Emotional eating and its effects
We’re all guilty of reaching for a treat when we feel like we have been upset. It’s such a cliche that we see it on TV all the time especially when the character is heartbroken. Silly as this point might seem, eating when emotionally distressed is actually a real thing. After all where do you think the phrase ‘comfort food’ comes from? It is the type of food that doesn’t just feed your physical hunger but emotional hunger and it acts like a pick me up or a hug. So what’s wrong with that? I hear you cry. Actually a bit more than you think because emotional eating changes our relationship with food. Do we see it as something to nourish us or do we rely on the endorphins it releases to make us feel better? This is especially an issue if the food is fatty, sweet, salty, processed and bad for you. Quite often those big tastes are the ones that trigger feel good sensations in the brain and we know they are addictive! So emotionally eating junk food is going to be a problem in the long term because it creates a vicious cycle. In the short term it feels good but triggers cravings until more of the addictive food is needed to satisfy the cravings. This leads to guilt which is a very unhealthy emotional connection to make with food. Worse still it prevents you from building healthier coping mechanisms for emotional upset.
The result is an inability to control your weight, and feelings of being out of control. So this pattern needs to be broken so that eating disorders do not develop. Setting good emotional attachments with food needs to start early on in life. Something that researchers at the Department of Population and Public Health Sciences, University of Southern California understand. They did a study about children’s unhealthy food choices being related to emotion. They found that mornings and evenings were two times of the day that were emotional for the third through sixth grade children. At these times negative emotions influenced their food choices. They chose sweet food most, next chips or fries and sugary drinks last of all.
So what can we do to prevent emotional eating?
Identify your emotional eating triggers. What situations and places make you reach for the ice cream? Try to limit stress because the stress hormone cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet and fried foods. Tackle boredom which is a common culprit for emotional eating to fill a void. Look at nostalgic food connections from childhood, we eat food we used to love as a child (again another reason to start building good food connections in childhood). If you don’t know what you do keep a diary to track your eating, you will soon see a pattern that can help heal your habit. If you need help with weight management then you can talk to me about the options at my disposal.