How Do I know If I’m an Emotional Eater or a Conflict Eater?
Emotional eating can be difficult to assess and equally difficult to treat because of varying degrees of severity with both the behaviour and negative emotion. The label of being an ‘emotional eater’ can quite easily be misinterpreted and give someone a problem they didn’t have before, thus turning a minor issue of comfort seeking behaviour into a major issue of inappropriate coping mechanisms.
There seems to be a trend to hastily label people these days, so it’s important to have your concerns appropriately assessed and not be overwhelmed with problems you just don’t have. As a psychologist, I am mindful to avoid catastrophizing someone’s behaviour simply because their behaviour encompasses certain elements of a condition.
We all, at times, seek comfort to regulate negative emotions. In fact, we’re taught to from a very young age. Because it’s in our nature to also provide comfort to those experiencing discomfort. It’s important to acknowledge that, in the context of obesity, emotional eating is really only a problem if it is also associated with overeating. If you have a hard time differentiating between a state of hunger and emotionally stimulated eating, and on a very frequent or regular basis, then, yes, it’s possible you may be an emotional eater.
Most emotional eaters I work with have a problem in that their inability to make this differentiation leads to overeating, which in turn contributes to their weight problems. Those who turn to things like chocolate after a stressful day at work, when partner and children have wondered off to bed, may simply not want to share their chocolate when anyone else, or feel their behaviour will be scrutinized by others if they’re on some sort of program to healthier eating habits. Both are rather common behaviours, but not necessarily emotional eating habits.
Such habits may be more aligned with conflict eating. In other words, there may be a conflicting relationship with a food or certain food groups. Most of the time it’s learned behaviour, either from childhood, media, or diets. People develop views about certain foods and the impact it has on their weight based on what they learn from these sources; and, they start to attribute these foods as problem foods. Naturally, they start to avoid them as much as possible, only to find the process of doing so only highlights their existence and they’re subconsciously more prevalent than ever before.
Sometimes, changing the relationship we have with certain foods is all we need to remove this conflict, as it’s almost impossible to remove the food in question.