One of the many challenges we face as a society is overcoming the recent rise in obesity rates among both adolescents and adults. With more than a third of the population currently categorized by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) as obese and more than two thirds considered overweight, now is the time to seek solutions for what many experts believe has become an epidemic.
While there are many factors believed to contribute to the obesity epidemic, the bottom-line is that most of us are simply eating and drinking more calories than our bodies require and when we have more than we need, the extra calories are stored as fat. In order to address this problem, we need to identify and correct this rampant overconsumption of calories. This is one of the goals of Emotional Overeating Awareness Month.
Emotional overeating happens when a person uses food as a way to feel good. For those that struggle with it, emotional eating offers a refuge from strong negative emotions and a way to dull those emotions so that they don’t have to be dealt with. But, this is not a healthy coping strategy for several reasons.
- It leads to weight gain, obesity, and the myriad of health problems caused by those conditions.
- It can become a vicious self-perpetuating cycle where the person eats to dull the pain, gains weight, experiences more negative emotions because of the weight gain, and then eats more to dull that pain.
- It keeps people from dealing with the source of those emotions.
While none of the people you know who are overweight or obese got that way solely because of emotional overeating, it can be a contributing factor. One of the challenges emotional overeaters face in overcoming this habit is that this kind of overeating often happens on autopilot. People who are eating because of their mood or emotion may not even realize they are eating until they have consumed a considerable number of calories.
There are things that emotional overeaters can do to help curb this behavior. Here are some strategies for dealing with emotional overeating and the emotions that underlie it in healthier ways.
- Meet with a Nutritionist – A nutritionist or registered dietitian can help someone who struggles with overeating to pinpoint the triggers, behaviors, events, and emotions that support their overeating habits. They can also help identify healthy calorie intake levels, recommend ways to adopt healthier eating habits, and work to help improve overall eating habits and attitudes about food.
- Meet with a Mental Health Provider – If emotional eating is a significant problem, there are emotional issues that need to be addressed and new, healthier coping strategies to be developed. A mental health provider can provide assistance and support for both.
- Pay Attention – So much of emotional overeating is habit that happens without conscious thought that simply paying attention to what is going on in the mind, body, environment, etc. can help decrease overeating episodes and provide information needed to help increase the effectiveness of the other two strategies.