Many people think that emotional eating is due to a lack of self-control, I highly disagree. If it was as simple as that then we could easily find this discipline without torturing ourselves over meal plans and paying hundreds of dollars for special diets. In order to overcome emotional eating, let’s first look at the science behind emotional eating. We’ve all seen the scenario on TV where the girl breaks up with her boyfriend and sits on the couch eating a pint of ice cream. A lot of people can relate to this situation in their own lives so why do we reach for certain foods during the times of emotional discomfort? The answer is, endorphins.
What are Endorphins?
Endorphins are a group of hormones secreted within the brain and nervous system which have a number of functions. Simply put, our endorphins help us deal with physical and emotional pain. The feel-good feeling after a workout is caused by endorphins. That is why exercise is the best solution for stress. Without our endorphins, every emotional and physical bump in the road would be catastrophic. You can also refer to these neurotransmitters as opioid peptides, which are produced by the central nervous system and pituitary glands. Drugs such as morphine and heroine act upon these pathways for that numbing feeling. Food can cause the same response in the same mechanism, which is why emotional eating is a bigger issue than self-control.
It doesn’t take an emotional life situation to trigger our endorphins, simple changes like sleep deprivation can do that to us!
Other common causes of emotional eating could be:
Stress- In a chaotic and fast-paced world, high levels of stress can lead to emotional eating.
Stuffing emotions- Food can be a temporary way to silence the uncomfortable emotions which include anxiety, sadness, anger, shame, or loneliness. In this situations, food usually is what numbs the feelings.
Boredom- A lot of people suffering from emotional eating will simply eat to give themselves something to do.
Social influences- Going out for dinner with friends or coworkers is a great way to relieve stress but it can lead to overeating. You simply overeat because there’s food and everyone else is eating.
How to Overcome Emotional Eating
How can we overcome this emotional eating barrier aside from stopping ourselves when we feel compelled to eat?
Keep a diary- Yes! Keep an emotional diary. You may think how is a diary going to help? Let’s say someone made a rude comment about your hair earlier that day and you got upset. Later that day when you go home and go to grab that pint of ice cream or a candy bar, you can take a step back and see what triggered it. Write it all down, from what you ate, to your mood, to how you felt before you ate, and how you felt afterward.
Find other ways to feel the feelings- You need to find a way to manage your emotions in a way that doesn’t involve food or you won’t be able to control your eating habits for long. That is why diets often fail because they offer simple nutritional advice and that kind of advice only works if you have conscious control over your eating habits, the only thing that’s keeping you from eating right is knowledge. Find alternatives to food that you can turn to for fulfillment.
If you’re depressed or lonely, call a friend that’s there for you, play with your pet, or look at your favorite picture with cherished moments.
If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by going for a run or a brisk walk, dance to your favorite song, or hit the punching bag.
If you’re exhausted, treat yourself to a nice hot coffee or tea, take a hot bath with some candles or just wrap yourself in a blanket and watch a movie
If you’re bored, go for a walk or ride a bike, call your friends up and hang out, read a book, turn to your favorite activity (shooting hoops, play the guitar, work on a small project).
The key to success with boredom is filling that boredom with an activity.
Many times we feel powerless over food cravings. When we get the urge, all we can think about is food. You may feel like you don’t have the willpower, but the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think. In the moments where you want to stuff your face, take a step back and think. Go back to your diary and look at what caused it, put off eating for five minutes and ask yourself, how are you feeling? What’s happening emotionally? Understand your emotions, even the bad ones. Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable can be scary, you may feel that once you let yourself get uncomfortable you won’t be able to stop. The truth is that we won’t obsess over or suppress our emotions and we quickly lose the power to control our attention. We need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to our emotional experience, this will allow you to repair emotional problems that cause emotional eating. Our feelings are a window to our interior world, they help us discover our desire and fears, along with frustrations and things that will make us happy.