Long day? Ice cream. Horrible day? Skip meals and just go to bed. Food has always been notoriously linked with emotions. When it comes to food, there tends to be a strong emotional charge behind why, when and what a person will eat and/or restrict. This response is fueled by the emotional hunger or fullness a person may be experiencing at the moment.
Sources of emotional hunger and fullness are fueled by internal cues influenced by external factors such as the social or physical environment. Consequently, physical hunger and/or fullness is affected by and associated with emotions. For example, the above scenarios describe the consumption of food during emotional hunger, such as when one feels lonely, and the restriction of food during emotional fullness, such as when one feels depressed. Some use food as an emotion-oriented coping skill to temporarily alleviate a negative or overwhelming emotion. This can then be utilized as a tool for reward, nurturing, punishment and excitement.
Research has revealed how the extremes of food consumption (overeating versus restriction) occurred when people experienced emotional extremes such as depression and anxiety. However, using food consumption/restriction to cope with emotional hunger or fullness only temporarily numbs the problem and can lead to disordered eating and unhealthy relationships with food.
Strategies that can be used to prevent and eliminate emotional eating or restriction include:
being mindful of physical satiety levels before and during eating
employing self-help methods to better cope with overwhelming emotions
seeking support when the emotion-food relationship begins to be destructive
Bottom line: Emotions play a large part in food consumption/restriction and can be used as an unhealthy coping skill. Therefore, it is important to understand the sources behind this emotional hunger/fullness, how to identify it and how to effectively cope with it.
Written by: Ashley Nguyen, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern. Learn more about Wellness Workdays and our wellness program offerings by downloading our brochure.
2. Journal of Consumer Behavior