Are You an Emo­tional Eater?

If you strug­gle with overeat­ing, this ex­pert ad­vice is for you.

Oxygen - - Contents - By Dr. Lau­ryn Lax, OTD, NTP, CPT

Do Ben and Jerry sum­mon you when you’re bored? Or calm you when you’re anx­ious? Or re­ward you when you’re good? If so, you may be an emo­tional eater.

It might seem like nosh­ing ADD, and it sort of is: Emo­tional eat­ing is the act of eat­ing in re­sponse to an emo­tional trig­ger, an at­tempt to man­age mood with food. And al­though emo­tional eat­ing is of­ten de­scribed as a cop­ing mech­a­nism for neg­a­tive emo­tions, it’s ac­tu­ally the use of food in re­sponse to any and all emo­tions — stress, hap­pi­ness, sad­ness, ex­cite­ment, bore­dom and be­yond. The big ques­tion is — why?

There are any num­ber of rea­sons you might be an­swer­ing the siren song of Lit­tle Deb­bie reg­u­larly. Here are a few to con­sider and what to do to break the cy­cle.

1 Heart Hunger

Of­ten, emo­tional eat­ing boils down to a de­sire to be loved or cared for, and peo­ple turn to food to fill a hole or void: It’s al­ways there for you — tan­gi­ble, avail­able and real. Food is some­thing to oc­cupy you and dis­tract your mind from neg­a­tive thought pat­terns or be­friend you when you’re lonely or com­fort you when you’re stressed.

Break the Cy­cle

• Nour­ish your­self emo­tion­ally. Sched­ule an hour of daily, un­struc­tured you-time, such as get­ting a mani/ pedi, walk­ing your dog or read­ing a book. By “feed­ing” your­self in ways other than with food, you get that self-care you are seek­ing in a health­ier way.

• Talk it out. Ad­dress your emo­tional is­sues with a friend, con­fi­dante or coun­selor rather than reach­ing for the chips. Just like your phys­i­cal health and well­ness is im­por­tant, so is your men­tal health.

• Iden­tify your trig­ger foods. Cer­tain foods elicit an emo­tional re­sponse, such as the feel­ing of com­fort as­so­ci­ated with hav­ing that food as a child, for in­stance. Once you iden­tify these foods, it will be eas­ier to de­flect your­self from reach­ing for them as so­lace in times of heart hunger.

2. Lack of (Yawn) In­ter­est

Bore­dom works its way into emo­tional eat­ing on sev­eral lev­els, the first be­ing sim­ple bore­dom with your food choices. When you’re on a diet, food can be­come a chore: bor­ing, mea­sured and bland. While clean eat­ing def­i­nitely does a body good, over­do­ing it can warp the sense of plea­sure you used to get from eat­ing and could lead to an emo­tion­ally driven drive-thru de­ci­sion at Five Guys.

The sec­ond ten­ta­cle of bore­dom is the ac­tual lack of some­thing to do, and if you’re sit­ting around do­ing noth­ing, you’re more likely to reach for easy food in a mind­less way rather than wait­ing for a meal­time to eat health­fully.

Break the Cy­cle

• Make a new recipe, or try a new spice. By bring­ing plea­sure into your eat­ing rou­tine, you feed the emo­tions that long to be ful­filled.

• Find a hobby that does not in­volve eat­ing. Prac­tice it when you’re ob­sess­ing about food.

• Be­fore eat­ing when you’re bored, rate your level of hunger from 1 to 10. If you’re not hun­gry, don’t eat. If you are, have some­thing healthy or drink a big glass of wa­ter be­cause some­times de­hy­dra­tion can be mis­taken for hunger.

Ap­prox­i­mately 40 per­cent of women in the U.S. are di­et­ing at any given time. And be­cause di­ets of­ten re­strict food op­tions or limit the amount you’re “al­lowed” to eat, they con­se­quently set you up to turn to food in times of stress or anx­i­ety.

3 Be­ing on Au­topi­lot

When life gets busy, it’s easy to just tick things off your check­list robot­i­cally, food be­ing one of them. But if food be­comes noth­ing more than a task, you’ll tend to eat things that are handy and con­ve­nient rather than those that are nour­ish­ing, and pro­cessed items and fast foods could be­come your reg­u­lar fare.

Break the Cy­cle

• Make time for meals. Sit­ting down with friends or fam­ily and hav­ing a healthy meal can be an en­joy­able part of your day, giv­ing you the op­por­tu­nity to be mind­ful about your food choices and re­con­nect with peo­ple who can sup­port you emo­tion­ally, tak­ing that role away from food.

• Em­brace the “foodie” men­tal­ity: Chew, taste, sa­vor and ex­pe­ri­ence food rather than eat­ing it with­out think­ing. By con­nect­ing to your food, you can turn off the mind­less­ness of emo­tional eat­ing and make it into a con­scious ex­pe­ri­ence in­stead.

4 Cake = Crack????

Did you know that cer­tain foods can ac­tu­ally change your brain chem­istry? A study con­ducted at Scripps Re­search In­sti­tute in Florida found that rats given free ac­cess to ba­con, pound cake, cheese­cake and cake frost­ing ex­pe­ri­enced changes in brain ac­tiv­ity that mir­rored what oc­curs in the brains of drug ad­dicts. (So cake = crack? That ex­plains a lot!) An­other study dis­cov­ered that long-term con­sump­tion of junk food re­sulted in re­duced ac­tiv­ity in the sec­tion of the brain that sig­nals “re­ward.” So just like with drugs, you can ac­tu­ally be­come ad­dicted to junk food and sugar, re­quir­ing in­creas­ing amounts of it to get the same high. This ob­vi­ously im­pacts your ra­tio­nal de­ci­sions around food, mak­ing you more sus­cep­ti­ble to emo­tion­ally based choices that pro­vide in­stant hap­pi­ness.

Break the Cy­cle

• Detox slowly. Limit your con­sump­tion of sugar, junk food and ar­ti­fi­cially sweet­ened items day by day, bit by bit — you don’t want to feel com­pletely de­prived or you’ll run back to sugar to save you from that empty feel­ing in­side. Small changes equal big re­sults.

• Eat fre­quently. Hav­ing a sta­ble blood sugar level helps con­trol crav­ings and could help you break the junk-food habit while giv­ing you the where­withal to make bet­ter food de­ci­sions on a daily ba­sis.

5. Too Much Rou­tine

Some peo­ple have dessert with ev­ery meal, give kids pizza and ice cream as a re­ward, or hun­ker down ev­ery night to watch TV with a bag of chips. Treats and cheats can be­come habit if re­peated of­ten enough, and you might find that if you don’t have those chips while watch­ing The Bach­e­lor, you ac­tu­ally feel empty and un­ful­filled. Yes, it’s fine to have a treat oc­ca­sion­ally, but when those treats are re­lated to an emo­tional need, it’s time to re­assess.

Break the Cy­cle

• Take a mo­ment to re­flect on why ex­actly you may be grab­bing the Ghi­rardelli ev­ery night af­ter din­ner. Ask your­self if you re­ally want that treat or if you’re eat­ing it out of habit.

• Do a men­tal swap to tell whether you’re ac­tu­ally hun­gry. Trade pizza for car­rot sticks in your mind when you feel the need to eat; if you ac­tu­ally want to eat the sub­sti­tuted item, you’re re­ally hun­gry. If you don’t, it’s more likely a crav­ing or habit.

• Change your rou­tine. In­stead of eat­ing chips while watch­ing TV, dust off that ex­er­cise bike and get in your car­dio for the day. Bet­ter yet, skip the TV and go for a walk in­stead. £

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