Emotional Eating: Five Tips To Overcome Emotional Eating Part 1

Eating Habits

We eat in times of emotional stress. 

We’ve all done it but why do we do it? 

The answer to this question is hard to understand in these modern times but the answer lies in our brains from thousands of years ago.  Our ancestors did not know what their next food source would be and where it would come from.  Food was plentiful in the spring, summer and fall months.  When winter came, they starved.  They were focused on getting enough calories to survive.  The mentality thousands of years ago was feast or famine.  This mentality is buried deep in our brains. This way of thinking is still prevalent in our brains despite the overabundance of food sources in our modern age. You can pick up your cell phone, order from a restaurant and have food delivered to your door.  

There is a physiological component of stressful eating. 

The hypothalamus is a small region of our brains that is near the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus is responsible for releasing hormones, regulating body temperature, controlling appetite, maintaining daily physiological cycles, and regulating emotional responses.  

The hypothalamus triggers the anterior pituitary gland to release a hormone into the blood when we are emotionally stressed.  This hormone is called adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH).  This hormone goes to the adrenal cortex and cortisol is released into your bloodstream.  Cortisol causes a rise in blood sugar and suppresses the immune system.  Cortisol also assists in the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. It is responsible for the fight or flight mechanism. 

Thousands of years ago, this mechanism was needed since our ancestors had to combat times of stress daily.  They needed plenty of cortisol to supply their bodies with sugar to prepare to fight the danger or run from danger.  Once the stressful moment had passed, their body craved sugar and carbohydrates to refill the carbohydrate stores that were depleted. How this relates to us today is the fact that our daily lives are full of stressful events. 

As a result of the stress and increased cortisol, we crave sugar to recharge.  

We are programmed to eat when we are stressed, sad, bored, angry, etc.  This is emotional eating

Emotional eating is exactly what you think it is, eating in times of stress. 

We get stressed, cortisol is released and we eat.  

Other triggers cause emotional eating also.  Social eating environments, habits from your childhood, mindless eating, self-sabotaging thoughts, the cycle of hunger and restriction.  

Next week, I will share some tips on how to overcome emotional eating. Keeping a food diary, practicing mindful eating, knowing the difference between hunger and emotional hunger, self-sabotage and building resilience are topics that will be covered in the next few blog posts.

Self-sabotage is a big part of emotional eating. Get a head start and read my last two blogs on self-sabotage. These blogs will help explain self-sabotaging behavior better.  

What's next?

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