How can emotional triggers cause overeating?

Eliza Kingsford, LPC
Nutrition & Dietetics
We don’t always have a sense of what is behind our emotional triggers. For some, this becomes very problematic and they will look to food for comfort or as a coping mechanism to help deal with the emotions that they do not understand. Some will reach for food to “numb” the feelings so that they do not experience the hurt. Some will reach for food to actively comfort the unwanted feelings. Either way, the use of food as a coping mechanism becomes a way to deal with the undesirable emotions.
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
At a very young age, our intake of food and our emotions start becoming intertwined. How many small children are given ice cream as comfort when they are crying or a cupcake because they were “good” and deserve a reward? Then, when you get older and you are feeling sad, stressed or angry, would it not make sense that you would reach for these same foods? They are familiar to you; the problem is that you might actually use these foods to cover up your actual feelings. Instead of focusing on what is bothering you, you hide behind a couple of cookies and then some.

A technique I like to use with my patients that is very appropriate here is HALT: Ask yourself, am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Determining what is really going on in your mind will help you to determine if food is really what you want. Learning new skills on how to deal with these emotions without using food can be really rewarding.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.