Anatomy of My Emotional Hunger - My Bariatric Life

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
  • "Why do I volunteer for this stuff?"  I had three t-shirt designs and four banner designs in front of me, plus a hefty unexpected expenditure weighing over my head that would just about wipe out our social group's bank account (when we'd already had several other financial obligations committed).  Sitting there trying to figure out how I would make it all work, I proclaimed my intense desire for a nice, big piece of soft, gooey chocolate cake.  Hello, emotional eating... and one reason I still battle to remain "overweight" lest I cross the BMI >30 line into "obese." 


    Physical Hunger vs. Emotional Hunger

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    Emotional eating hits you like a freight train, while physical hunger meanders up to the station.  Physical hunger will throw you a hunger pang here, a stomach grumble there and politely remind you to detour it to the kitchen for meal time.  Emotional hunger comes out of nowhere and demands food now, like my chocolate cake.  Thanks uninvited visitor. 


    Emotional eating craves a specific food, while physical hunger is flexible and open to options.  Every once in a while I fall prey to emotional eating. In these moments I want to chuck the healthful go-to sweetness satisfier - the apple - at my nutritionist.  An apple?!?!  My addiction is taking over all rational thought, "If you want to dunk that apple in caramel and roll it in some nuts, then we can chat about how that will satisfy my craving for something sweet."  But a plain old apple?!?!


    This is a great indicator that my hunger isn't physical.  Physical hunger would be receptive to the apple. And when I am in my right mind, an apple normally satisfies my sweet tooth just fine.  Emotional hunger is a mind game -- and trust me, my mind is smart enough to recognize an apple is not in the chocolate family.


    Emotional hunger cannot wait, physical hunger can be delayed.  Now if you've ignored your cues for hours, then physical hunger can be demanding.  However, in general, if you are physically hungry you can tolerate actually preparing food for yourself.  You can mentally handle the time it takes to cook that lean chicken breast with delicious, calorie-free spices.  Emotional hunger has you rooting through the fridge, freezer, and pantry to find what you can cram into your mouth this very second, no time to waste! 


    Physical hunger recognizes the feeling of "full." Emotional eating treats "fullness" as a foreign concept.  Full is when the spoon is scraping against the bottom of your second empty bowl or your fingers scrape along the bottom of an empty bag. This is wrong, of course.  Physical hunger recognizes "no more" hunger pangs or stomach grumbles and tells you to, gasp, wrap-up the remaining leftovers on your reasonably-portioned plate of food.


    Emotional eating leaves you feeling guilty, physical hunger leaves you feeling satisfied.  For me, remorse comes swiftly.  I am bloated and nauseous and dizzy. I have a headache. Diarrhea will probably come soon. These are the symptoms of dumping, which is what happens when a gastric bypass patient eats too much sugar or carbs. I open my eyes to the now empty wrappers... oh gosh, what did I eat... an entire 6-pk of DQ sandwiches?  Instant mood kill. Now comes the self loathing. I'll skip the scale in the morning, go straight for my sweatpants, and swear never to do this again. 


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    Recognize Emotional Eating for What It Is


    Emotional eating is a menacing blockade to your goal weight and the healthy you.  If you can separate emotional eating from physical hunger, you give yourself the opportunity to have power over emotional hunger.  How can you do that? Read on...


    Everyone has different trigger foods and emotions. Keep a log or diary of what works for you. When boredom kicked in and those Cheetohs started calling your name, how did you keep yourself from running to the cabinet?  Ultimately you are looking for some type of distraction or replacement.  It is your mind telling you that you need a certain comfort food, so you need to divert your mind and have it focus on something else. Go for a walk outside, read a book, call a friend, do a craft project, garden, etc.


    Or treat yourself to some food that will satisfy your craving in a healthy way. For many years, I had a "decadent" protein shake every morning for breakfast. I created lots of recipes that approximated the tastes of Starbucks Frappuccinos but were part of my bariatric lifestyle.  Find what works for you and stick to it. 


    It won't be easy at first but gaining control over your emotional hunger will make it monumentally easier to get to and maintain your goal weight and the new healthier you. I wish you success.


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    My Story...

    You can read about my decision to have weight loss surgery back in 2003 and my journey to maintain a lifetime of obesity disease management since that time. My wish is to help you on your own journey of lifetime obesity disease management with shareposts along the way to help you navigate that journey successfully.

Published On: April 23, 2012