Food And Your Feelings

Feb 22, 2013 No Comments by

Turning to food for emotional reasons can lead to all kinds of health problems. Find out how to get a handle on it.

As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, 33-year-old Emiko Grant used to turn to food to manage her emotions. “I regularly ate dark chocolate, ice cream or baked goods to cheer me up,” says the research administrator. Although the food provided temporary relief, it never lasted. “I would feel better while I was eating, but then I would feel irritable and guilty,” Grant says. And the food wasn’t just harming her emotional heath: “Heart disease runs in my family, and when I measured my waist I discovered that I was just above the acceptable range for healthy,” Grant says. “I was also really tired to the point where I would often a take-hour nap after work.”

emotional overeating

emotional overeating

Food and your moods

It’s not uncommon for people to tune to food when they’re stressed, sad, bored or even happy. “For some people, emotional eating is a minor issue,” says a psychologist. However, it becomes problematic if it gets to the point where you’re always eating for emotional reasons and you then experience guilt or shame or your health is negatively impacted (e.g., you’re overweight, suffering from diabetes or simply not eating enough nutritious foods). It’s also a problem if it’s preventing you from truly examining – and addressing – real issue in your life (think: an unhappy relationship or dissatisfaction with your job).

The good news is that you can get a handle on emotional eating. “Once I started keeping a food diary and becoming more aware of my cravings, I saw a definite pattern of reaching for certain foods based on my emotions – so I went to see a naturopathic doctor who helped me to start developing healthier eating habits,” says Grant, who is now several pounds lighter and slimmer around the waist.

Beyond the scale

But controlling emotional eating should never just be about losing weight. “It’s about putting food back where it belongs”. “It’s about developing the awareness and the energy to deal with the underlying problems that are masked by your ‘problem’ with food.” When you do that, you’ll gain control – not just over food, but also your health and your life. Here are four simple steps to help you do just that.

1. Examine Your Triggers : Each time you sit down to a meal or reach for a snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry. If your tummy’s rumbling or you feel light-headed, it’s probably physical hunger. But if you’ve eaten recently and it’s more about soothing-yourself, it’s probably emotional hunger.

“Anxiety, depression, boredom and anger may all contribute to overeating”. Many mood changes can also be traced to personal interactions, so look for the source in your exchanges – whether someone said something that was upsetting or you became overwhelmed by work or family demands.

2. Take Notes : Keeping track of the reasons you’re eating makes you aware of your patterns and gives you an opportunity to make better choices. One way to do this is with a chart: Get out a pad or notebook and draw four columns labeled “time of day,” “location people,” “food/amount” and “emotion/thought.” Each time you eat something that seems tied to your emotions instead of physical hunger, make a note of it. For instance, you might write: “2 p.m/ at my desk/ six Oreo cookies/nervous about big presentation.” At the end of the week, read over your record and look for patterns. What were the events, people, places, or situation that led you to eat?

Are you an emotional eater?

Rate these statements on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being “strongly disagree” and 5 being “strongly agree.”
– 1. Fatty, salty foods help me de-stress.
– 2. Eating something soothes my anger.
– 3. A great dinner enhances my happiness.
– 4. Snacking helps me pass the time.
– 5. I turn to sweets when feeling sad.
– 6. I eat more when life feels out of controls.
– 7. I often feel guilty after eating,

Scoring:
7-14: You are probably not an emotional eater.
15-25: You are an occasional emotional eater.
26-35: Emotional eating may be compromising your quality of life.

3. Find Solutions : If your chart reveals that you eat for reasons other than physical hunger, find new, food-free ways to distract or calm yourself. Here are a few of the most effective approaches:

  • Be more mindful. A 2011 Journal of Obesity study found that emotional eaters who were trained in mindfulness – including meditation and mindful yoga stretches – experienced lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved eating patterns and consequently, reduction in abdominal fat. “When you’re mindful, you can calm your emotions through compassionate inner self-talk, meditation and breathing exercises”.
  • Distract Yourself. “Doing anything that keeps you occupied, entertained and away from the kitchen is helpful”. Exercising – whether it’s taking a walk or practicing yoga – is especially good since it helps to improve your mood and distracts you from an eating episode.
  • Connect With Others. Social support can make you feel comforted and help you cope with all kinds of stresses – not to mention motivate you to make healthy choices. That was certainly the case for Grant: “I found that I exercised more consistently if I was accountable to someone, so I hired a really positive personal trainer and took swimming lessons with a friend,” she says.

4. Learn From Binges : If healthier coping mechanism fail and you succumb to emotional eating, put a positive spin on it with these strategies:

  • Go Easy On Yourself. The more you yell at yourself, the more you’ll want to eat. “Don’t say you’re disgusting or call yourself names”. Instead, focus on the facts – how you felt, what you ate – and let it end there.
  • Avoid Knee-Jerk Dieting. Don’t decide that you’re going to never eat another fattening bite for as long as you live. The point is to deal with emotion, not the calories. “Deprivation will only lead to yet another binge”.
  • Reflect Later. A few hours after the emotional eating episode has passed spend some time thinking about what you were feeling and what you could have done differently. “In this way, each binge become a positive lesson about yourself and what propels you to overeat”.
  • Focus On Inner Strength. As you become more practiced at sitting with difficult feelings instead of eating through them, you’ll begin to turn to food for fuel rather than comfort. “You’ll demonstrate that you can take care of yourself and that you can have compassion for yourself – and that’s a relationship you can build on”.Indeed, consider Grant’s transformation: “If I have setbacks, which I do, I don’t bet myself up,” she says. “I just try again the next day, re-focusing on small, achievable goals like drinking plenty of water, replacing sugary snack with whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins and keeping a food diary.” The best part? “I’ve educated myself about exactly what I’m putting into my body, and that helps me make better choices about what a show much I eat,” Grant says. “I still do treat myself – I love my chocolate-! But it’s now a choice that comes from awareness versus a reaction to my emotions. And all these steps have added up to much happier, healthier new me.”

Health And Nutrition
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