When I think about the concept of emotional eating, I immediately see a woman with mascara running down her face drowning her break-up woes down with a 4L pail of ice cream while her bestie reminds her that he ain't shit.
Most cases of emotional eating are much more subtle than this, however. So subtle, that when we use food as a coping strategy often enough, we may not even know when we are truly hungry.
Now...I would like to also add that if you do engage in emotional eating regularly.. there is nothing wrong with you. Humans are so adverse to pain and anything that feels uncomfortable so we ALL engage in activities that help us numb, avoid, suppress, and push away anything that feels icky to us. Some of us use: drugs, alcohol, video games, work, the gym, or food as a way to escape.
When we utilize food as a coping strategy things can get tricky when we want to start focusing on self-care, weight loss, or simply living a healthier lifestyle.
First off, if you do engage in emotional eating, applaud yourself for that awareness. This goal shouldn't be to eliminate emotional eating altogether because that is impossible, but with increased awareness these episodes will occur less and less. And maybe...just maybe with that awareness in your back pocket, you will learn to sit with those icky emotions and let them move through you.
If you are struggling to tell the difference between physical and emotional hunger, I would like to first start with physical hunger.
Comes on very slowly
Comes in waves where you'll be very hungry one moment and it will eventually subside before it comes back strong again.
You will feel and/or hear a rumbling or growling in your stomach.
When you are physically hungry, any food appeals to you.
It isn't often that physical hunger has a ton of guilt to follow after eating.
Comes on quickly
Feels very urgent and hosts a lot of anxiety. ("I need to eat now or I will kill someone.")
This hunger wants a very specific food (and it is usually a high fat or high carb option)
Usually not satisfied after eating & there is usually a side of guilt attached after eating.
And now you know.
The next time you find yourself in your pantry when you aren't actually hungry, take a time out. Breathe! Sit with what you are feeling.