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Food doesn't judge you. It doesn't let you down. Can you name a time that food hasn't been there (or at least wasn't readily available) when you needed it? Neither could I. Food is safe. It's dependable. Food is the best friend some folks will ever have because of those very reasons.
In fact, experts estimate that 75% of overeating is due to emotions. We learn at an early age that food makes us feel good.
- You're rewarded with a trip to McArches after winning the big game.
- You're comforted with a trip to McArches after losing the big game.
- You're rewarded with candy for good grades in school.
- You're comforted with ice cream after a bad first date.
And as we get older and our emotions become more complex, so does our love affair with food. The emotion-eat-emotion cycle becomes worse as we get older and our relationship with food keeps us from truly solving the problems causing us the emotions in the first place!
It All Starts Upstairs
Serotonin (a neurotransmitter found in the human brain) is involved in many behaviors such as hunger, sleep, sexual response, impulse control, aggressive behavior and anger, depression, anxiety and perception.
"Abnormally low levels of serotonin might be found in someone who is suicidal, who is particularly aggressive towards others, or a person who is extremely depressed. High levels of serotonin may be found in a person who is in a constant state of anxiety, has a tendency to be over-exacting in completing tasks, who suffers insomnia, or who has a tendency to feel overly stimulated by their surroundings (overwhelmed)." (Source: something-fishy.org)
Low levels of serotonin, which could contribute to a person's sense of depression, are increased when high levels of sweets, starches, or carbohydrates are eaten. As serotonin levels rise, a feeling of well-being is created in the brain.
The problem then becomes the sugar you've just ingested. Fast burning carbs like sugar or starch are more quickly absorbed by the body. In other words, they burn off fast. From the neck up, anyway...
But from the neck down, these starchy carbs start a chain reaction that cannot be stopped! While the chemicals in your brain are doing the happy dance and you're starting to "feel better", your pancreas is creating insulin (cue the ominous music).
I like to call insulin the "traffic cop" that escorts sugars to where they're most needed. The more sugar you ingest, the more insulin your body makes. If there's too much insulin (from too much sugar), it sits around, waiting for someone to tell it where it can be best used. If it cannot be used, your body metabolizes it into ugly, yellow, artery-clogging fat.
An insulin spike will remain in your body for up to 5 hours! This is how someone who is obese can still be malnourished and have vitamin deficiencies. They're creating more fat based on what they're eating and not ingesting the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals.
These Emotional Eaters are full of starchy carbs and have no desire to eat the foods that would regulate their blood sugar levels and give them the vital nutrients they need for survival!
In fact, the more sugary sweets a person eats, the more outta-whack your serotonin levels can get, creating an actual dependency on the sugar-serotonin relationship to feel better!
The problem with Emotional Eaters is that, most of the time, they aren't aware of what they're doing. These Emotional Eaters become Masters of Excuse-Making in order to justify the food they're putting in their mouths. Excuses like:
- I didn't sleep well last night. I need something that will give me some energy!
- A little bit's not gonna hurt me. (Also anything starting with the words "Just this once...")
- Ooh! A free sample!
- I've had a (insert "good" or "bad") day. I deserve a break!
- I hate being the 'picky eater' when we go out to eat.
- So-and-so is having a slice of cake and it looks so good. I want a piece too!
Identifying the excuses is only the first step, though. The hard part becomes not allowing the excuses to control what you eat!
Most of the time, guilt over what someone is eating is not enough of a factor to keep them from eating. We all know that marshmallows in large quantities are bad for you - but it wouldn't stop you from eating a S'more or Rice Krispie Treat!
The best way to overcome the "Excuse Demon" is to list every single reason you think you deserve your favorite sweet. Write 'em all down on a piece of paper. Make a list! Now post that list on the fridge or kitchen cabinet. The next time you go to eat, if the reason you're going into the cabinet or fridge appears on that list, find something else to do.
Take a walk. Watch a TV show. Blog. Whatever you need to do to keep from eating at that particular time. Chances are the urge will pass as you deal with the emotion you're facing.
12 Steps To Overcoming Emotional Eating Once And For All
Now that you've established where the need to feed is coming from and the excuses that make it easier to eat the foods that are creating the silhouette you don't want, how do you permanently banish Emotional Eating forever?
Here's a 12-Step Program to retrain your brain's reliance on food for comfort:
Step 1: Give Your Body The Right Kind Of Fuel
5-6 small meals a day will regulate your blood sugar levels and keep you from wanting that serotonin surge from sugary foods.
Step 2: Eat Good Carbs
If it's white, forget it. Sugar, white bread, white rice - these are going to spike your insulin levels and only give you a momentary high.
Step 3: Manage Your Stress
I know, easier said than done. Create something nice that you do for yourself daily, weekly, or once a month. For me, it's Sundays - I have a "Spa day at home". I take an extra-long shower, give myself a facial, manicure, pedicure. I take time to appreciate the hard work I've put in the gym and give myself permission to relax.
Step 4: Spot The Triggers
What makes you want to eat? Remember to put that list on the fridge or cabinets and DON'T put food in your mouth if it fits one of those Eating-Excuses!
Step 5: Re-Train Your Brain
Try to establish new habits. Take a walk after dinner instead of having dessert. Find something to replace your "old" learned ways of coping. Do them daily for at least 21 days until it becomes a new habit.
Step 6: Phone A Friend
Everyone needs that one person they call/chat/email whenever they're having problems. Let that person know what you're going through and that you'll need them a bit more in the coming weeks. If they're a true friend, they'll be happy to help.
Step 7: What's Your Goal?
Consider this an early "Bucket List". What did you want to accomplish this week/month/year? Run a 5K? Lose 10lbs? Write it down and start checking them off as you complete them!
Step 8: Throw Away Your Scale
That thing causes nothing but trouble. How many times have you begged it to say one thing and it shows you a higher number? Just throw it away and let your clothes show you how well you're doing by how well they fit on you!
Step 9: Blog Away!
Keep a journal, blog, or some other form of written thought-process. Don't let anyone else read it but you. This will keep you honest! Write about how you're feeling, what may have triggered your need to eat that day, and what you did about it - good or bad. Then refer back to previous journal entries when you're having a bad day to pick yourself up without food helping you!
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Step 10: Join A Group
Yoga, your gym, your church, whatever! Get involved with other people who are experiencing your same difficulties and frustrations. I assure you, you aren't the first person to struggle with emotional eating...and when you've conquered it - you can pay it forward by helping others in the group as well!
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Step 11: Check Your Surroundings
Do you have a co-dependent? A co-worker or family member who brings you down or gets you to eat with them? Lay down some strict ground rules to lay the foundation for your new way of coping/eating. If they don't follow those rules, it may be time to find a new relationship with someone else!
Click To Enlarge.
Lay Down Some Strict Ground Rules To Lay The
Foundation For Your New Way Of Coping/Eating.
Step 12: Be OK With Being Human
You aren't perfect. Neither am I. No one is. You aren't going to triumph over your long-ingrained eating habits in one day. This is going to take time. Be OK with taking the occasional step back...knowing that your next meal will put you back on the right track!
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