Emotional Eating – Why You Do It and How You Can Stop
One aspect of dieting that people tend to overlook is the fact that we have an emotional attachment to our food.
Think about any event or occasion in your life, from weddings to christenings, and how much they revolve around food. We eat when we’re celebrating, when we’re stressed, when we’re angry, when we’re sad, when we’re lonely, when we’re restless and when we’re bored.
In a simple world food would just be for our bodies to function and would be what we need to motor on a daily basis. But why do we associate a pizza or a tub of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream as being far more comforting and pleasurable than a chicken salad or a tub of cottage cheese?
One reason for this association is because certain situations can trigger within us a desire to have a certain type of food.
For instance, think of a time when you hurt yourself as a child. Your mother or father may have given you ice-cream to stop you crying and to distract from the pain. Therefore, from a young age you are programmed to think that ice-cream will bring you comfort and ease pain.
Another reason for this association is a system in your brain called the ‘reward system’. This system is designed to reward you when you do things that encourage survival such as eating. The brain senses that you are doing something ‘right’ when you eat so it releases feelgood hormones such as dopamine into your system. Eating is therefore interpreted by your brain as being pleasurable. Hence why you may reach for food at times when you are feeling emotionally charged.
The problem is that highly palatable and calorific foods such as ice-cream and chocolate cause a far greater release of dopamine than something like an apple or a banana. Also the dopamine hit is brief and the resultant positive feeling is short lived. Whilst still not fixing the original emotional problem. Leaving you feeling worse than before as you may now have a feeling of guilt as a result of overeating
So what can you do to overcome your emotional eating?
- Know the difference between emotional and physical hunger
Emotional hunger comes on suddenly whilst physical hunger comes on more gradually. By identifying emotional hunger, you can realise that you are eating to mask a problem and not because you are actually hungry.
- Identify your triggers
Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings. It can also be triggered by positive emotions such as a feeling that you deserve to reward yourself. For example, you’ve stuck to your diet plan all week and have been eating healthily. So you reward yourself with a takeaway and ice-cream at the weekend. By identifying your triggers, you can use other more positive methods to deal with the situation.
- Use positive strategies to deal with your emotions
Physical activity can do wonders for your mood. By stimulating the release of the neurotransmitters called endorphins, physical activity can leave us feeling good about ourselves. Other methods such as meditation, yoga or mindfulness can be great ways to relax the body when in a stressed state. Therefore avoiding the temptation of reaching for food. If you find you use food as a reward system look to replace food as the reward with something like buying new clothes. This can also be a great way to keep you motivated when on a weight loss journey.
- Surround yourself with a strong support network
Don’t underestimate the wonderful benefits of talking to others about your emotions. Talking to a close friend or someone you trust can lift a weight off your shoulders. Rather than trying to fight a solo battle and causing unnecessary frustration.
Dieting is as much psychological as it is physiological. Have your emotional foundations in place and it will be a lot easier to work towards your goals.
Emotional Eating – By Paul O’Sullivan – Bespoke Nutrition