Do you ever find you eating is incessant at night after all the jobs are done, it’s been a hard day so you deserve it?
Do you notice you are grazing all day long, or dipping into the biscuit time when you are frustrated by something at work?
Have you recently become a new Mum and suddenly find yourself eating more cakes than you’d like because this Mom stuff is lonely?
These are signs that you are eating emotionally.

Eating is central to the behaviour of people. Our eating behaviours are dependent on several factors beyond our physiological needs: hunger, genetic or metabolism. What this means is that our environment and minds play a role in food choice and consumption. (1)

Emotional eating happens when our threat system is activated, in cavemen terms you are head on with the grizzly bear deciding what can I do. Eating in response to fear can most certainly be a normal response. You feel a threat, you eat as part of a calming strategy, you feel what you feel and then you move back to regular eating patterns once the threat has subsided. But what is it the keeps you in the continuous response? What keeps you in the behaviours?

Despite what most people feel, emotional eating is not just a lack of control, discipline or willpower. If it were that easy we could easily absorb all the information online and wipe out obesity! Ok well maybe not, but we wouldn’t have to be so obsessed with diets, meal plans and the rest.

Some people resist looking at emotional eating and may not know why:

  • Not aware of the signs, or even how much you are eating. Do you stay going with the chips in the pot long after your brain has signalled I am full.
  • Food is your pleasure, your release. You love your food and you don’t want to give up.
  • Feelings are what you are trying to avoid, and you’ve learned that eating is a very nice way of soothing that discomfort.
  • You just don’t like your body, and though you’ve cut the calories right down, you are still not feeling happy within and the diet isn’t giving you what you need.
  • You don’t feel confident that there are dietary changes you could make to influence eating and how you feel. You’ve tried that many before and none have worked.

Compulsive eating means you’ve eaten beyond your physiological need and now you feel physically unwell.

But for emotional eating to be impacting how you are feeling you don’t need to be at this level. You just need to notice if your physical hunger was understood and factored into the meal. Did you actually enjoy what you were eating? Did the calming feelings last longer than a few moments of taste pleasure? Have you paused to think about your eating patterns?

Food is fuel, medicine and central to your health and wellbeing.

Emotions stuff can be off-putting to tackle, even shameful, and if you aren’t ready that’s ok.

Here’s a little hope!

With consistent new evidence emerging about this whole area of Gut-Brain connection, it is refreshing to know and learn that we can support our emotions through our gut (2).

So let’s get back to physiological responses at play when we are eating our emotions.

First off stress plays a huge role. This can be big stresses of life but also the smaller persistent daily niggles of life. These include fear of food, busyness, loneliness, guilt and shame of being out of control with food and also the sadness you may feel about your body.

Restrictive eating can be a stress on the body as it’s worried when it’ll be fed next. Over-exercising a tired body or a body that is struggling to work efficiently can be a stress. Stress can be uncertainty about your job, your ability to fight COVID should you contract.

What we know about all these stressors, in particular prolonged stress, is that it is implicated in unfavourable neurological responses through the gut-brain axis and can create significant health risks. (3, 4,5)

Without diving into the science too much, when you are stressed you have more glucocorticoids floating around in your body. The hunger and digestion hormones insulin, leptin and ghrelin are all out of sorts and your ability to break down fat cells reduces and your fat store around the middle increases.

But also the kinds of foods that you are drawn towards are those that give you a reward feeling, you know sugar, bread etc. Your continued stress state promotes your body to seek out stress relieving foods that will produce a calming ‘dopamine’ release. Unfortunately this will typically mean a higher calorie intake which does nothing for your health or waistline.

Other reactions from stress occur in your digestive system where you begin to notice bloating, belching, heartburn, alternating constipation and diarrhoea, pain and cramping, mood swings, lack of concentration to name a few. When our body is fighting the grizzly bear, our blood flows away from our digestive system so no optimal digestion and absorption of nutrients can happen.

Can you see how and why we link emotions and food now?

WHAT YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR YOU!

I would love to say I can share with you the magic bullet of info, but I can’t. For each and every one of us, it takes time to work on the discovering triggers and stressors in your physiology, psychology and your environment. If you want to make permanent changes, you can find my support offerings here.

Emotional Eating is a powerful way to find relief, it’s why we all do it at some point or other.

But if this cycle is bugging you at the moment and you just need a couple of ideas to help then look at HOW you are eating.

  1. Eat 3 meals a day, simple right, but even committing to 3 meals a day ESPECIALLY if you have had an emotional eating episode will the transformational for you.
  2. Sleep, get lots of it. And if your sleep is interrupted, nap. More sleep, less cravings. Less cravings, more control.
    Remember this eating does not require any special talents, it simply requires appreciation and respect both for ourselves and our food.
  3. SLOW DOWN. Mindful eating has been shown to have a positive effect on all the variables I have mentioned above.

Warmest wishes,
FooDee x

References:

  1. Non-Communicable Disease Risk Factor Collaboration. (2016) Trends in adult body-mass index in 200 countries from 1975 to 2014: a pooled analysis of 1698 population-based measurement studies with 19·2 million participants. The Lancet, 387(10026), 1377-1396.
  2. Anderson, S., Cryan, J., & Dinan, T. The psychobiotic revolution (p. 25). Washington: National Geographic Partners.
  3. Torres, S., & Nowson, C. (2020). Relationship between stress, eating behavior, and obesity. Retrieved 10 October 2020, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17869482/
  4. Finch, L., & Tomiyama, A. (2015). Comfort eating, psychological stress, and depressive symptoms in young adult women. Appetite, 95, 239-244. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.017
  5. Bonaz, B., Bazin, T., & Pellissier, S. (2018). The Vagus Nerve at the Interface of the Microbiota-Gut-Brain Axis. Frontiers In Neuroscience, 12. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2018.00049

Choose healthy habits over restriction everyday

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