Thursday, November 15, 2012

Eating Your Emotions

We all know the importance of maintaining a healthy weight, and how many people seem to struggle with it. One of the reasons people gain too much or too little weight is because they eat (or don’t eat) to cope with their emotions rather than their hunger. This is called “Emotional Eating”. Eating comfort foods such as cookies, ice cream, or unhealthy snacks, or for some people skipping meals, may be satisfying for the moment, but they are just a temporary fix. The unresolved feelings such as anger, fear, anxieties and sadness are still there.

There is a physiological reason that our emotions, sense of taste and smell are so closely linked. They are mainly located in the limbic system of our brain. The limbic system is focused on ensuring survival. Our survival instincts cause us to have strong negative feelings towards foods that have made us sick in the past. Similarly, our survival instincts cause us to have positive feelings and/or cravings for foods that are high in fats and sugars in times of stress. These high calorie foods helped our ancestors when survival was dependent on physical activities such as hunting, or escaping from wild animals, rival tribes or bad weather. This is why certain smells can instantly make us feel sick, or take us back to feelings of comfort and security that we got when eating grandma’s cookies or a favorite dish that mother used to make.

We all eat foods for emotional comfort. In moderation, emotional eating is not a problem. It can be a coping mechanism that helps us manage our response to stress, disappointments, and pain, which we all experience from time to time. However, if we turn to emotional eating too often, it becomes an escape from dealing with life’s issues and concerns. Problems rarely improve if we avoid them through emotional eating. Any behavior such as abuse of alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, spending, or eating, may provide temporary comfort, but over time can be harmful. Unhealthy eating can lead to obesity and other serious health issues as well as low self-esteem.
The unintended consequences of escaping negative feelings by consuming unhealthy foods, or by restricting food intake are often guilt and shame. The temporary gain of escaping negative feelings will not resolve the underlying issue that caused the emotional distress. In fact, the guilt and shame of emotional eating adds an additional layer to it. In addition, if we become overweight or dangerously underweight, this may impact how others view us and how we view ourselves.
If you find yourself turning to food, or away from food, when you are sad, angry, disappointed, or scared, then it may be time to take a closer look at your behavior and consider making changes.
Tips for emotional eaters:
· The first step is awareness. Keep a diary or log to track your eating. When you make an entry decide if you are eating for emotional reasons or for genuine hunger. If it is for emotional reasons, try to identify what you were thinking about before you had the sudden urge to eat your favorite comfort foods.
· Identify your triggers (times when you have the urge to emotionally eat) and create a plan for what you will do such as: take a walk, talk to a friend, or find another productive activity that you enjoy.
· Change your thinking. If you are upset or anxious about something, try to put it into a different perspective. No matter how bad things are, there are always positive aspects that you can focus on. This will help you get past the urge to eat for emotional reasons.
· Consider enlisting other professional help from a nutritionist, personal trainer, and/or mental health counselor for additional assistance in creating a wellness plan. The plan may include healthy eating, managing thoughts and emotions, and exercise.

· If you are ready to make positive changes in your eating habits, it is important to simultaneously develop healthier ways of coping with your feelings and the ups and downs of life. If you take away a key coping mechanism (even an unhealthy one) without replacing it with something better, you are left with a void. That's when a counselor can help.

It is easy to find ourselves slipping into unhealthy responses to difficult situations. For some it is tempting to seek comfort through food which often leads to other health and personal problems. The good news is that people change everyday. Is this your day to make a change?

Additional articles on emotional eating:

Support group – Overeaters anonymous:

Source: ConocoPhillips Health Moment