It starts with a handful of carrots, moves to a few pieces of cheese and next thing you know, you’re elbow deep in a tub of ice cream! Can you relate?
Emotional eating… it’s a thing that humans do. We all have our vices: for some it’s alcohol or sex. For others, it’s cigarettes or “hard drugs” like cocaine or heroin. However, for most, it’s eating crappy food. But why does nobody go straight for the broccoli when they are having a bout of emotional bingeing? Why do we always go for carbs or the sweet stuff?
Well, there’s science behind this mystery and it involves the big three hormones – cortisol, dopamine and serotonin. Our main stress hormone, cortisol, regulates how our bodies use carbs, fats and proteins, and when we are stressed or anxious, cortisol kicks in and make us want to carbo-load. Yep, it makes us crave sugary, fatty, salty foods. In fact, it’s called comfort food for a reason; sugar is more addictive than cocaine and it lights up our brains like a Christmas tree!
Dopamine on the other hand, is a neurotransmitter associated with learning about rewards. It kicks into gear at the promise that something positive is about to happen. And, of course, the comfort food we turn to tastes so good that we look for that high again and again.
Although serotonin, a.k.a. “the happy chemical” itself isn’t in food, tryptophan – the amino acid necessary to produce serotonin – is. Carbs boost serotonin levels and chocolate, too, is linked to a serotonin spike.
We all have days when a chocolate-topped anything feels like the only way to get through the day; emotional eating is a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief from many of life’s challenges. However, it’s a vicious cycle: feel bad – eat – gain weight – feel worse – eat more.
So, how do you stop the mindless munching? First of all, change how you think about food. We have to remind ourselves of the true purpose of food: to nourish us. Set yourself a goal to only eat three meals and two snacks for the next three days.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions. It’s okay to feel sad, tired, mad or scared. Approach your feelings with kindness and your body will begin to understand that it no longer has to overreact to protect you from your feelings.
Make a list of people you can call when you’re feeling upset or angry. Add to the list certain activities to help you to relax and display this on your fridge; pick one when you feel a craving coming on.
Keep a food diary. Write down what you eat, how much you eat and how you’re feeling when you eat, to see the pattern and connection between mood and food. Eat mindfully and concentrate on your fullness cues. Know your triggers and reduce temptations. Clear out sugar and excess carbs from your fridge and pantry. But, don’t deprive yourself. Eat satisfying amounts of healthier foods, enjoy an occasional treat, and get plenty of variety to curb cravings. Make sure to have healthy snacks on hand.
Get moving. It’s not about burning calories. It’s about making you feel better and stopping a destructive pattern. Walk, dance, cycle, skip, or take the stairs instead of the lift, whatever, as long as you move.
You can do this!
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.