What Kind of Eater Are You?

All this week we’ve been talking about intuitive eating and how it can lead to improved physical and emotional health.

More and more people are diagnosed with eating disorders every day. Even those of us who don’t have eating disorders, though, may still at times demonstrate disordered eating.

Really it comes down to how pervasive these habits are, how often you eat in an unhealthy way and how much these tendencies are affecting your physical and mental health and your relationships.

Do you have unhealthy food tendencies? Read on to see if any of these approaches to food sound familiar.

Are you an emotional eater?

We don’t think about how detrimental it can be to refer to certain foods as “comfort foods”. Eating to fill an emotional void or to help us deal with stress is far from healthy.

Usually, emotional eaters crave specific foods, like ice cream, chocolate and refined carbs or fatty foods. This can be because the hormones released in response to your emotions can cause your body to crave certain nutrients.

You aren’t necessarily craving chocolate because you’re stressed out or sad, you might be craving magnesium, which can sometimes manifest as a chocolate craving.

You might also be having cravings because of the way certain foods make you feel, as a result of the hormone releases they trigger or because of associations from your childhood (or both).

When you’re physically hungry, any kind of food can satisfy you as long as it’s nutritionally appropriate. Cravings, on the other hand, indicate that something is amiss, either physically (as in a nutrient deficiency) or emotionally. 

Helpguide.org talk about the downsides to following emotional cravings:

Using food from time to time as a pick me up, a reward, or to celebrate isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But when eating is your primary emotional coping mechanism—when your first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever you’re stressed, upset, angry, lonely, exhausted, or bored—you get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed.

Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there. And you often feel worse than you did before because of the unnecessary calories you consumed. You feel guilty for messing up and not having more willpower.”

Giving into emotional eating urges doesn’t just lead to overindulging in unhealthy foods, but also in overeating. Weight problems and nutrient deficiencies can both result from long-term emotional eating.

Does that sound familiar?

If so, here are a few tips:

  1. Find healthy ways to deal with stress and emotions. Try a physical outlet, like jogging, or a focused activity, like reading or puzzles, to take your mind off of things.
  2. Try to be mindful about your eating habits. Make an effort to keep healthy snacks on hand. 
  3. Pause before giving into a craving, and consider whether or not the hunger you feel is physical or emotional.

Do you eat because you’re bored?

This is a trap that many people fall into, some on a daily basis.

Your body is looking for dopamine, a feel-good hormone that leaves you feeling satisfied. This hormone is released when you participate in an activity that you enjoy. But it’s also released when you eat certain foods.

When you’re bored, if you don’t find a way to engage yourself, you might find yourself craving a food (usually salty or fatty foods) that will offer you the same dopamine release as a fulfilling activity might. The thing is, unless you find a cure for your boredom, you’ll just keep revisiting the kitchen and you’ll often seek out high-fat or salty foods. This isn’t good for your health if it’s happening all the time.

If you notice that you are having trouble focusing, you’re restless, fatigued or feeling a strong urge to push away from the task you’re trying to accomplish, these are all signs of boredom. Sometimes, people miss these signs and head right for instant gratification in the form of a snack.

EatingDisordersBlogs.com has some suggestions for what you should do instead of boredom eating: “Next time you have the desire to eat when you’re not hungry, check in with yourself to see if you’re bored. Remind yourself how good you’ll feel when a task is done or you start and finish it. Tell yourself that even if you seek food, you can’t escape life’s unpleasant tasks. Or take an intentional short break and do something enjoyable so you return to your task at hand refreshed. Learn how to manage boredom effectively and see if you notice a reduction in mindless eating.”

Do you binge?

Binge eating can range in severity from an occasional issue to an eating disorder. Some people go through stages where they binge eat for a few days or weeks, while others do it all the time.

Binge eating is when continue to eat even after your hunger has been satisfied and you take in more calories than your body requires for no specific reason. Often people who binge feel physically unable to stop eating. This can lead to obesity, which contributes to a number of other health concerns. Even where obesity is not an issue, there can be serious ramifications for mental and physical health if you binge on a regular basis.

Many binge eaters also become chronic dieters, which we will talk about in the next section. They understand that binge eating can be detrimental to their health, they feel guilty about their intake, and they want to stop, so they try dieting. The problem they often run into is that they feel compelled to eat, so they are constantly at war with themselves and diets fail them.

At EatLikeANormalPerson.com a former binge eater talks about her road to recovery, and she makes the following hypothesis about how people get started on this negative cycle: “

The real cause of your binge eating disorder is that you once ate large quantities of nutritionless food (unaccompanied by real food that might have otherwise provided sustenance and satiation) and this created a cycle of false reward followed by pain. This led you to repeat the activity and, eventually, to addiction: the belief that you are unable to change.”

Describing binge eating as an addiction makes it easier to come to terms with. Putting a stop to binge eating can be difficult, just like overcoming other addictions.

Many binge eaters have escaped this addiction with counseling and with making an assertive effort to provide their bodies with the nutrients that they need. When their bodies are satisfied by the food they consume, it becomes easier to step away from the table.

This can be difficult for many people. We don’t always know what healthy eating looks like or understand exactly what we’re missing — seeking the assistance of a nutritionist in addition to a mental health professional might help.

Dieting is not the answer to binge eating or to a weight problem. Let’s talk about why…

Are you a chronic dieter?

The dieting mentality can be a very harmful one. Most diets require that you deprive your body of something, whether that’s calories in general or certain food categories, like fats or carbs.

Your body requires a balance of nutrients, so removing specific food groups from your diet in order to lose weight will have consequences.

Removing fats from your diet, for example, when your body really needs healthy fats to thrive, will cause nutrient deficiencies and serious health concerns, including heart problems and disease.

Dieting is not a natural state and it leads to cravings for the foods you’re not allowing yourself to have, and the cravings don’t always lead you to make healthy choices. Many people fall off the diet bandwagon as a result of their cravings, when giving in causes them to feel guilty and give up completely.

Often, when someone gives up on one diet, whether they wait a while or dive right in, they try another diet. This can have serious health consequences.

Plus, most people binge before starting a diet or when they decide to give one up. This leads to a cycle of starvation and overeating, which can have long-lasting and harmful implications for your metabolism. Even if you spend more time dieting than binging, you actually make it harder for your body to shed pounds.

It is estimated that at any given time, a staggering 50% of North American women are participating in a diet plan and 85% of women will go on a diet at some point in their lives. Those who participate in the dieting mindset will usually make 4-5 different dieting attempts through the course of a single year with the goal of losing weight or improving their physical appearance. Even when people do achieve their goals, they often bounce back because they haven’t really developed sustainable healthy habits.

Dieting has become socially acceptable. We don’t even blink when someone talks about trying the newest dieting fad. We expect it, often we even celebrate it.

How can you break the cycle? PsychologyofEating.com offers an idea on where to start: “We must become more aware – and this takes time and patience and work. Shifting from an attitude of loathing and suspicion to one of self-compassion and curiosity about the process is key. This will give us the clues to help us let go of this painful cycle.”

Basically, if you want to lose weight, be patient with yourself. Do some research, and educate yourself on the balance of nutrients that your body needs. Read up on how much exercise and sleep you should be getting to achieve your goals.

Intuitive eating, which is basically learning to listen to your body to determine what you should eat and how much, is preferable to dieting by far because it encourages a healthy balance.

Balanced is best…

When it comes to food, the healthiest kind of eater you can be is a balanced one.

As Oscar Wilde once said, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.” Don’t beat yourself up for enjoying what you love, even if it’s not always the healthiest choice. Doing that once in a while will actually make it easier for you to avoid overeating or full-on binging.

Getting the nutrients that your body needs by varying your meals and including a wide array of fruits, vegetables, healthy proteins, fats and grains will keep you nourished and prevent cravings that are really just your body needing specific nutrients.

If you pay attention to your body and eat whenever you’re truly hungry, you’ll find yourself eating smaller, healthier meals throughout your day. 


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