considered weight loss surgery of some sort. But how do you know if it’s for you? What kinds of surgery options are available? Here are some ideas as to the more common surgical options currently available and some of the better-known pros and cons associated with them.
This is a type of restrictive weight loss surgery, and it is adjustable. A silicon doughnut or ring is placed around the top of the stomach, leaving a small pouch above the ring. This is where the food goes first, and the pouch, being so small, fills up quickly. The person feels full on less food, in other words. Slowly, the food makes its way from the pouch into the main stomach.
The doctor or surgeon may, from time to time, inject saline into the ring in order to inflate it, thus decreasing the pouch’s capacity even further. The opposite can be done as well.
* It’s adjustable, as noted above – fluid can be removed or injected into the ring.
* The digestive process is not compromised; food is digested “the usual way.”
* The surgical procedure is usually done laproscopically, meaning it’s minimally invasive.
* Additional surgery may be required in the case of twisting of the access port or perforation of the stomach.
* Weight loss tends to be rather slow and gradual, and not as dramatic as some other options.
* Repeated follow-up visits with your doctor are required.
2. Gastric Bypass
This is what’s known as a malabsorptive technique. In gastric bypass surgery, a small pouch is created at the top of the stomach using “staples” rather than a ring. Then part of the small intestine is re-routed to connect to this pouch, essentially creating a permanently smaller stomach. It is called “bypass” surgery because food bypasses the rest of the stomach and the original small intestine connection, called the duodenum.
* Weight loss tends to be significant and permanent.
* Mild side effects, such as heartburn, tend to be resolved easily.
* Compromised nutrient absorption is a significant concern, and patients are generally required to take many supplements to prevent nutritional deficiency.
* Dumping syndrome, or a too-fast emptying of stomach contents, is a potentially difficult side effect.
* It’s harder for doctors to view the stomach and intestine via endoscopy, meaning cancer and other problems may go undetected.
These are just two of the more common types of weight loss surgery. The bottom line is, weight loss surgery can help with the weight gain and excessive caloric intake associated with emotional overeating, but it does not address the underlying emotional issues.
If you do choose some sort of surgery to treat emotional overeating, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s part of a “whole person” treatment plan that includes counseling and emotional therapy.
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