In a previous article, I addressed the definition of emotional eating, how to identify the differences between emotional and physical hunger, and ways to combat stress without reaching for food. However, the truth is, there may be moments where we still choose food for stress relief. In this case, the key is to simply choose healthier options to snack on.
The fact is, emotional or stress eating can turn into a seemingly unstoppable cycle. You may have moments of victory, and moments where you finished half the tub of ice cream without thinking. Do not focus on the shame or guilt, but instead choose to keep moving forward. Sometimes the knowledge of not fulfilling your goals causes stress and can lead you to turn back to food. At this moment, it can leave you feeling even worse.
The main thing to ask yourself is: Are you eating to satisfy your emotions, or to satisfy your hunger? This is crucial in being able to separate your feelings from food.
Emotional or Stress Eating Affects Us…
The reason why it can be difficult to stop stress eating is because of the release of dopamine that occurs when you eat. This causes an addictive effect, causing you to want more. It makes you feel good. But ultimately, we know that food will not solve the root problems that are causing stress in our lives. Food s merely a temporary way to sweep our problems under the rug. It’s important to address the issues and seek resolutions.
Comfort foods may bring us emotional comfort for a moment, but the physical effects are not comforting. Naturally, stress eating involves overeating and consequently leads to weight gain, low energy and fatigue, eating disorders, high blood pressure, and other health risks such as diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and cancer.
Binge eating disorder is the most common eating disorder in America. It typically leads to a plethora of negative emotions such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and more. In essence, binge eating is a much more intense version of emotional eating. If you struggle with this disorder, please speak with your doctor to address this any disorders to help you on your road to healing.
Productive Ways to Cope with Your Emotions
What happens when you’re feeling down emotionally, or under stress? You likely seek a distraction or some way to feel better. I would like to invite you to try incorporating prayer into your life. Take a moment to talk to God as a friend, expressing how you feel at the moment, and your need for help. You’ll find yourself feeling much calmer and able to think clearly.
Go for walk, get some fresh air, talk to a friend, hug your spouse, cuddle with your pet… there are many ways to cope with stress that do not have negative consequences. Over time, you will find yourself able to turn to healthy options to cope with emotions and stress.
Good for Your Mind, Good for Your Body
As mentioned above, if you find yourself reaching for food, it is better to have a healthy snack. Seek snacks that can help you physiologically! Foods that contain vitamins, magnesium, fiber, and omega-3s will boost your mood, and is equally good for your health! The following categories contain top foods with the highest amounts of benefits:
Magnesium: Whole wheat, spinach, quinoa, nuts, black beans, edamame, avocado
Vitamin B6: Non-GMO soy products, bananas, watermelon, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, sunflower seeds, pistachios, figs, nutritional yeast
Omega-3s: Seaweed, chia seeds, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, walnuts, edamame, kidney beans
“The bottom line is to be mindful, be curious, and be compassionate,” Carrie Dennett, owner of Nutrition by Carrie, advises. “Trying to stamp out stress eating will be futile—and possibly even more stressful—if you aren’t looking for more meaningful solutions that can address the root causes of stress.”
Reflect on what is causing you to feel stress in the first place—maybe a toxic person, life event, or matter at work—and start there.
The Link Between Thirst and Cravings
You might be surprised to know that dehydration could be mistaken for hunger or a desire to eat. The sensations are closely related! However, how do you know whether you’re truly hungry or your body is simply asking for water? Here some signs you can keep an eye out for.
Signs of hunger:
- Empty stomach feeling
- Stomach growls, rumbles, gurgles
- Light-headedness, dizziness, faint feelings
Signs of thirst:
- Sluggish feeling
- Dry eyes
- Food cravings
If you a sense a craving coming, try to drink some water before reaching for the nearest snack. The craving will almost immediately disappear. Alternately, try waiting 10-15 minutes. If you notice your stomach growing, then you must be truly hungry.
Stay hydrated throughout the day. Instead of waiting until you’re thirsty to finally take a sip of water, keep a bottle of water nearby and sip on it consistently. If you’re thirsty, it actually means that your body is at or near dehydration. If you struggle with drinking water, check out some refreshing ways to drink water! Another good way to monitor your daily water intake is to use a large water bottle to help measure the amount of cups you are drinking, and help you set goals on how much more you need.
Food is a common topic that makes its way in conversations. It is closely associated with memories, associations with others, family and cultural traditions, and yes, your emotions. Sometimes your cravings may not only be due to stress, but a craving for something linked to pleasant memories with people, places, and things. Food brings people together. Events are complete when it involves food.
If there is a stimulant or trigger that causes you to indulge, try to disassociate the image or memory that triggers you to eat unhealthy foods and sweets. Overtime, your cravings can and will subside.