Emotional overeating- how to deal with it.

Disordered eating habits can develop as a coping mechanism for dealing with unpleasant emotions. But emotional hunger cannot be filled with food. After eating to fill an emotional need rather than satiate hunger, you feel worse about yourself for eating the unnecessary calories and lacking self-control.

This then leads to more negative emotions and the pattern repeats itself. In order to combat out of control eating, you need to find a means to break this vicious cycle. The following points may resonate with you and provide an opportunity to make a change.


#1: Hungry, angry, lonely tired? Recognize your triggers

Emotional eating is a coping mechanism for unpleasant feelings. You may be eating to fill an emotional void. Next time you feel the urge to reach for junk food, HALT, take a few minutes, and assess why you are eating. Are you truly hungry? If you truly are, the thought of healthy foods and snacks should be appetizing.

Perhaps you are angry or anxious, feeling lonely or sad, or maybe you are just tired, and need to rest. You may even be thirsty. First, try having a tall glass of water and see if that satiates you.

Learning to recognize your triggers are an important step in short circuiting the habit of emotional eating. Taking the time by working with a therapist to determine the deep rooted causes of why food has become an addiction will help to bring clarity to what may feel like an emotional tornado.

Slow down and check in with yourself. The next step is to have a strategy in place for when you are feeling vulnerable. Do you have a trusted friend or family member you can call to take the edge off?

Make a list of healthy things you like to do for fun or to relax so that you have choices. In the beginning it may feel impossible to do anything else but to stuff down that extra cookie, but be patient with yourself and your process and it will get easier.

stress eating and the reward system

#2: Practice mindful and balanced eating

Binge eating often is a component of emotional eating. If you find yourself restricting your food intake in order to loose weight and then go overboard eating everything in sight, you need to restore balance and learn to eat normally again. Be prepared for your next temptation to binge with these 5 strategies to stop binge eating.

The aphorism, ‘everything in moderation’ should come to mind. Document your eating habits in a food journal with everything you put in your mouth and at what time of day. You may even make a column for comments where you write down any feelings associated with the meal.

You will be surprised with the connections you may make with other issues in your life that will help you understand why your eating has become disordered in the first place. The act of writing is also cathartic and will help you to be more conscious about what and how much you are eating. It is better to get your emotions out on paper rather than stuffing them down and feeling guilty later. And as we’ve discussed, this guilt helps to perpetuate the misplaced behavior.

Finally, a journal allows you to have a documented history of your eating patterns. A nutritionist and /or qualified therapist can look at your journal and make suggestions about how to eat a more balanced diet and stop overeating for good. This brings me to Point #3.

#3 The fear of fat

If you are cutting out all fat in a fruitless attempt to loose weight, you will certainly find yourself ravenous later. Fat helps to keep you full and remember not all fat is bad fat.

Many people develop a fear of certain foods or types of foods. Fully cutting out this “fear food” of your diet will make you crave it more. That gives food power over you. Work toward having a small amount so your fear food is not a forbidden fruit.

At first, you may not feel safe allowing yourself some on your own, so start out eating it with a trusted friend or family member to make sure you stay on the right track.

#4: Food is not a reward… or punishment

Strict dieters may use food as a reward. “I can only have this slice of pizza if I run 5 miles first.” This thinking can keep you in a downward spiral of constantly being dissatisfied, a very stressful state in which to live your life. When you put restrictions and contingencies on your diet you are actually punishing yourself over and over again.

A healthy relationship with your body can never be created when food is a reward. We have all heard the analogy of fuel to a car engine but in order to really nourish ourselves we must love and respect our bodies. As you learn to re-cultivate the relationship you have with your body, start to eat to take care of yourself.

This will inherently help you to make better food choices, but you first need to truly believe you deserve it.

#5: Decrease stress

Cortisol is a hormone in the body that is produced during stress reactions. It is normal for cortisol levels to fluctuate during the day, but chronic stress can cause them to remain high.

When your nervous system is constantly in sympathetic mode, your heart rate is elevated, blood vessels constrict, and blood pressure rises. Part of the stress response often includes increased appetite to fuel the body for the “fight or flight” response, resulting in cravings for comfort foods. This can create a classic self-fulfilling prophecy, as our food choices also affect our hormones.

Comfort foods produce serotonin, a calming hormone. So if you are seeking your comfort foods again during a stressful period, chances are you will feel guilty and be mad at yourself later, thus creating more stress and perpetuating the process. Its helpful to learn some facts about nutrition and how different foods can affect your body.

For instance, all carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin. With some information in your arsenal, you can make a wise choice. For a steady supply of this feel-good chemical, it’s best to eat complex carbs, which take longer to digest and help to stabilize blood sugar.

Below is a list of foods that can helpcurb stress hormone levels:

• Oranges- vitamin C can lower blood pressure and lower levels of cortisol

stress eating and the reward system
• Spinach- contains magnesium which has calming effects
• Fatty Fish- contains eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) which is the primary antiinflammatory omega-3 fatty acid in the brain
• Chamomile Tea- contains anti-inflammatory constituents
• Cooked Oatmeal (not the instant kind with added sugar)- Produces serotonin and contains beta-glucan, the type of soluble fiber that keeps you feeling full
• Almonds- Rich in vitamins B2 and E to boost the immune system
• Avocados -Rich in glutathione, a substance that specifically blocks intestinal absorption of certain fats that cause oxidative damage
• Garlic- helps strengthen the immune system which weakens under stress
• Peppermint- relaxes the nervous system

Physical activity reduces stress chemicals as exercise boosts oxygen circulation and causes your body to produce endorphins, feel good hormones. Meditation and Yoga are proven to be effective for reducing stress. A part of this is the focus on your breathing as you move.

This focus and awareness can translate to more mindfulness throughout the day. You will be better equipped to recognize how to handle your emotional eating triggers, appreciate your body, and feel good about what it can do.

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