Combat Emotional Eating
Every one of us at some point in our lives has fallen victim to a horrible eating pattern known as Emotional Eating.
When most people think of emotional eating, they picture a woman (yes, women are affected by this most often for some reason... blame it on hormones), eating a big bar of chocolate. Or, anything made with chocolate for that matter, like ice cream, cake, or cookies.
Many women (and some men) when they are encountered with stress, whether that stress be financial, mathematical or relationship-related, reach for food.
And often, that food is not the best choice to help deal with stress (i.e., chocolate.... not really a health food even though some people try to tell themselves it is).
But, emotional eating actually takes many forms. Not everyone dives into a pool of chocolate when they feel emotional.
In fact, some people turn away from food completely when life gets stressful and seems out of their control.
Or, some people don't always eat sugary, chocolately foods when they're stressed.
Instead, they just reach for food in general, but it's more food than they really need.
When I was doing my PhD, I was a victim of emotional eating, but I wasn't someone who ate Snickers bars. I was the person who just ate food... and more food.
Whenever I'd sit down to work on my dissertation (also known as the longest scientific paper you've ever written), I'd have to have something beside me to eat.
Now, knowing what I know about nutrition, I stayed away from junk.
In fact, my house doesn't have any junk in it at all. No ice cream, no cookies, no cake, etc. This tactic is one way I manage eating crappy food and feeling even crappier after eating it. I just keep it out of the house and I'm never tempted by it at all.
But, I don't even like those foods anyhow. I do buy cookies for my husband on occasion and even when they're in the house, I don't even touch them. They're not my thing.
My thing is real food: proteins like eggs and turkey, carbs like Ryvita crackers and quinoa, and fats like avocados and nuts.
So, when I get stressed, I eat more of these foods than my body really needs.
Picture me at my desk with plates and bowls all around me.... and me eating them all. Yep, that's what stress does to me.
I've tried gum and flavored toothpicks to keep my mouth busy, but they never really worked.
As a result, when I was writing my dissertation, I packed on extra fat pounds that didn't look or feel so great.
In contrast, one of my colleagues who was writing her dissertation at the same time, avoided food when she was stressed.
In fact, while she was working on her dissertation her clothes became baggier and looser and she dropped at least 10 lbs.
It boogled my mind to see this happening - me gaining weight because I couldn't resist food under stress and her losing weight because she couldn't even look at food, let alone eat it.
Why is this?
Why do some people eat when they get emotional? (stress, anger, sadness) While others avoid food like it's poison?
It turns out that the answer isn't known as of yet. I looked around in the research world and investigators are still trying to find the answer.
Whether it be related to blood sugar fluctuations, or cortisol, or other hormones like estrogen and progesterone, the answer is not clear.
But, what is clear is that if you do suffer from emotional eating, you can do a few things to minimize its effects:
Choose good foods versus junk. Thankfully I'm not a junk eater otherwise my weight gain from emotional eating would have been a lot more than it was. Try the tactic I explained above: keep junk foods out of your house so you won't eat them or don't buy them if you have the option. If it's not in front of you, you can't eat it.
Eat protein and/or fat with carb foods. In an attempt to keep your blood sugars stable, try to avoid eating carb foods alone. Always combine them with a protein food (like cereal with whey protein) or fat (like carrots with hummus, or apple with natural peanut butter) and you won't feel more hungry after eating them than you did before.
Drink water before you eat more food. Sometimes thirst can be confused with hunger, so before you dig into more food, drink a large glass of water first and wait a few seconds to see if you're still really hungry. Water can stretch the walls of your stomach just like food can which sends signals to your brain that you're full. And, because water is a zero calorie option, you won't gain anything other than hydration from drinking it. If you really hate water, try sparkling seltzer water or herbal tea, but NOT diet drinks made from artificial sweeteners. (the sweetness of artificial sweeteners does not curb a sweet tooth and makes you crave more sweetness).
Take a nap! Sometimes we try to fight fatigue with food, but that's just a recipe for disaster. Nothing cures tiredness like a good nap. Now, not all of us can sleep while on the job, but if you have the option to close your office door and take a quick cat nap, that'll recharge your batteries better than any chocolate bar or "energy" drink.
Learn about what you're putting in your mouth. One of the reasons I don't eat junk food is because I know what's in it, and I know what it does to my body. For example, when I learned in my food science class how donuts were made, I honestly NEVER ate a donut again. Never. Bottom line: if you know what's really in the food you're eating, you may never eat it again either. And, thankfully nowadays you don't have to get a degree in nutrition to know more about food - just check the internet and learn, learn, learn. :)
Today, when I get stressed, I still eat, but reach for vegetables first before anything else. I love raw cucumbers and celery the most as they're the lowest in calories but also quite filling.
Then, if I do go overboard, I always make sure I work it off later with a good lift in the gym.
Nothing's better than kicking your own butt in the gym or outside with an energy-fueled workout.
-- Cass :)