According to the researchers, it has been well documented that people sometimes use food as a way to cope with negative feelings and that emotional eating can lead to unhealthy food choices. Because breakups can be stressful and emotional, it could potentially trigger emotional eating. “Modern women of course have jobs and access to resources now, but back then, it was likely that women were smaller and needed more protection and help with resources,” Harrison said. “If their partner left or abandoned them, they would be in trouble. And the same could have gone for men. With food not as plentiful in the ancestral world, it may have made sense for people to gorge to pack on the pounds.”
Strategies to deal with emotional eating
Here are steps you can take to stop emotional eating episodes and break the cycle:
Learn to recognize hunger. Next time you reach for a snack, ask yourself what’s driving it. If you are truly hungry, you’ll notice physical symptoms such as a growling stomach. Other less obvious hunger cues include grouchiness and trouble focusing. If you don’t have those signs, you likely don’t need to eat right then.
Keep a journal. Take the time to create a mood and food journal. Write down what you eat each day. Also include the feelings you were having at the time and if you were truly hungry. You may find that certain feelings, such as anger or sadness, lead to your overeating. Once you see these triggers, you can learn healthier ways to deal with them. For example, if you have stress, take a walk around the block. Don’t try to relieve it with a candy bar.
Build a support network. Having friends and family around you who support your efforts to change your eating habits can improve your chances of success. It may also be helpful to join a support group. This will help you meet other people with similar problems and learn better ways of coping. One such group is the 12-step program Overeaters Anonymous.
Find other interests. Finding an activity that you enjoy can increase self-confidence, which is often poor in emotional eaters. Examples might be yoga, playing a musical instrument, or painting. You may find that your eating is driven by boredom. If that’s so, then a new passion can fill your hours and make you less likely to look to food for emotional satisfaction.
Get help if needed. If you can’t control emotional eating on your own, think about getting professional help to change your behavior. A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy can help. It can teach you to change your eating habits and deal with unpleasant emotions in a better way. Medicines, including antidepressants and appetite suppressants, may also help. Talk with your healthcare provider to learn about more treatment choices.