It is something that all of us have heard of, yet unfortunately there is no universal definition on emotional eating. Some people define emotional eating as a process of eating specific foods that can make them feel a lot better. Some people eat emotionally when they are anxious or sad. Others eat when they’re emotionally overwhelmed. For many people, the triggers to emotional eating are boredom, loneliness, distress and anger. Whatever the reason it may be, the final statement is always the same – food make me feel much better!
The only reason why food can make us feel better is because the brain is conditioned to give that specific response. In the presence of triggers, brain tells you to eat and after you eat certain type of food at a specific amount, it rewards you with satisfaction. Any food can stimulate satisfaction, although some foods are likely to be “more rewarding”. Because these foods provide more reinforcement, you tend to seek out for more. Unfortunately, highly rewarding foods are not healthy, as they are high in fat and sugar.
We Are All Emotional Eaters
Everyone is an emotional eater. When we eat, certain substances are released, which gives us comfort and satisfaction at some degree. The emotional reward of eating was important for our ancestors’ survival. It triggered a mechanism that urged them to seek food. Almost everyone, even people with healthy emotional condition have stuffed themselves until almost sick. The driving force behind this behavior is our emotion, which make us emotional eaters. Even if we’re not hungry, the brain may continue to provide reward, which urges us to keep on eating.
Unfortunately, some people tend to relate eating habits with certain behaviors. Essentially, they create scripts that are imprinted in their unconsciousness mind and these behaviors become so habitual that they respond automatically before the conscious stimulus intervenes. This is known as “conditioned learning”, which means that you train your brain to react in a specific manner under certain circumstances. If you eat abnormally when you are sad, angry and distressed then you have a learned behavior. Our brain makes association by linking emotional, motor and cognitive aspects together into a single entity. Each time a single sequence of event occurs and the eating response is triggered, your brain learns to strengthen the connection.
Eliminating Emotional Eating
Your first step should be to identify the likely triggers and build awareness about your condition. It would be helpful to write down possible cause-effect relationships related to your condition. For example “When A happens, I feel B then I want to eat C to make me feel D”. You may not be able prevent A from happening, but at least you should try to eliminate the B feeling. If both are not possible, substitute C with E – a healthier option, so you can still have the D feeling. Breaking a habit is always difficult, so you may feel reluctant to do this at first. These are a few things you should do to deal with emotional eating:
• Try to replace food. You should de-emphasize food in your life and look for other things that can give you satisfaction. Try to reconnect with yourself and find out things that you like most, other than eating. You may find satisfaction in watching movies, exercising, writing or simply, listening to music. If you can find some amount of satisfaction from these activities, look for ways to intensify it. If possible, make it bigger than the satisfaction you get from food. Make sure that your new source of satisfaction can give you benefits, as switching emotional eating with alcohol or tobacco is not exactly a good solution.
• Throw away bad food. We eat poorly because we are surrounded by bad foods. Purge your home from unhealthy foods and fill your refrigerator with tasty fruits and vegetables. When cooked well, lean meat and vegetables can actually taste better than fast foods. Emotional eating can also be minimized with snacks, so make sure you have healthy snack nearby, such as nuts and small-sized fruits, like grapes.
• Make sure you eat well. Your breakfast, lunch and dinner should be satisfactory, which mean they are both filling and healthy. Balanced diet can keep you full for a longer period of time, so it would be easier to separate emotional hunger from real hunger. Satisfactory home-cooked meal can often prevent you from eating out. This habit tends to be unhealthy and can damage your health.
• To help you deal with anxiety and stressors, it is advisable to use natural flower essences. A couple of drops in a glass of water can help you to relax and feel calm. Emotional eating is often triggered by anxiety and flower essence remedy can help you to fend off nervousness. These products are completely safe; you can take each separately or combine them. Each flower has its own benefits and properties, so you may need to take each separately and space them an hour apart.
• Cravings on fried food, salty foods or sweet foods may actually caused by certain nutritional deficiencies. Gymnema Sylvestre, Chromium and Calcium carbonate may be able to reduce your craving and keep your balance. You can purchase these ingredients separately and take them twice a day. It is suggested that you eat moderately after taking them as they can help to lower your blood sugar.
• Taking multivitamin supplements can help you reduce cravings. Women who have period may crave for very salty or sweet foods about one week before the cycle. Cravings may occur because you lack certain vitamins and minerals as well as low in serotonin. Evening Primrose Oil can help to neutralize cravings.
• Take digestive enzymes, these enzymes can help to speed up the nutrient absorption and make you feel more satisfied and fuller.
• The next time you crave for fast food, try to divert your craving to salmon and turkey. Both contain plenty of tryptophan, which can make you relaxed and happy.
• You should avoid artificial sweeteners, such as Nutrasweet and Equal, as people with phenol allergy can feel depressed after consuming them.
• If you drink coffee regularly, you’re more likely to eat emotionally. Caffeine actually can suppress your appetite, but unfortunately when it wears off the hunger rage can make you eat ravenously. Many caffeine addicts tend to binge at night. To get yourself off the appetite roller coaster, you should gradually switch to decaf. It’s a good idea to take selenium supplement to decrease anxiety and elevate good mood.
• Writing a diary each day can help you analyze yourself. You can read your previous entries and determine dominant feelings that trigger emotional eating. It also helps you to monitor your progress and achievements.