Weight Loss For Emotional Eating Infographic

Scientific Evidence-Based Help For Weight Loss & Emotional Eating: Causes, Triggers & Treatment

For the last eight years, I’ve seen several personal training clients struggle with emotional eating and losing weight. Emotional eating is not something out of the ordinary.  Research has shown that thousands of Americans struggle each day with disorder and often have trouble with losing weight loss. As a matter of fact, 38% of adults say they have overeaten or eaten unhealthy foods in the past month because of stress (3).

Emotional eating is defined as overeating that is induced by negative affect and/or distress, and eating to satisfy any emotional needs rather than physical needs (1, 2). Emotional hunger is so strong people can easily mistake it for physical hunger. Compared to physical hunger, emotional hunger comes on suddenly and intensely (8). It is an overwhelming feeling that demands instant satisfaction. Food emotional hunger demands are high calorie comfort food such as foods high in sugar and fat (9, 11).  Researchers have found that on stressful days 73% of people reported increased snacking and to result, more calories from fat are consumed (6,5).  The reasoning behind this is because fat consists of 9 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram of protein. These eating choices can be strongly influenced by not only emotions but also the environment.

Causes & Triggers

Every time one eats, there is a chance of associating the action of eating with cues or contexts that are present at that time (11).  Some cues and contexts are the people, places, and even the time you’re eating takes place.  Perhaps you are at a grocery store and you passing through the candy isle, the presence of those sweets acts as a cue and has the ability to trigger your mind to eat something sweet and will not go away until you do so. Cues and contexts have the power to influence you to overeat, but the situation can intensify when your emotions are right there with you. Most people turn to food for negative emotional relief, but positive emotions also play a role (7). Positive emotions such as joy, happiness, achievement, love, and satisfaction have been proven to enhance the appeal of food and increase your motivation to enjoy food, which leads to over indulgences of food (7). Social situations like parties and celebrations are risky areas because everyone else is eating around you and the finger food is easy to approach.

Emotional eating appears to be an important factor related to body weight overtime (4). Weight fluctuation is present in adults who engage in emotional eating and tends to be more prevalent in women than men (12). For those trying to lose weight, high levels of emotional eating are associated with poorer weight loss outcomes (2).  Most weight loss dieters fall under the category of a restrained eater. A restrained eater is someone who intentionally restricts their food intake deliberately in order to prevent weight loss or weight gain. As a result, stress or other negative emotions will disrupt the control they usually try to exert over their eating and in the end they are more vulnerable to eat more (5). One study found that restrained eaters are 22% more likely to eat excessively compared to non-restrained eaters (6). In addition to that study, other researchers studied the difference between weight loss and weight gain between restrained and non-restrained and the results indicated an average weight gain of 6.33lbs for restrained eaters and an average weight loss of 5.33lbs for non-restrained (5).

 Treatment Strategies 

There are many ways to break free from your emotional eating habit. The brain has a powerful ability to form associations between emotional triggers and eating unhealthy food, but the brain has the ability to adapt to new healthier strategies and forget about the unhealthy patterns. First thing is first, become aware of your hunger and learn to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger. Once you are aware of which hunger is which, focus on the trigger and cues that lead to overeating. A study showed that 54% of people found that being able to recognize their physical and emotional stress helped manage the triggers associated with eating (8). Once the triggers are identified, there are many strategies that can be used to redirect yourself to healthier habits and foods.

One strategy to try is substitution in order to improve your health and be successful in weight loss. Keep healthy snacks in your car, home, and at work and stick to high protein, low fat, and low calorie choices. Have them portioned out in handfuls of nutritious foods such as grapes, apple slices, carrots in plastic bags and keep in front of the fridge where you can grab quickly and effortlessly (8). Another idea is to keep sugar free flavored gum near by. Chewing on gum can help because chewing is the essential part of the eating experience so it can trick your mind into fulfilling your craving. Individuals can also mentally distract themselves from cravings by going on a walk, doing chores, playing a game, or any other hobby or activity that is easily achievable at the time of the craving.

Another key strategy to recognize and reduce emotional eating is to be mindful of your eating. Mindful eating is eating with the intention of caring for yourself and eating with the attention necessary for noticing and enjoying your food and its effects on your body (13). Mindful eating begins with your shopping list. Avoid impulsive buying when you are shopping and stick to your grocery list. Next, try to follow the “plate method” which consists of filling your plate with ½ non-starchy vegetables, ¼ lean meat, and ¼ starchy vegetable or whole grains. Portioning out your food is important to avoid overeating. While eating, take small bites and eat slowly. Our bodies have hormones, nerve signals, and neurochemicals that are released after 20 minutes of eating. People who eat too quickly are more likely to eat too much. Take the time to enjoy each and every bite and choose foods for both enjoyment and nourishment (13).

Exercise For Emotional Eating

Last but not least, physical activity is especially helpful physically and mentally. Physical activity is a promising intervention and starting point for people prone to eating when emotionally distressed (9). Working out leads to improved mood and more advantageous food choices and a change in perspective on health consciousness (9). As a matter of fact, at 6 weeks, exercise has the ability to reduce emotional eating (10). Starting out working out 4x a week for 20 minutes and increasing gradually to 50 minutes a week has demonstrated significant decreases in weight and emotional eating after 20 weeks (2).

Emotional eating is a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief from our emotions. When we are able to get to the root cause of what triggers lead to emotional eating and address it head on, the triggers can lose their power. There are a variety of practical strategies out there that can help get you back on track. There is no better day than today to improve your healthy lifestyle!

 

Weight Loss For Emotional Eating

 

Research By: Brooke Baldwin, Research Assistant, Arizona State University 

Article References & Sources:

  1. Nguyen-Rodriguez, S. T., Unger, J. B., & Spruijt-Metz, D. (2009). Psychological determinants of emotional eating in adolescence. Eating Disorders17(3), 211-224.
  2. Goldbacher, E., La Grotte, C., Komaroff, E., Vander Veur, S., & Foster, G. D. (2016). An initial evaluation of a weight loss intervention for individuals who engage in emotional eating. Journal of behavioral medicine39(1), 139-150.
  3. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress and Eating. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating.aspx
  4. Braden, A., Flatt, S. W., Boutelle, K. N., Strong, D., Sherwood, N. E., & Rock, C. L. (2016). Emotional eating is associated with weight loss success among adults enrolled in a weight loss program. Journal of behavioral medicine39(4), 727-732.
  5. Greeno, C. G., & Wing, R. R. (1994). Stress-induced eating. Psychological bulletin, 115(3), 444.
  6. Oliver, G., & Wardle, J. (1999). Perceived effects of stress on food choice. Physiology & behavior66(3), 511-515.
  7. Sultson, H., Kukk, K., & Akkermann, K. (2017). Positive and negative emotional eating have different associations with overeating and binge eating: Construction and validation of the Positive-Negative Emotional Eating Scale. Appetite116, 423-430.
  8. Campbell, H. (2012). Managing emotional eating. Mental Health Practice (through 2013),15(8), 34-35.
  9. Dohle, S., Hartmann, C., & Keller, C. (2014). Physical activity as a moderator of the association between emotional eating and BMI: evidence from the Swiss food panel. Psychology & health29(9), 1062-1080.
  10. Perez, M., Ohrt, T. K., & Hoek, H. W. (2016). Prevalence and treatment of eating disorders among Hispanics/Latino Americans in the United States. Current opinion in psychiatry29(6), 378-382.
  11. Bongers, P., & Jansen, A. (2017). Emotional eating and Pavlovian learning: evidence for conditioned appetitive responding to negative emotional states. Cognition and Emotion31(2), 284-297.
  12. Keller, C., & Siegrist, M. (2015). Ambivalence toward palatable food and emotional eating predict weight fluctuations. Results of a longitudinal study with four waves. Appetite85, 138-145.
  13. May, M. (n.d.). How can mindful eating help me? Retrieved March 22, 2018, from https://amihungry.com/how-can-mindful-eating-help-me/

Infographic References & Sources:

  1. Nguyen-Rodriguez, S. T., Unger, J. B., & Spruijt-Metz, D. (2009). Psychological determinants of emotional eating in adolescence. Eating Disorders17(3), 211-224.
  2. Goldbacher, E., La Grotte, C., Komaroff, E., Vander Veur, S., & Foster, G. D. (2016). An initial evaluation of a weight loss intervention for individuals who engage in emotional eating. Journal of behavioral medicine39(1), 139-150.
  3. American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Stress and Eating. Retrieved March 19, 2018, from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating.aspx
  4. Braden, A., Flatt, S. W., Boutelle, K. N., Strong, D., Sherwood, N. E., & Rock, C. L. (2016). Emotional eating is associated with weight loss success among adults enrolled in a weight loss program. Journal of behavioral medicine39(4), 727-732.
  5. Greeno, C. G., & Wing, R. R. (1994). Stress-induced eating. Psychological bulletin, 115(3), 444.
  6. Oliver, G., & Wardle, J. (1999). Perceived effects of stress on food choice. Physiology & behavior66(3), 511-515.
  7. Sultson, H., Kukk, K., & Akkermann, K. (2017). Positive and negative emotional eating have different associations with overeating and binge eating: Construction and validation of the Positive-Negative Emotional Eating Scale. Appetite116, 423-430.
  8. Campbell, H. (2012). Managing emotional eating. Mental Health Practice (through 2013),15(8), 34-35.
  9. Dohle, S., Hartmann, C., & Keller, C. (2014). Physical activity as a moderator of the association between emotional eating and BMI: evidence from the Swiss food panel. Psychology & health29(9), 1062-1080
  10. Perez, M., Ohrt, T. K., & Hoek, H. W. (2016). Prevalence and treatment of eating disorders among Hispanics/Latino Americans in the United States. Current opinion in psychiatry29(6), 378-382.
  11. Bongers, P., & Jansen, A. (2017). Emotional eating and Pavlovian learning: evidence for conditioned appetitive responding to negative emotional states. Cognition and Emotion31(2), 284-297.
 

 

About the Author

, Celebrity Personal Trainer and Fitness & Nutrition Expert headquartered in Scottsdale, AZ. He specializes in helping men and women achieve weight loss, muscle building, toning and other customized fitness & nutrition programs to create a Healthy Lifestyle. James offers private luxury personal training, 12-week custom workout plans, and personalized nutrition meal plans. Follow on Google+.

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