Food & feel­ings Ex­plore the mindbody con­nec­tion

What drives a per­son to eat when the body doesn’t need food?

Diabetic Living - - Contents -

Linda Shumway man­aged her diet care­fully dur­ing the day. She por­tioned food thought­fully, read food la­bels and tracked car­bo­hy­drates. But at the end of the day, her stress set in. Four years af­ter be­ing di­ag­nosed with type 2 di­a­betes, she be­gan eat­ing large quan­ti­ties of Dori­tos, Cheezels and bar­be­cue-flavoured po­tato chips at night. “When they were on sale, I stocked up,” she says. Eat­ing crunchy, salty snacks made her feel spe­cial and kept her emo­tions at bay.

So she kept up the habit for more than a year, un­til she learned of the con­se­quences. “I never re­alised the dam­age

I was do­ing un­til an an­nual blood test re­vealed kid­ney dis­ease, stage 2,” says Shumway. “I now know emo­tions con­trol my eat­ing habits, and I’m de­ter­mined to change my habits for the bet­ter.”



“Com­pul­sive overeat­ing is the in­ges­tion of food be­yond what is needed, against a con­scious wish to stop,” ex­plains J. Michael Gon­za­lez-Cam­poy, med­i­cal di­rec­tor and CEO of the Min­nesota Cen­ter for Obe­sity, Me­tab­o­lism and En­docrinol­ogy. Peo­ple who com­pul­sively overeat don’t just snack at night or eat more than their peers. In­stead, they eat be­yond a feel­ing of full­ness, re­spond­ing to stress and emo­tion rather than hunger.


Food pro­vides a way to cope with emo­tional en­ergy, says Ann Goebel-Fab­bri, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and au­thor of Pre­ven­tion and Re­cov­ery from Eat­ing Dis­or­ders in Type 1 Di­a­betes: In­ject­ing Hope.

And overeat­ing can de­velop into a com­fort­ing habit. She re­calls how a client once told her, “Food has been my best hug.”

Emo­tional trig­gers for eat­ing can be both pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive. They can run the gamut from sad­ness, lone­li­ness and anger to joy and cel­e­bra­tion, says Goebel-Fab­bri. Stress re­lated to work, fam­ily, fi­nances and even va­ca­tions and hol­i­days can find an out­let in food.

Neg­a­tive emo­tions about the act of eat­ing can also play a role. Af­ter overeat­ing, shame can set in, says Gon­za­lez-Cam­poy. That can trig­ger fur­ther eat­ing, launch­ing a vi­cious cy­cle.

Food can also act as a re­ward­ing re­lief af­ter good be­hav­iours. That’s why, for many peo­ple, the com­pul­sion to overeat can arise at the end of the day, es­pe­cially on days when they have care­fully man­aged food in­take. The urge usu­ally sets in at home be­cause it feels like a safe en­vi­ron­ment, says Gon­za­lez-Cam­poy.

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