Roshni L. Rountree
By Roshni L. RountreeHoward University News Service
Nichelle Kelly’s day was turning from bad to worse. As soon as her pathophysiology class at Georgetown University ended she rushed to see the posted test grades of her pharmacology exam. She already knew that the class average was low and that was a cause for concern.
She scrolled down the scores, looking for her grade. Her head dropped immediately. Kelly had failed the test.
“I’ve never failed a test before and I wasn’t even near the class average so when I failed I felt hopeless and started to second guess my abilities to become a nurse,” said Kelly, 24, who has had her mind set on nursing since the 6th grade.
The entire ride home to her apartment in Hyattsville, Md., was miserable. She was thinking about where it all went wrong.
At home, the first thing she did was eat dinner. Still feeling out of sorts, she went back to the kitchen for a bowl of cookies n’ cream ice cream.
“I still felt bad [after eating] but it’s like, now I have the enjoyment of eating my ice cream. I’m in my own little world,” she said.
Kelly’s run to food for solace was an example of emotional eating, a behavior pattern that experts say is common among many women.
“Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large amounts of food, usually comfort or junk food in response to something other than hunger,” said Marya Myslinski, a clinical psychologist.
Myslinski, who has a private practice in Falls Church, Va., said emotional eating is something people do to soothe an emotional state, and sadness isn’t the only emotion that can trigger a binge.
“For example, we usually link food with happiness so if [we] are in a good mood or a romantic mood, then we might celebrate with food. Or it could be other difficult emotions like anxiety, depression, or fear,” Myslinski said.
Kelly said she does not eat to fill a void, but she does turn to favorite dishes when she feels trapped and does not know what to do to fix what has gone wrong.
“It’s when my day it totally ruined, like when I did badly on the test. It just put everything into perspective and the pressure of having to overachieve on the next test so that I can pass the class and continue on with nursing school,” Kelly said.
A feeling of being out of control is a warning sign that may precede emotional eating, Myslinski said. Another warning sign is being preoccupied with emotional eating-putting deep thought into what will be eaten and then feeling ashamed or guilty after consuming the food
“Heed the warning signs. Emotional eating can be problematic which is why we look at the severity, duration meaning, how often it happens, and the frequency,” Myslinski said.
According to Myslinski, there’s no need to become overly concerned if a woman sometimes experiences emotional eating when she is premenstrual. However that same woman could have a problem if she eats excessive amounts of food every month during her premenstrual syndrome.
Laura Kasper, a psychologist in Washington, D.C., said there is no way to keep from having normal feelings that might lead to emotional eating. But she said there are other ways of coping with the feelings besides emotional eating.
One step is to pay attention to emotions. “When those emotions are ignored, they begin to take control,” Kasper said. Pretending that the emotions are not there makes them bigger than they are and causes other problems like emotional eating.
“Feelings are information about us that help us to be more of who we are. We’re human beings…we’re supposed to have them,” Kasper said.
It is helpful to try to mentally reframe feelings and put them into context. This technique is a way to self-soothe and can reduce the desire to eat as a method of soothing.
Another way to manage emotions, according to Kasper, is to discuss the feeling with friends and family, people who are emotionally stable.
Myslinski endorsed reaching out to others. “Seek support from others including family and friends. That would make it easier to try to figure out if it really is a problem and get other people’s support before doing something about it.”