Opinion: Feeding your feelings with food

Sanjana Iyer is a sophomore Fashion Merchandising major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].   

Sanjana Iyer

Winter is here, and it isn’t leaving anytime soon. For some, this means less going out and getting things done and more staying in and seeking solace in comfort food.  And in a place like Ohio, with its below-freezing temperatures, it’s hard not to spend your weekends curling up in bed to watch movies with a pack of Oreos. But before we know it, it is summer again and as we weigh ourselves, we stare in utter disbelief at the pounds we’ve magically gained.

 While it is still somewhat of a mystery, studies have, however, shown that a lack of exposure to sunlight can affect a person’s emotional state. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that during winter, with its extremely limited hours of sunlight, many people feel better during all hours of the day by reaching for their favorite food. While small bouts of comfort eating aren’t necessarily a bad thing, it can also become a dangerous habit when we are not able to find healthier alternatives; as a result, eating becomes our primary coping mechanism against emotional distress. What many of us fail to realize is that it is not our hunger that we are trying to cure — it is our emotional state.

An important step is to really understand that emotional hunger can never be satisfied with food.  At most, it may offer some temporary gratification that lasts for a few hours.

According to helpguide.org, there is a marked difference between emotional and physical hunger. For instance, while physical hunger comes gradually and can wait, emotional hunger arises suddenly, and it feels like it needs to be satisfied immediately. Physical hunger actually stops when you have eaten enough and are full, but emotional hunger is unaffected by a full stomach.  

This really helps us identify the nature of our hunger and treat it accordingly.

Studies have shown that some of the main triggers behind emotional hunger include stress, boredom or even childhood habits where we were constantly rewarded for our good behavior, with our favorite food — such as ice cream.  As college students, we are constantly under stress to meet those deadlines, get our work and studying done, maintaining a decent GPA and balancing our social lives amidst this frozen hell. Every time we do something right or get something done, we like to reward ourselves.

This is why it can be beneficial to record our meals and calorie consumption throughout the day.

Another important step to reduce emotional eating can be finding other, more effective ways to manage hunger. Healthier options include exercising, meditating and merely connecting with other people. Finding emotional solace in spending quality time with our friends and family is widely underestimated.

When you are physically healthy and well rested, it is much easier to deal with any stress that comes your way. However, if you are in a state of exhaustion, even the slightest challenges can have you headed for the refrigerator.

This winter, try to stay relaxed and remember to exercise; when you hop on to that scale again, you may be pleasantly surprised.