Emotional hunger is the way a person eats without feeling any physical symptoms. This action is performed to deal with more negative emotions.

Why do we experience emotional eating? Who experiences?

In fact, there are many reasons for emotional eating. Here we are mostly looking at emotions. In other words, if the person could not develop healthy methods to deal with negative emotions, the person may turn to eating. So why eating? Because from the first moment we are born, we are programmed to receive affection or love with a mother’s breast. That is, when we cry, when we do not want something, when it is not available, we are immediately given food, milk, chocolate. As such, we actually learn this behavior from a very young age, and then we tend to repeat it. Our psychological resilience may be low, our ability to express emotions may be lower. There are actually many reasons, these are just a few.

How do I know if I have an emotional eating problem?

First of all, we can understand the emotional eating problem when our relationship with food is broken. So how does our relationship with food deteriorate? If we suddenly find ourselves eating without feeling any real hunger, stomach cramps, stomach rumbling, etc., and this act of eating mostly happens when we experience negative emotions or after negative thoughts pass through our minds. We usually do it to deal with stress, as I said before. In fact, it is necessary to pay attention to the following; there are some signals: emotional hunger signals and physical hunger signals. If our hunger signal has come, we should look at this: “When was the last time I ate?” If it’s been 2 or 3 hours since we ate, then I might be really hungry. After that, we look at: “When was the last time I drank water?” If we have never drank water, then perhaps thirst is what we are experiencing. Apart from that, as I said before, do you have stomach cramps or rumbling? If we answer yes, it could be physical hunger. If there are no symptoms, it may be emotional hunger. And again we ask ourselves: “What was going through my mind just now? Was I bored? Was I feeling lonely? Did I think of a problem I had in the past? or a problem I am experiencing right now or my concerns about the future… When we analyze them in this way, when we answer them, we stop at that moment and realize the emotional hunger. If we are repeating this several times a week then we have an emotional eating problem.

How does emotional eating problem affect those who have sleeve gastrectomy surgery?

Emotional eating happens to most individuals who already have obesity problems. We determine this in our pre-operative interviews. In other words, when we are asked if you are bored, sad, angry, or if you tend to eat (mostly junk food and sugary foods), we often get the answer “yes”. Apart from that, we have a short scale of eating disorders. We also ask these questions, and if we get 2 or more yeses here, we have an emotional eating problem again. And this is also present in most obese individuals. So how can it affect post-surgery? The person will not feel anything in the first stage. Because the patient is on their honeymoon. The appetite hormone has been removed, their stomach is now small, and they feel nauseous when they smell food. But after 6 months, after a few months, maybe after a year, if the person has problems again and wants to eat something, then the patient can reach a level that can cause regain weight, and of course, psychological support comes into play. We just talked about signals, emotional hunger signals. We can actually weigh ourselves by watching and observing them. And if we have emotional eating problems, we should definitely get psychological support after bariatric surgery. Because as it is said, this emotional eating may recur in the future and cause regain weight.

How can I deal with emotional eating attacks?

First of all, is this an attack or did my soul really want to eat that thing at that moment? How much do I eat this thing? It is necessary to pay attention to this. Emotional eating is an eating disorder but falls under the category of “disorders not otherwise specified” in the DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria. So they can’t name it exactly. It does not try to have exactly the following diagnostic criteria. In the literature, it is not said that if you do this and that, you can get rid of emotional eating. It varies according to the patient. But the most important is “emotion regulation”. So we need to be able to regulate our emotions. We need to be able to accept our negative emotions, not deal with them. In other words, if we are angry or sad, “I have to deal with this, I have to do something to get rid of this feeling” We should not use these sentences. Maybe you need to experience that anger at that moment or you need to accept that sadness. When we reach this mindset, when we accept those feelings, we do not turn to other things to suppress those feelings. Apart from this, of course, with a therapist, which emotions are we trying to suppress, which emotions are causing us discomfort, which emotions are we trying to push with food? It is necessary to examine them. What feelings, thoughts, events lead us to this? After reviewing these, a support will be provided on that subject. However, we have just told you about hunger signals to prevent attacks. The difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. First, we evaluate this signal. Do you have a rumbling in my stomach when the hunger signal comes, when was the last time I ate, did something bad cross my mind? After all, when we do that analysis, that thing called attack disappears. Because attacking means getting up and doing something out of the blue, suddenly finding yourself in chocolates. When you do this analysis, you are already giving yourself time. After that, wait, drink a glass of water, wait a little longer. Are you still suffering? Think a little more. Maybe there are other activities that make you happy. Maybe it will be enough to talk to someone, maybe it will be enough to go for a walk, has it not happened again? Then eat. It means you have to eat that chocolate. In other words, the psychology of prohibition comes into play here. Especially when dieting, the restrictive eating pattern triggers emotional eating attacks.

A 2020 study found that restrictive diets significantly affect emotional eating. In fact, another experimental research was conducted. They made one group diet with a restrictive eating model, and the other group not with a restrictive eating model. Meanwhile, restrictive eating means banning too many foods. They prohibited certain foods to the subjects. “You won’t eat this, you won’t eat that”. The group that took the prohibited foods became more sensitive to the food. This means: While some may say, “I can eat it or not, or I’ll eat it when I’m hungry”, theirs is not. They are in the “I must eat” psychology. In fact, this is a very broad subject, and this information alone may not be sufficient for every patient. But if you are wondering how to control my attack in general, look at these signals first. Apart from that, see what we can do about emotion regulation, you need to learn methods of coping with stress. What are these? Social support is the most important. First of all, you need to communicate with your environment and increase your communication. It could be breathing exercises, doing sports and going for a walk releases a lot of serotonin, the happiness hormone. If none of these work, then professional support from a psychologist is needed.