Written by Medifast California Nutritionist Brittany Stucklen
Food can bring comfort, at least in the short term. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional distress. Instead of dealing with our emotions head on, food becomes a crutch for many of life’s obstacles. The problem with this is that these emotions are still present, and when they resurface emotional eating becomes our only defense.
Food is a part of our everyday lives; we need it to exist. When was the last time you went to a social gathering where they weren’t serving food? Or watched your favorite television show without seeing an advertisement for some food product? Or drove to work without seeing countless eateries on either side of you? Whether we are feeling anxious, bored, angry or sad – we can almost always count on food to be near. But the problem isn’t that food is too convenient. The problem appears when we stop listening to our bodies.
When our bodies need nourishment, signals are sent to our brains alerting the body that it is time to eat. Our stomachs begin to growl, energy levels drop, and we may find it harder to concentrate or work. Unfortunately, these cues can be very similar to someone experiencing emotional distress. So how can we decipher between the two? One of the most noticeable differences is the type of food we are willing to eat. The last time you found yourself in an emotional state did you crave a healthy salad? Or did you binge on sweets and foods higher in carbohydrates? Someone who is experiencing true hunger signals is content choosing from a variety of different foods as opposed to one specific comfort food. Emotional cravings also come on more rapidly than true hunger cues and typically occur within minutes of the trigger. These cravings come on fast and strong, and by the time we realize we are emotionally eating we are half way through a bag of chips.
The next time you reach for food I want you to ask yourself:
“Am I hungry?”
If the answer is anything other than “yes” ask yourself “why am I eating this right now?” If you’re honest with yourself you may discover it’s because you’re worried about a deadline that’s coming up this week, or because you’re frustrated with your spouse, or maybe it’s because you’re feeling hopeless about your recent weight gain. Whatever the reason may be, if it’s not because you are hungry, food is not the answer.
Because food is a constant in our daily lives, eating becomes an automatic reaction to suppress emotional distress making it very difficult to overcome. The trick is to find activities to deal with the emotion effectively.
Rather than wait for the next time you find yourself emotionally eating, make a list of 10 activities you can do instead. Before you start, sit and think about the different situations you’ve found yourself in or foresee happening. Emotions affect us all differently and can appear at any time of day so it’s important that you write things that will be helpful for your specific needs and different environments. For example, what you do to avoid emotional eating at work will be different from what you do at home.
Below are some ideas to get you started. Try one out the next time you find yourself reaching for your favorite comfort food and share what’s helped you in the comments box below!
Writing: Putting pen to paper is a great way to get thoughts out of our head and gives us the ability to look at issues from afar and with a clearer state of mind.
Meditation: Many of us go through our days on autopilot. Meditation is a technique that trains the mind to be present in the moment and has been found useful for those who emotionally eat. Headspace is a great resource to try out.
Laugh: Throw on a funny movie or hang out with a friend who makes you laugh. Research shows laughter diminishes the secretion of stress hormones and leads to the release of endorphins.
EFT: Emotional Freedom Technique draws on various theories of alternative healing to “clear” emotional trauma through a series of tapping. Check out ‘The Tapping Solution’ for more information.
Exercise: Like laughter, exercise leads to a release of endorphins or our “feel good” hormones. The key here is to choose an activity in which you enjoy, so it doesn’t seem like a chore but a treat.