Are you an emotional eater?

18 03 2011
Amy Blackshire

Amy Blackshire

Are you someone that reaches for food when you begin to feel nervous, angry, sad, or even excited? Well you aren’t alone, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with YOU, but instead, these stress-eating behaviors are rooted physiologically, and often are associated with our past experiences. Understanding why we engage in emotional eating, making ourselves aware of our triggers, and learning to engage in alternative responses to stress will be important for our success.

When we become stressed, our body releases a stress hormone—cortisol, which has been shown to facilitate cravings for sweet and salty foods. Some scientists have hypothesized that these cravings served to prompt our ancestors to stock up on food during times of famine/stress, since they may not receive another meal for a long time. Since we are probably not at risk for famine, these cravings simply serve no function for us, but instead simply reinforce the association we have between stress and eating, making stress eating more likely to occur in the future.

Other reasons that we engage in stress eating may be because we have associated food as a positive stimulus in our past. Can you recall going out for ice cream with your family, or when you were upset about something maybe your mom brought you some milk and cookies and promised you that everything would be okay? Our brain is very sharp when it comes to developing associations between experiences and food, and after a lifetime of developing these associations, it may be understandable why we immediately turn to food when we experience certain emotions. Also, have you ever watched someone bite their nails when they were feeling bored and nervous? Well some of us engage in oral-stimulating habits as well as a way to alleviate our boredom, or get our mind off of whatever is bothering us. Would you agree that we use eating to serve this same function sometimes? When something is bothering us, our body wants so badly to think about something else or to feel something else (pleasure), and what better thing to focus on than a sweet, chocolatey Reese’s peanut butter cup? [substitute your favorite option here!]

Before we can begin putting our stress eating to rest so we can move forward with healthy living, we must be willing to be mindful of our emotions and the triggers that often result in our stress eating behavior. We cannot work on eliminating the behavior until we know that it is happening! Think to yourself about the times when you most likely engage in stress eating. Where are you? What time is it? Who is around? How do you feel? What are your thoughts/beliefs about your current situation? And lastly, how do you believe that the food you eat helps your situation and makes you feel a little better? After you have thought about your answers to these questions, make a commitment to yourself to pay attention to when these triggers happen in the next month – keep a log when they occur, noting all of the environmental factors. If you can “catch” yourself before reaching for the food, stop and listen to the things going on inside your body and mind. And if you so wish, you can begin practicing other behaviors for managing your stress.

So what can you do differently? If you are in a situation where you can take a walk, or maybe stop by the gym, exercise is one of the best ways for managing stress. Not only are you removing yourself from the situation that stressed you out in the first place, but your body releases endorphins (and reduces your cortisol) when you exercise that will leave you feeling more refreshed and better able to handle stress in your path.

If you aren’t able to do this, there are many things you can do at your desk or in your living room such as focusing on taking 10 deep breaths to pump oxygen through your body and to your brain and other organs, breathing in all the way down from your belly. You may find it helpful to engage in self talk such as, “I know that the reason I want to eat is because the situation I’m currently in is unpleasant, and food, tasting so good always helps me to get my mind off of bad things. But, I know that eating is only going to make things worse for my body and mind. So, it will be good for me to engage in deep breathing and relaxation instead.”

It will be important to remember that your stress eating did not begin over night, and it will not go away over night. Kicking this habit will take time and focus, and willingness to pay attention to your own thoughts and emotions. Each time you engage in an alternative response to stress that does not involve eating, you will begin to develop new associations between stress, the new behavior, and feeling better—each time being progress! But you will probably experience some struggles along the way as well. This process of living a healthy lifestyle is work – good, meaningful work.

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18 03 2011
Are you an emotional eater? (via The Weight Management Resource Page) | wvuvista

[…] Are you someone that reaches for food when you begin to feel nervous, angry, sad, or even excited? Well you aren’t alone, and there certainly isn’t anything wrong with YOU, but instead, these stress-eating behaviors are rooted physiologically, and often are associated with our past experiences. Understanding why we engage in emotional eating, making our … Read More […]




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