Emotional eating is a known roadblock to weight loss, and can leave people feeling helpless about their response to stress and emotions. There are many reasons, both biological and psychological, why we turn to foods when we are feeling negative.
If we are trying to lose weight and maintain an active lifestyle, it is imperative that we develop a healthy relationship with food. Often, understanding why we eat emotionally is the first step to addressing our behaviour.
Why do we eat emotionally?
On a biological level, many of us turn to emotional eating during stressful times because of the chain of reactions that occurs in our brains when we eat.
Glucose and fructose (the two forms of sugar we consume) are present in all carbohydrates, starches and sugar-sweetened foods. Numerous studies have shown that consuming sugars affects the brain in a major way. A study conducted by the Department of Psychology at Princeton University found that the consumption of sugar triggers the release of opioids and dopamine in the brain. Eating carbohydrates is also correlated with an increase in serotonin. Opioids, dopamine and serotonin are all “feel good” substances when they act in the brain: They reduce physical pain, provide relief and stimulate pleasure receptors.
As if those biological components of emotional eating weren't difficult enough to combat, there are also plenty of emotional reasons why we turn to food for temporary relief. According to Psychology Today, many of us lack the coping skills to deal with unpleasant feelings. Many of us use eating as a means to escape from problems that plague us.
What happens after we’ve binged?
We don’t need to tell you that binge eating rarely feels great in the aftermath, especially if you had been trying to adhere to a weight loss plan. Negative feelings of shame often accompany emotional eating, which only make us more unhappy and deter us from pursuing our healthy living goals through to the end.
How to avoid emotional eating
Finding positive ways to deal with stressors is central to avoiding emotional eating. Develop healthy responses, such as going for a run, calling a friend to chat, or writing about your emotions in a journal. At first these activities may seem forced, but over time, they will become part of the ‘comfort zone’ you crave when you’re feeling down.
It is also important to practise mindful eating. By eating mindfully, you can train your brain to slow down and eat food as it is meant to be experienced: with pleasure and fulfilment. Consider a few of these tips for eating mindfully:
Eat at a table without distractions: Don’t binge in front of the TV, at your desk or while browsing your Facebook feed. This will help you focus on your food.
Use your senses: Your sense of taste was designed for eating food! As you chew, observe the flavours, textures and sensations of the eating experience. As you eat your meal, take the time to smell and view your food as well. Appreciate its appearance and become enamoured by its scent.
Chew slowly: This is closely related to the tip above, but it deserves its own line because it is so important. Chew slowly so you can savour every mouthful and increase the amount of time it takes to consume your food. We often eat beyond fullness because our stomach hasn’t had the time to alert our brains that we’ve had enough.
Stock your refrigerator intelligently: In addition to buying healthy, whole foods while you’re at the grocery store, put fresh veggies, fruits and other healthful items at eye level in your fridge so you see them and crave them.
We’d Love Your Feedback
Have you fallen prey to emotional eating? If so, are there any particular things you’ve noticed that trigger your emotional eating?
Do you have any other tips to avoid emotional eating, or experiences you would like to share?