Emotional binge eating: when we raid the fridge to relieve psychological discomfort

the german term Kummerspeck It is one of those words, like the Spanish sobremesa and embarrassment of others, that are difficult to translate into other languages. Comes from kummersorrow, sadness, and speck, bacon or pancetta. That is, it would mean something like pancetta and it is currently used by some psychologists to define emotional binge eating, so frequent today.

What exactly do we mean? We can all identify with those situations in which stress, anxiety or accumulated workload influence, almost always negatively, our diet. When a bad day ends with an indiscriminate attack on the fridge. And not to stuff ourselves with fruit or vegetables, precisely.

We could talk about emotional eating, then, as the process in which our state of mind generates eating behaviors that can harm our health.

In search of immediate rewards

This is because our brain seeks an immediate reward for emotional deficits. Foods such as those that contain high amounts of sugar, sodium or fat, or flavor enhancers such as monosodium glutamate are capable of sending almost immediate messages of satisfaction to our minds. These compounds also increase the sensation of appetite.

The causes that cause emotional hunger they are very varied. Knowing the source of the problem is the best way to start solving it. Here are some situations that can trigger it:

  • Personal conflicts, arguments with loved ones and family or couple problems. These circumstances can generate a significant emotional void that is attempted to be filled through emotional feeding.

  • Stress, situations in which work or obligations cause a depletion of mental resources. Especially chronic stress, which lasts and generates intense emotional exhaustion, to the point of causing burnout syndrome.

  • Boredom, which makes us think about things and overthink. Multiple studies relate the demotivation that arises from boredom with the need to seek stimuli. Food intake can generate the neurotransmitter dopamine, which compensates for that feeling of emptiness.

  • Anxiety and other mental illnesses such as depression are closely linked to emotional overeating. They try to fill the void they generate with the immediate satisfaction of food. On many occasions it becomes a vicious circle, because after the binge comes remorse and discomfort.

This rising behavior contributes to aggravate a global health problem. According to the World Health Organization, obesity has tripled since 1975. In 2016, 39% of adults were overweight, a figure that continues to rise and is often at the origin of so-called chronic non-communicable diseases: vascular disorders, cancers associated with a sedentary lifestyle, respiratory diseases and diabetes.

First step: identify the problem

And how can we avoid this type of behavior? The first step is to recognize what are the causes and reasons that lead us to emotional binge. Being able to distinguish what type of hunger we are suffering from can be a good way to start:

  • Emotional hunger appears suddenly and forces us to give it an urgent solution. In addition, it is selective: it demands specific types of food. And normally, as we have seen, unhealthy. This type of appetite does not generate a feeling of satiety, that is, we continue eating even if we no longer need food. Finally, it leaves us with a feeling of discomfort, of guilt, always a negative feeling.

  • Physiological hunger is gradual, it gradually grows and can wait. It does not demand urgency to satisfy it. It caters to a much wider range of foods, it’s not quite as “finicky”. At the moment in which the needs are covered, we stop eating. The final feeling is satisfaction, without feelings of guilt.

distraction maneuvers

In addition to recognizing the situation we are experiencing, we can look for alternatives to these behaviors:

  • Practice exercise: physical activity decreases ghrelin levels and increases leptin concentrations, hormones directly related to appetite.

  • Regular rest can help us control our emotions and decrease emotional appetite.

  • We must acquire proper eating habits. Our brain takes more than 20 minutes to perceive that our stomach is full. Eating slowly helps us to be aware of what we are putting in our mouths and to feel satisfied sooner.

  • Finally, going to a professional can help us regulate our anxiety and stress. It can be a guide to recognize what our needs are, since we ourselves are sometimes not aware of the problem.

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