When she lost her first job, Alice Nakitto found a part time job but it was not as well paying and she continued job hunting. Owing to stress, she often missed meals and developed an emotional eating disorder. She constantly craved chips and soda.
“Even when I was not hungry, I would find myself eating chips, kebabs, sausages and other junk foods. I had tried to lose weight but all my endeavours were in vain because I took in more each day,” she says.
Nakitto’s situation worsened when she lost her baby. She felt so empty. “I always wanted to fill the void I felt due to the loss of my baby and the fact that I did not have a job to occupy my thoughts. I failed to lose weight until a friend advised me to see a psychologist,” she recalls.
Besides Nakitto, there are many other women and girls who suffer emotional eating according to Kizito Wamala a clinical psychologist at Center for Victims of Torture.
Like most emotional symptoms, emotional eating is thought to be the result of a number of factors.
Wamala says, people who tend to connect food with comfort, power, positive feelings, or for any other purpose than providing fuel to their body can be prone to emotional eating.
“They eat to fill an emotional void and often engage in mindless eating even when they are full. Some people whose emotions cause them to eat may have been raised to connect food with feelings. For such people, food was scarce or often used a reward or punishment, or as a substitute for emotional intimacy instead of nourishment,” he says.
Response to stress
Part of the stress response often includes increased appetite to supply the body with the fuel it needs to fight or flee, resulting in cravings for so-called comfort foods. People who have been subjected to job, school, or family stress, exposure to crime or abuse are at risk of developing emotional eating disorder.
With emotional eating, there is a tendency to feel hunger intensely and suddenly, rather than gradually as occurs with a true physical need to eat that is caused by an empty stomach. Emotional eaters often crave junk foods rather than balanced meals.
Their urge to eat is usually preceded by stress or an uncomfortable emotion such as boredom, sadness, anger, guilt, or frustration. They lack control while eating and often feel guilty for what they have eaten thereafter.
If you have such a problem, you may need to see a mental health professional for help. Emotional overeating if not checked can lead to complications such as difficulties achieving weight loss goals, obesity, and food addiction.
Prevention of emotional eating involves reducing stress, using constructive ways to understand and manage emotions, engaging in meditation, exercise, and other constructive stress prevention and stress management techniques.
“Take breaks at home and at work, refrain from over-scheduling yourself, learn to recognise and respond to your stress triggers. Take regular days off at intervals that are right for you. Structure your life to achieve a comfortable way to respond to the unexpected,” advises Wamala.
Avoid drugs and consume moderate amounts of alcohol since many of these substances heighten the body’s response to stress.