Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Getting a grip on emotional eating



Time & time again we hear our clients talk about emotional eating – turning to food to soothe emotions related to major events & daily stress.They say things like,

“But I was really stressed…”

“I just felt sad…”

“It calmed me down”

Emotional eating is reported as one of the most common reasons our clients sabotage their weight management attempts.

While occasional overeating, like letting go on Christmas Day, is not too much of a worry, doing it more often than not drags you into a destructive cycle of using food to manage your mood, cope with stress, or overcome feelings of anxiety or boredom.

We are ‘psychologising’ food when we use food to fix psychological issues such as stress. Of course, most of us know that food does not resolve stress and depression, and not surprisingly ends up making us feel more stressed and depressed when we gain even more weight. But, do we stop doing it? No! We stay stuck in the cycle of emotional eating!

As boring and blindingly obvious as it sounds, food is an energy and nutrient source. It supplies our body with  protein, fat and carbohydrate and vitamins and minerals.

Technically speaking, we should be eating to live, not living to eat!

Two-thirds to three quarters of Australians eat more than their body needs and as a result deposit excess body fat. And, it is not just Australians that are getting fatter, it has become a planetary problem!

We are actually designed to maintain our body weight in a range that is appropriate for our skeleton and body build. We have a feeding and satiety centre in our brains that if we listened to it, would keep us at an ideal body weight all our lives. Unfortunately, our emotions and thoughts can override a natural tendency to manage our weight through appetite regulation. So instead of eating when we are physiologically hungry we eat emotionally – when we are sad, when we are happy, when we are stressed, when we are angry, when we are bored and when we couldn’t care less. And, because we are such emotional creatures, we just get fatter as we eat in response to emotions.

We also allow our more unenlightened thoughts and beliefs to determine what we eat. Typical examples include: “Go on, eat that dessert, you can start your weight loss program tomorrow!” or “I’m on holiday, so I’ll eat what I like, and start my weight loss program when I go back to work”, or “I deserve it!”.

How Does Food Relate to Mood?

  1. Eating some foods like chocolate  releases small amounts of mood & satisfaction elevating hormones, meaning you want to eat them again.
  2. For those who psychologise their food, the “pleasure” of eating can offset negative emotions, and even though the effect is usually temporary, it is powerful enough to cause the person to repeat the exercise, making it a habit.
  3. Food can be a distraction from worry, anxiety, sadness and other negative emotions. Unfortunately, the distraction is only temporary & when you are done overeating, your attention returns to your worries. On top of that, you’ll probably be feeling guilty too, which could start the whole eating cycle again.

Following are Some Tips to Get a Grip on Emotional Eating…

Firstly, know your triggers…

We all react to different things. For some of us, being stressed leads to over-eating, while for others, it leads to under-eating. Tracking what & how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat & how hungry you are will allow you to identify triggers of overeating & deal with them before emotional eating takes hold! Creating awareness of your motivations for eating is crucial to weight loss success. We call it self-monitoring.

Secondly, know your hunger…

Learn to recognise true hunger. Is your hunger physical or emotional? Some signs of emotional hunger include:

  • It comes on suddenly – you go from being not hungry at all to starving
  • It is stimulated by pleasant food smells and, you were not hungry before you smelt the food
  • It is stimulated by pictures on TV of food
  • It begins in the mouth & the mind, not the stomach
  • It often craves specific food a favourite being chocolate
  • It often accompanies an unpleasant emotion such as a feeling of agitation or being unsettled
  • It involves mindless eating
  • It isn’t satisfied when you’re full
  • It makes you feel guilty
  • It co-occurs with self-sabotaging mental chatter such as “One won’t hurt”, “I earned it”
  • It occurs outside your normal eating times
  • Once you start eating you can’t stop

Thirdly, to control emotional eating find comfort elsewhere or in diffierent ways… Soothing or sedating yourself with food isn’t going to get you anywhere! Instead of opening a packet of chips, do something positive for your health, such as taking a walk, taking time out to see a movie, drinking water, listening to music, reading, or calling a friend. If your stress is about a particular thing, try talking to someone because food will not support you, fix your problem or talk back.

Fourthly, have healthy snacks within a balanced food plan…

Bt filling up on basic, healthy food you are more likely to feel fuller, for longer. Eating at regular times and not skipping breakfast will help you maintain control throughout the day. Snacks should be low-joule foods, such as fruit, vegetables with fat-free dip, or multigrain crackers. Research has shown that missing breakfast contributes to difficulty with weight loss. Small, frequent, healthy meals are the key to appetite control.

Fifthly, take care of other factors

Remember, things like sleep and exercise also affect your mood, and taking care of these things can make your mind & body better able to cope with stress. People will often confuse tiredness and low energy for hunger. Be rested.

Finally, lose the guilt…

We all stuff up sometimes. The problem is when you run around with guilt for days & let you Mad Monkey Mind tell you to give up! If you give in to emotional eating, forgive yourself & get back on track ASAP. Most importantly, try to learn from the experience, and make a plan for how you can prevent it or manage it better in the future. Focus on the positive changes you’re making in your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that ensure better health.

Overall, it’s not about a diet failing, or your emotions mucking you up, YOU need to take responsibility for your actions and eat more mindfully and consciously. Remember, you eat to live, not live to eat!

Food does not solve emotional issues!

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