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Look Within to Find Out What Is Really Eating You

By Laura Little, PsyD


As a bariatric patient, you probably spend time every day thinking about what you are eating. But how much time do you spend each day considering what’s eating you? Emotional eating is often defined as eating even though you are not physically hungry. Everyone does it now and then. If you’re like most people, you turn to food during times of stress, anger or anxiety.  How can you tell if you are eating for emotional reasons? This can be difficult to determine, particularly if you had certain bariatric surgical procedures and it is your first year because sensations of hunger may be minimized. But the good news is that if you understand the emotional triggers that cause you to overeat, you can stop this bad habit before you harm yourself. Consider the following:


Anxiety/Stress: When we feel anxious, nervous or stressed we sometimes feel a gnawing sensation in our stomach (hence the saying “I have butterflies in my stomach”). Oftentimes we can misinterpret this as hunger. We may also feel shaky, have a rapid heart rate and breathe shallow or fast. It is important to recognize the thoughts that you are also having. Anxious thoughts typically include the belief that something bad is going to happen.


Sadness: When we feel sad we may notice a hollow sensation in our stomach or a tightness in our throats. We may be tearful and have low energy as well. Sad thoughts include the potential loss or something important to us.


Anger: Anger can lead to tightness throughout the entire body. We may clench our fists or jaw. We may feel a burning sensation in our stomach or head. Angry thoughts include the belief that your rights have been violated or that someone or something is impeding you from getting what you want.


If we do not closely pay attention to our body signals and cues, it is easy to see how we can confuse our emotions with hunger. Many of the symptoms are similar. The more mindful we become of what different emotions feel like, the better we will be at distinguishing them from hunger.


Eating only alleviates true physical hunger and is only a temporary distraction from our emotions. Invariably the emotion will return, along with another emotion: regret. Learning how to manage your emotions without the use of food is an integral component of your weight loss care. If you find that you are having significant difficulty with emotional eating, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in the care of bariatric patients.