Escaping the emotional eating trap

  • Nora Bulloch, registered dietitian at Northern California Center for Well Being, teaches a weight control call at the center, Tuesday, March 11, 2014. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

When you come home from work, collapse on the couch and into a bag of chips, you are likely feeding more than your appetite.

It's the same as when you're going through a breakup and you must have chocolate. Or when you polish off a carton of ice cream because you've had a stressful day.

It's called emotional eating and happens when we eat to feed our feelings instead of our bellies. We all do it, says dietician and health educator Nora Bulloch.

So what's the problem?

First off, if we eat when we're not really physically hungry, we're consuming extra calories that will be stored as fat. Even feel-better comfort food can be too much of a good thing if we binge on it. And all that leads to more health problems.

Emotional eating is to blame for 70 percent of overeating that leads to obesity and eating disorders, said Bulloch, who discusses emotional eating in her weight control classes at the Northern California Center for Well Being in Santa Rosa.

Blame it on our parents, ancestors, advertising and hormones.

It starts early, said therapist Ellen Breisacher. "Eating when we're sad, upset, lonely starts when we're children. Don't cry. Have a cookie."

But even before that, "our old dinosaur brains were constantly triggering us to eat," said Bulloch.

"An increased appetite is a survival mechanism," she said. "Our ancestors needed to be reminded to eat. If they didn't eat they would die."

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