Why Are We Overweight? Overeating and Emotional Triggers
Why do we gain weight and become overweight or obese? While it may comfort those of us who are severely overweight to think that we were genetically sentenced to this condition, this is likely not the case. Research has shown that the so-called “obesity genes” play only a very small role in whether or not an individual becomes overweight and that a healthy lifestyle can negate the gene’s effects. The unfortunate truth is that most overweight people get this way by consuming more calories in a day than their bodies metabolize. Those excess calories are then stored by the body as fat.
Not Born This Way
Most of us start life at a normal body weight, with a healthy metabolism. We all must eat to live and when we are low on fuel, the systems of our bodies work together to signal that it is time to eat. Small children usually do a good job of recognizing these signals, monitoring their own hunger and satiety without any help. They eat when hungry and stop at or before the point of fullness. For many of us, it is somewhere after the early childhood years that things go off track. This is when we learn to ignore our bodies’ cues and eat for the wrong reasons, often overeating.
What Does It Feel Like to Be Hungry, Satisfied, and Full?
What does hunger feel like? Some of us overeat so consistently that we are no longer sure what hunger feels like. Some of us confuse feelings of thirst with hunger and eat when we could be satisfied with a glass of water.
Many of us are hungry when we start eating, but we don’t stop when the physical hunger is satisfied. (This is not the same thing as feeling “full.”) Eating too fast can cause us to miss our body’s cue that we are satisfied. When this happens, it is easy to go from hungry to overstuffed in just a few minutes. When we become so used to eating past hungry that we don’t recognize when we are satisfied or full, overeating spirals out of control.
There are other times when we eat not because we are hungry, but because the world around us tells us “it’s time to eat.” Here are some examples of not-hungry eating:
- Ordering popcorn, hot dogs, sodas and beer at events such as ballgames, movies, and concerts, because that makes the outing more fun.
- Eating too much at birthdays and holiday gatherings because it’s a special occasion and we feel the need to participate and eat everything.
- We meet friends at a restaurant and eat out of habit or due to social pressure, even when not hungry, rather than just enjoying the company of friends.
- At a restaurant, we are served a portion that is large enough for several people. We eat it all instead of stopping when satisfied.
- We eat because we are (insert negative feeling here). Eating temporarily distracts us from the unpleasantness and helps us cope with negative feelings.
Eating as a way of coping with unpleasant feelings and negative emotions is one of the biggest reasons why we overeat. Boredom, guilt, stress, loneliness, insecurity, anger, disappointment, sadness, and shame are just a few of the feelings that we soothe with food. Eating is pleasurable and when life is difficult, it may feel like the only enjoyable part of the day.
Unfortunately, the pleasure of eating doesn’t last all that long. Deeply seated negative feelings come back. If we continue to use food to cope with these feelings, we may become overweight or obese. Many people who lose large amounts of weight and then regain it do so because they fail to address the emotional causes for their overeating. They are able to stop their emotional eating for a time, but the need to soothe with food eventually becomes too great and they return to old coping mechanisms.
If you are obese (BMI of 40+ or BMI of 35+ with a serious health problem) and have had only temporary success or no success with a weight loss program, you may be a candidate for bariatric surgery. But you must address any underlying emotional eating triggers first in order to maximize your chances for success. Contact Malladi Bariatrics for a consultation or for more information.