Are you an Emotional Eater?

Do you turn to food when you feel stressed or unbalanced?

If you’re an emotional eater you generally use food on a regular basis to address emotional needs instead of using other coping or soothing methods. Emotional needs can range from stress or boredom to celebratory or reward behaviour.

Have you ever found yourself eating extra when you have a deadline at work, when you just had a fight with a loved one, or when you are simply upset Have you ever used food to reward yourself for an accomplishment?

For some people, emotions are a significant eating trigger. Stress and the resultant stress hormones can be a causative factor in weight gain. Studies show that stressed people may have difficulties losing weight due to neurotransmitter imbalances such as lowered serotonin levels. We all have stress hormones that are usually at controlled levels however severe stress can cause an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) which can increase appetite and endocrine disruption which can shift body fat to the visceral area (abdominal fat). Increased cortisol can also contribute to insulin resistance which further exacerbates the problem of weight gain.

Also, many people who are emotional eaters have been programmed to use food as a coping mechanism or self-reward. As a child you may have been given food to make you feel better when you were upset or a special meal with food you really liked to acknowledge you for something you did. The mere act of eating therefore results in emotional rewards, and this can lead emotional eating.

Unfortunately, using food as a coping mechanism or self-reward does provide comfort, and that’s why people find themselves drawn to it.

Once you’re able to mindfully realise that an emotion is driving you to eat, as opposed to an actual biological need, you are able to start learning to cope and deal with the emotions in other, healthier ways.

Here are some tips for emotional eaters that will help you conquer your emotions without food:

  1. Water – Staying hydrated is important for everything from brain function to proper energy metabolism, but the big bonus is that it fills you up. This effect is only temporary, however, unless you combine it with fibre.
  2. Fibre – Soluble and insoluble, fibre swells up with water and takes a long time for your body to pass through the digestive system. In addition, you get the nice side effects of lower cholesterol, even blood sugar levels, better intestinal health etc.
  3. Take deep breaths – Stress causes your body to increase cortisol. Increased cortisol can create a resistance to leptin. Leptin is a hormone that helps you feel full. So the more stressed you are the less able you are to tell when you’re full. Breathing can increase the oxygen flow in your body, which helps you think more clearly. Rational thinking helps you come up with good alternatives to soothing yourself with cupcakes [sugars and lollies etc].
  4. Watch for trigger words – Emotional eaters tend to be very good at letting themselves think in ‘extreme statements’ like ‘always, never, ever, perfect, disaster and impossible’. If you hear yourself saying these words, try to counter them with a less-extreme term, like ‘sometimes, occasionally, good enough, and so on’. Speak gently to yourself so that you don’t wind yourself up and end up emotionally eating.
  5. Walk it out – Moving your body releases a flood of feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins and neurotransmitters, which elevate your mood. Go for a walk, or even do a 1 min plank session—do whatever it takes to get that blood flowing.
  6. Listen to music – Music doesn’t just calm your mind, it also calms your body. Music has many therapeutic benefits because it affects the brain in so many complex ways. Certain types of music have been shown to … calm mood, manage stress, and alleviate pain. Play some recorded music for at least twenty minutes. Or, keep it on in the background to soothe you throughout the day (especially if you know it will be a tense day!).
  7. Protein reduces hunger pains – Ok time to get academic. Apologies in advance. Short version – Protein in all its forms reduces hunger! A key benefit of a low-glycaemic-index carbohydrate, protein modified diet is its ability to improve satiety (feeling of fullness) and thereby reducing caloric intake. Varying your proteins on the program (chicken, fish, beef, tofu etc.) will give you all the different types of amino acids. Proteins have all been found to produce reductions in food intake for up to three hours following their ingestion by increasing the satiety hormones cholecystokinin (CCK) and glucagon- like peptide-1 (GLP-1), as well as prolonging the postprandial suppression of grehlin, the hormone that stimulates appetite.
  8. Now here’s a curve ball. Trick your sweet tooth – My time in corporate formulating products had me adding valuable insights into the power our olfactory system (sense of smell). According to some studies if you sniff the scent of vanilla it may help your sweet cravings. According to some experts the sweet smell of vanilla sends neuropeptides via the gut brain link which makes you feel like you have eaten something sweet. Use any vanilla scent however I love to use Modere’s Body Butter as it has a beautiful vanilla aroma. The added benefit is my skin looks good too!