By Betty Murray
In our culture today, eating is emotional. We eat foods we love and foods that make us feel good. Eating is often psychological—a matter of pleasure, comfort, or of care. We eat to celebrate. We eat to grieve. We take food when a new baby is born, or when a friend loses a loved one.
Many people also turn to food to cope with feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression. Food is comforting. Research shows that hormones released from the stomach influence the human brain. The foods we crave may influence that hormonal release.
Emotional eating often becomes a mindless, hand-to-mouth action. If it isn’t kept in check, emotional eating can lead to overeating, resulting in weight gain and possibly even health complications. If you are prone to emotional eating, here are a few tips to help you have a healthy relationship with food and overcome emotional eating.
1. Understand why you eat. Before eating, take a minute to ask yourself why you are eating. Is it because you are depressed, anxious, or stressed? If yes, find an alternative to eating, such as participating in a hobby or exercising. Find a means to distract yourself and replace your negative feelings with something other than food.
2. Practice mindful eating. Do not allow yourself to eat in front of the TV or in other situations where eating may become a mindless activity. Instead, make eating mindful. Turn off the TV. Put the book or phone down. Set the table and sit down to eat at the table. Make eating your focus and it will be much more satisfying and you will be more aware of the amount of food you are consuming.
3. Keep a food journal. Write down the foods you eat and how you feel when you eat. Doing so will help you identify episodes of emotional eating and patterns or triggers that may contribute to the unhealthy habit.
4. Exercise regularly. Physical activity is one of the best ways to tackle stress, depression, and anxiety, among other emotions. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” hormone, while clearing your mind of inhibitions and allowing you to think more clearly.
5. Make sleep a priority. Sleep deprivation often leads to overeating or mindless eating. When you are sleep deprived, you are more prone to stress and anxiety, which can trigger emotional eating. Research has shown that people who sleep as much they want eat as many as 550 fewer calories than those who get less sleep than they want or need.
Food should be enjoyed, but we must be cautious of using food to cope with negative feelings such as stress, depression, grief, or anxiety. If you think you may be an emotional eater, take some time to evaluate your habits and practice mindful, healthy eating.
Betty Murray, CN, HHC, RYT is a Certified Nutritionist & Holistic Health Counselor, founder of the Dallas-based integrative medical center, Wellness and founder of the Metabolic Blueprint wellness program. Betty’s nutrition counseling practice specializes in metabolic and digestive disorders and weight loss resistance. A master of the biochemistry of the body, Betty teaches her clients how to utilize nutritional interventions to improve their health. Betty is a member of the Institute of Functional Medicine and the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.