Monthly Archives - August 2018

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What is Emotional Eating and How to Stop It?

The occasional food craving is a normal behavior for many people. But when these cravings become something more, they could suggest larger underlying problems. This is where the term emotional eating enters the conversation. Emotional eating is not initial harmful, due to the fact that it satisfies a person’s immediate emotional impulse. However, a regular pattern of emotional eating can create various health problems.

What is emotional eating?

This eating behavior is a way for people to suppress negative feelings like stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness or even loneliness. Major life events can trigger emotional eating such as problems with personal relationships, work, health or even financial pressures. When some people are in emotional distress, their food consumption patterns may become more impulsive and began to resemble binge eating behavior. The act of eating serves as a distraction with the focus on eating a “comfort food” providing momentary relief, versus dealing with a serious problem or painful situation.

In other words, consuming comfort food during times of stress can provide temporary gratification. But, this food consumption will not fulfill a person’s actual emotional needs or solve ongoing problems.

 

Why do people engage in emotional eating?

The reasons as to why people may engage in emotional eating are complex. Part of this behavior is likely due to our evolutionary roots. In ancient hunting and gathering societies, stress was a signal to the body to consume more calories for survival purposes. This behavior may have helped 100,000 years ago, but is now ill-suited to our sedentary lifestyle.

The physical sensation of hunger is based on how the human body reacts to stress by telling the adrenal glands to release a burst of adrenaline. This in turn increases the heart rate and supplies energy that is intended to be used for fight or flight situations. Next, the adrenal glands release cortisol, which instructs the body to replenish energy by stimulating an appetite for high-energy (calorie) foods. Cortisol can stay in the body for many hours, which will create hunger pains. Oddly, this same hormone also tells the body to store any unburned calories as fat. Again, this evolutionary and physical response to stress, as well as the associated storage of body fat, is not healthy in the modern age.

 

Ways to control emotional eating?

Here are 4 influencers that tend to encourage emotional eating behaviors.

[1] Food as a main pleasure:

People experience a real soothing effect when they eat certain foods like ice cream, potato chips or cookie dough. Consumption of certain comfort foods delivers a burst of short-term pleasure. These foods are addictive, so not eating them when the urge strikes is a challenge. A possible solution is for people to discover other ways to soothe their emotions besides eating food. They need to explore other (non-destructive) behaviors that bring them pleasure.

[2] Not aware of the behavior:

Sometimes people are not aware that they are eating. This is sometimes known as unconscious eating by therapists. In these cases, individuals seem to almost operate as if they are in a trance. In many ways, this behavior may resemble binge eating. Mindlessly eating or grazing while watching television or movies can easily encourage this behavior. A solution is for people to stop putting food into their mouth simply because it is available. The best prevention is to always be mindful of what and when they are eating.

[3] Difficulty Coping with Negative Feelings:

It is human nature to avoid thoughts and experiences that make a person feel bad. Sometimes this is tough, so the only way some people can avoid negative feelings is to engage in self-destructive eating behaviors. In the short-term, this will distract a person from feeling negative thoughts. However, this not a healthy long-term solution. Ideally, individuals should learn to let themselves experience negative or difficult feelings. A trained, certified and experienced behavioral health professional is helpful in this situation.

[4] Negative Body Image

People hating their own physical body and possessing an overall negative body image is a critical factor for triggering emotional eating. A downward spiral of negativity and shame makes it challenging for people to implement long-lasting healthy eating changes. Again, a skilled mental health specialist is helpful in this situation. People need to stop hating their own body before they can successfully stop their self-destructive emotional eating behaviors – and this is tough to do alone.

 

When should an individual seek professional help?

If individuals have tried to use self-help options but they still have no control over their emotional eating behavior, they should consider seeking help from an eating disorder specialist. An experienced mental health professional can help a person understand the origins of this behavior, whether it is an eating disorder as well as acquire coping skills.

For additional information or questions about emotional eating, please contact the staff at River Centre Clinic (RCC). Their Eating Disorders Programs provide a full range of treatment options for both adolescents and adults. The clinic’s main phone number is 1.877.212.5457.

The River Centre Clinic is located in a modern, spacious and tranquil setting in Sylvania, Ohio – a suburb of Toledo, OH.

Follow on Twitter:  @River_Centre

Emotional Eating, Eating Disorders,

 

Contributor: ABCS RCM

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Child looking at partial cupcake - River Centre Clinic

Childhood Eating Problems & Adolescents Eating Disorders

Many parents are familiar with children who are picky eaters. In fact, for babies, this is often a normal eating behavior. As children age, they start to develop their own personal food preferences. However, as children grow older an overly selective eating behavior could be a sign of deeper health concerns. Many people are not aware that eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness in adolescents according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Since the 1950s, there has been a steady increase in the incidence and prevalence of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa as well as other eating disorders in both children and adolescents.

Data from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) estimates that out of 800 public high school students, approximately 20-22 students will be impacted by eating disorders and even more will experience subclinical (not detectable) symptoms of the disease. Adolescents who have suffered from eating disorders are more likely to experience medical co-morbidities such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicide.

During a person’s adolescence is when many of these diseases first occur. Adolescence is a time in people’s life when a great deal of change is occurring. Body changes, confusion, social anxiety only accelerate feelings of self-consciousness and low self-esteem. The onset of eating disorders often appears during this period, but these diseases can develop at a later time in a person’s life.

Not all of these eating disorders directly develop due to body image issues. Among children, they may struggle to eat certain foods because they feel physically nauseous. This can create a lack of appetite for food, which will make it more difficult to eat. A fear of vomiting or choking makes a child avoid certain foods, which can gradually become more restrictive over time. According to the National Eating Disorder Association, this restrictive eating behavior is a possible sign of what was previously identified as selective eating disorder, but is now referred to as ARFID or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

ARFID is similar to anorexia in that both disorders involve limitations in the amount and/or types of food consumed, but unlike anorexia, ARFID does not involve any distress about body shape or size, or fears of fatness. Although many children go through phases of picky or selective eating, a person with ARFID does not consume enough calories to grow and develop properly. In children, this results in stalled weight gain and vertical growth. ARFID can also result in problems at school, due to difficulties eating with others and extended times needed to eat. As with all eating disorders, the risk factors for ARFID involve a range of biological, psychological, and sociocultural issues. These factors may interact differently with different people, which means two individuals with the same eating disorder can have very diverse perspectives, experiences, and symptoms.  

Eating disturbances are considered problematic when it causes the child to become upset or worry and when he or she is not eating enough to sustain proper nutrition and facilitate proper growth. Complications around eating can take many forms including but not limited to:

  • Trouble with food textures/sensory issues
  • Temper tantrums during meals
  • Refusing to eat
  • Limiting food groups
  • Choking, gagging, or vomiting after eating
  • Body image concerns
  • Anxiety/OCD

Due to the concern over the growth of eating disorders among children and adolescents, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has researched this modern health concern. The CDC made the following recommendations during their 2008 national initiative. Their screening of high school students for eating disorders found that almost 15% of girls and 4% of boys scored at or above the threshold of 20 on the EAT-26, which indicated the possible existence of an eating disorder. The CDC recommended regular health screenings for high school students in order to identify at-risk students who could benefit from early intervention. Early identification and treatment of disordered eating and weight control behaviors can prevent progression of the disease and reduce the overall chronic health risk. To complicate matters, pedestrians have pointed out that some obesity prevention efforts may actually encourage the development of an eating disorder. The majority of adolescents who develop these disorders were not previously obese, but some teenagers, in a mistaken attempt to lose weight, can develop an eating disorder.

For additional information about childhood and adolescent eating disorders, please contact River Centre Clinic. Their Childhood Eating Problems Program director is Anna Lippisch, MSW, LSW. She can be reached at 419-885-8800 or by email. The EAT-26 (Eating Attitudes Test) assessment provides anonymous and instant feedback for a variety of eating-related health conditions.

Follow on Twitter:  @River_Centre

Childhood eating problems, Adolescents eating disorders, ARFID

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