What are you craving right now?
Tell me, what do crave in those moments? You know "those moments."
In a world of mindfulness, the goal is to live in the present moment without judgement to attachment.
"Those moments" are created by situations in our lives that trigger negative emotions in our brains. With negative emotions such as depression, fear, anxiety, or guilt it can be difficult to detach from the story, situation, and our associated moods. My go-to food in those moments are centered around vitamin C. Not citrus. Chocolate.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL EATING?
Emotional eating is psychologically defined as, "a form of disordered eating, is defined as “an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions” and can be considered a maladaptive strategy used to cope with difficult feelings."
You likely don't need a psychologist's assessment to recognize your own soothing behavior. You already know you are craving chocolate, salty, friend thing The bigger question often becomes, "why can't I stop the food cravings and eating?"
We eat, feel guilty, fuel more negative emotions, and start the cycle all over again.
CERTAIN FOODS ARE LIKE DRUGS TO OUR BRAIN
We often hear the term “emotional eating” on television when a woman or man are eating after a stressful or disastrous event has taken place. Eating in every society is tied to ceremonies and celebrations. Because of this, we are all wired to eat in tandem with happy and sad occasions. It is normal to crave a bag of potato chips or cookies (carbohydrates, fats, sugar, and salt) after a stressful day at work.
So why do can’t we convince our bodies to crave healthy alternatives?
Carbohydrates, sugar, and saturated fats release chemicals within the body to stimulate areas of the brain that relieve pain and release an endorphin high. These are the same areas of the brain that are stimulated when we consume opoid pain medications or cannaboid. These foods are simulating a “drug high.” With repeated eating during heightened emotions, you are training your brain to want and crave the euphoric feeling from time each time you feel pain or sadness.
HOW DO I KNOW I NEED HELP FOR EMOTIONAL EATING?
Emotional eating is an issue that require help if one of these two problems is arising in your life. The first red flag is if the behavior is leading to weight gain or obesity. Another indicator is if you feel out of control around food or are hiding your eating from others. From time to time, it is ok to indulge, so you should never be afraid of eating.
HOW CAN WE RETRAIN THE BRAIN TO OVERCOME EMOTIONAL EATING?
I don't know about you, but I can grade the severity of my emotions according to what I am craving.
Minor hiccup: A simple piece of chocolate, savor it, breathe, and go back to routine.
Stay out of my way food: (i.e., DefCon 4) these moments in life require the whole pan of gluten free chocolate brownies eaten straight out of the warm pan.
I ask about food cravings during all of my stress management lectures with clients. In talking to over 20,000 people in over 50 lectures in the last two years- no one has yet to say brussel sprouts, apples, or kale.
USING MINDFUL TECHNIQUES TO OVERCOME EMOTIONAL EATING
Until emotional heating is healed, a sustained weight loss program can be difficult to maintain. However, there is hope to reversing this pattern. I suggest implementing this three step brain health and mindfulness-based approach.
1. Name your emotion
Recognize your emotions and name them. For example, you could say to yourself, “My boss’ behavior at work today made me feel angry.” Emotional eaters are often detached from their negative emotions until they are physically eating the comfort food that is soothing these feelings.
2. Create a non-comfort food list
Create a list of other self-soothing behaviors that help you release these emotions. Activities can include taking a hot shower, walking outside, or talking about your frustrations and feelings to a compassionate confidant.
3. Find support in people instead of food.
Create a support system to help you practice steps 1 and 2. Just because emotional eating has been a lifelong pattern does not mean you cannot rewire your brain to default to healthier, soothing behaviors.
Long term mindfulness-based stress reduction programs have shown in clinical studies to help with disordered eating behaviors. It is no doubtably hard to "stop and breathe" in the middle of heightened emotions. The alternative is to employ a daily mindful practice so that your brain is not as easily triggered in highly emotional charged states. A mindfulness-based practice like daily meditation will help you avoid reaching the high alert state where the entire pan of brownies disappears before you feeling a state of calm.
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