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  • Writer's pictureL T

9 Lesser-Known Emotional Eating Triggers (Part 2)

Updated: Jan 3

Do you struggle with emotional eating? Do you know what your triggers are, but find that even when you're aware of them, you're still powerless to overcome emotional eating?

If this is the case, then you may be overlooking some of the subtle causes of emotional eating. When you think of emotional eating, you might picture a lot of tears + ice cream after a break-up, but emotional eating isn’t always so obvious or dramatic! In this post, we'll discuss some of these potential triggers and offer ways to help you overcome them.

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Keep in mind that everyone's situation with emotional eating is unique, so make sure to tailor the advice to fit your own needs. With a little bit of effort, you can finally break free from the grip of emotional eating and reclaim control over your life. So read on for helpful tips that can get you started!

Awareness precedes all change so before you can improve your relationship with food, learning more about your emotional eating triggers is key to creating new eating habits!

Here are 5 out of the 9 subtle triggers for emotional eating that you may be missing and how to stop emotional eating! If you didn't read Part 1, you could find it here.

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Emotional Eating from Fatigue

Whether it is physical or mental fatigue, it is a significant trigger for comfort eating.

For example, fatigue from poor sleep can cause:

  • higher calorie intakes. One meta-analysis found that participants ate ~253 calories daily on average during a 2-week sleep restriction compared to their normal sleep schedule (1). Another meta-analysis found that reducing sleep to 5 hours or less per night resulted in an increase of 200 calories per day (2).

  • poor sleep is thought to increase hunger & calorie intake through a decrease in leptin (a hormone that suppresses appetite) and an increase in ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite). This is more of a working theory as it hasn’t been confirmed in large reviews of research studies called meta-analyses.

  • poor sleep has even been linked to weight concerns where each hour of sleep reduction compared to 7 hours of sleep per night is associated with a 9% increase in obesity risk (3).

  • increased activity in our brain regions for pleasure/reward = encouraging foods higher in calories, sugar, fat, and/or salt

  • more opportunities to eat throughout the day or evening (if you are staying up later at night)

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Not only does comfort foods release more pleasure chemicals (dopamine), but these foods are also easier to eat in larger portions as they are not often filling (such as chips, ice cream, or chocolate).

When you're sleep-deprived, it's hard to avoid the tempting fate of comfort eating. But don't worry! Your body will thank you by improving both your mood and physical health just by getting a little more shut eye.

Getting more sleep is a worthwhile investment if you are struggling to decrease comfort eating or reach your weight loss goals. Plus, sleep deprivation is used as a literal torture method so your quality of life & sense of vitality will also improve immensely.

Emotional Eating with Alone Time

The end of the day is finally over and you're left with some peace, but not much energy. You've been sitting in meetings all morning or taking care of kids while they play video games on TV - there isn't any time for yourself! Many of my clients like to unwind at the end of the night but that can often be a trigger to relax with food (and stay up late).

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As a fellow introvert, I would never ask anyone to cut back on their alone time but we might need to discuss how they are utilizing their alone time as it may not be in line with their goals.

When I work with my clients, we come up with a plan to make their downtime more special or add more opportunities during the day so they don’t feel the need to stay up so late! For example: One woman started getting up earlier in order to drink coffee in silence! Another client would go outside for walks during lunchtime too - it helped clear her head after being surrounded by coworkers and screens all day long.

Emotional Eating from Boredom

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Boredom is tricky because most of us do not recognize it as easily as other emotions such as anger.

I believe that this could be from a variety of reasons such as:

  • you are doing “something” but you do not find fulfillment in this activity such as watching TV will scrolling on your phone/falling asleep

  • you are busy but not effective so you struggled to fit in other activities that are exciting or engaging (if you feel like you are always working, you might not be as efficient in your tasks which takes more time and leaves less time for yourself)

  • you miss the subtle cues of boredom like feeling empty, listless, frustrated, unsatisfied, and searching

  • you are not in touch with your true desires or needs in life (boredom is masking this) or you struggle to prioritize your own needs

  • it’s related to mental health concerns such as depression or trauma and some people would benefit from seeing a psychologist

If you notice any of these within your life, your first step is becoming aware of what’s causing you to feel bored or acting as a barrier for you to address it! You could also take the Food Personality Quiz to learn whether you are an emotional eater or not!

Emotional Eating from Guilt

For many of my clients, unhelpful guilt or shame can be a big trigger for them to eat. See the infographic from NICABM listed below to learn more about the different types of guilt.