Overweight and obesity result from one of four main phenomena: food addiction, poor choice of foods, inactivity and emotional eating. Although there are often overlaps among these categories, this article focuses on emotional eating. It also gives you an opportunity to assess yourself and determine whether you are an emotional eater. If you are, don’t worry. An accurate diagnosis is already 50% of the solution. With the information you’re about to learn, you can overcome the problem, lose weight and do wonders for your health.

Emotional Eating – an Introduction

Food is the fuel for the human engine. It’s components provide the body what it needs for growth, maintenance and and task performance. An excess of food intake – even of healthy foodstuffs – is detrimental to the body’s health. Too much food hampers digestion and adds a surplus of calories that convert into excess bodyweight. It also hampers many of the body’s vital functions.

The body and brain cooperate to create a sophisticated satiation mechanism. Stretch receptors in the stomach wall are like the body’s fuel guage that indicate fullness. Sensors in the hepatic portal vein (HPV), the blood vessel that carries blood from the gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, pancreas and spleen to the liver, report to the brain the necessary information for limiting meal size and food intake. This includes cholecystokinin (CCK, the apatite and digestive hormone) levels, glucose, osmolality and pH. The brain reacts with the command to put our fork down and stop eating, conveying the message of fullness and that the body has all it needs for now. Without emotional eating, when an individual eats for energy and nutrition, the brain and body know when to stop. It’s like a car being filled at the gas station; when the nozzle senses that the tank is full and it clicks off automatically.

“Since no amount of eating will solve an emotional problem or relieve anxiety and stress, the emotional eater eats way beyond what he or she needs.”

Emotional eating override’s the body-brain satiation mechanism. Since no amount of eating will solve an emotional problem or relieve anxiety and stress, the emotional eater eats way beyond what he or she needs.

Are You an Emotional Eater?

Try this simple diagnostic test and ask yourself a few basic questions:

  1. Are you running to the fridge or pantry despite the fact that you’re not hungry?
  2. Do you eat when you’re sad, stressed, upset, bored or lonely?
  3. Does food seem to console you?
  4. Is it a challenge for you to stop eating?
  5. Do certain situations trigger a craving for food?
  6. Does access to food make you lose your self control?

If you’ve answered more than one “yes” to the above 6 questions, keep reading – this post is exactly what you need.

Differentiating Between Physical Hunger and Emotional Hunger

In short, physical hunger is your body telling you that it needs fuel. Emotional Hunger conveys the message that your soul is hungry, but food won’t be able to satiate that hunger. Whereas food, particularly healthy food, does a lovely job in satisfying the body’s needs, it cannot satisfy the soul’s needs. Air can fill your tires but it can’t fill your gas tank. By the same token, carbs, fat and protein can satisfy your body, but they can’t do much for the soul. Look at these main differences between physical and emotional hunger:

  • Physical hunger reacts favorably to a variety of foods but emotional hunger craves sugary and junk foods. Emotional eaters look for cookies, potato chips and cakes; they won’t be satisfied with celery or carrot sticks.
  • One feels good after satiating physical hunger but guilt and remorse after emotional eating. Not only have the emotional eaters not solved the emotional problem (they’re still lonely, anxious, etc.), but they’ve abused the body with excess and frequently empty calories. The little inner voice of body and conscience yell in the emotional eater’s ear, “What are you doing to me?!”
  • Whereas physical hunger recedes when the body approaches fullness, emotional hunger continues full force past fullness.
  • A physically hungry person won’t be dismayed be delaying a meal for a short while but an emotionally hungry individual craves food immediately.
The Cortisol Culprit

Cortisol is the stress-triggered hormone. Since childhood, people in Western societies associate gratification and stress relief with salty, sugary, fried and junk foods since these bandits give the body a quick fix of joy. Parents give little kids toffy or candy to stop their crying or buy their teens a pizza to make them smile. Therefore, the body, through years of conditioning, thinks that the salt, sugar and junk are the answer to extinguishing the cortisol. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The body is capable of overcoming a cortisol surge in three ways: first, it can activate the endorphin “feel-good” hormones. It does that by exercising. 25 pushups are enough to extinguish a craving for a cookie. 30 minutes of a walk in the fresh air or doing Yoga/Pilates exercises will also do the short-term trick. Exercise-triggered endorphins are wonderful for a pickup, but they’re only a temporary solution. They’re like that great Bermuda vacation; when the fun is over, the problems are still there.

A Long-term Strategy for Overcoming Emotional Eating

King Solomon, the wisest human who ever walked the face of the earth, teaches that, “The soul cannot be satiated” (Ecclesiastes 6:7). No food in quality or quantity can satisfy the soul’s hunger. The soul needs an intimate connection with its Creator. If people would experience the amazing results from expressing all their fears, worries, and other negative feelings to their beloved Father in Heaven, they’d run to Him always. The refrigerator is no substitute for the Almighty. In fact, our negative emotions are like a car’s gas guage telling us that we need fuel. So what do we do?

We give the soul what it needs. Just as the body needs its vital nutrients, the soul needs an ongoing satiation of its needs. The reason that  emotional eaters can’t stop eating is because their souls are never satiated. Divine light satiates the soul. This is not the type of light that you’ll find anywhere on the physical light spectrum. It’s an illumination from the Almighty that makes us feel safe and secure. This is the spiritual power that enabled King David to declare in Psalm 23, “Though I walk in the valley of death, I shall not fear, for You are with me.”

The Bottom Line

When we feel G-d’s presence in our lives, our souls feel wonderful, no matter what turbulence we’re experiencing. A connection of daily communication with the Creator can not only solve problems of emotional eating, but other emotional ills as well. Don’t think this is exaggerated. Participants of our Emuna Hour series on Zoom have heard testimony from people who have lost massive amounts of excess weight by learning how to connect with the Creator. You can do it to. Some people suggest daily centering for 10, 30 or 60 minutes a day. I do too. But, intermittent speaking to the Creator all day long makes the soul feel wonderful; so does prayer and Torah learning, especially learning the 13 Principles of Emuna.

Try this before you reach for the fridge out of stress or boredom: speak to Hashem and tell Him what’s bothering you. If you can do this in the back yard or somewhere else out in the open, all the better. Take a walk with your Father in Heaven. King David would do this all the time. You can too. Feel free to share with us the great news of all the excess weight that you’re shedding. We want you to feel great and look your very best. Blessings always, LB

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