When we experience changes in our lives that cause us pain and anxiety, it’s normal to turn to food for comfort. Whether it’s a relationship issue, money troubles, a tough day at work, or even a global pandemic, how we eat is often impacted directly by our emotions.
What are some of the factors behind emotional eating? Let’s explore below:
– Primal Behaviour: Nourishment of the body is a basic primal need; the urge to stock up on food and eat more “just in case” all stem from fear. When we feel grounded, we have a sense of safety and security and a general trust in life. When this is pulled from under our feet, we reach for the first thing that is available and will give us comfort: food.
– Deprivation/Dopamine: Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells in the brain and directly affects the reward and pleasure centres. Food, especially junk food, stimulates this reward system. Our bodies will always crave the most energy-efficient food to survive (quick energy release), so even though an apple or a steak will also release dopamine, the effect is nowhere near as powerful as with a tub of sugary-fatty ice cream.
– Boredom/Mindless Eating: When we’re unable to find simulation elsewhere, we often turn to food to give us that hit of novelty. Not much to explain here. We have all been there: trying to find things to do and ending up eating. Or while watching Netflix we unconsciously (mindlessly) munch away on biscuits just to realise that the whole packet is gone.
– Emotions: Generally emotional eating relates to not wanting to feel things, trying to avoid the surfacing of difficult emotions and then stuffing them down with food.
Techniques to try to control your cravings:
– When you feel a craving come up, try to step back and look at the craving/emotion with curiosity, not judgment. Ask yourself “Why am I craving______?” and “What could be the reason?” Could it be any from the above list? Then do some hypothesising. How would it make you feel if you gave in to the craving? How would you feel a few hours later or the following morning?
– If you notice the urge to eat, acknowledge it. Step back again and take a few deep breaths. When you decide to act on that craving, make sure it is a conscious decision, and that the decision was made mindfully. If you still decide to eat that piece of cake or two, make sure you don’t judge yourself for it.
– Ask yourself the following questions: What is it I actually want? Am I anxious, bored or tired? Do I need a break from my computer? Would a walk outside help? From what am I trying to distract myself? Tune into your body and trust that you will come up with the right answer.
– All of the above are part of a pattern interruption process, but if you need more somatic excercises to get you out of your head and into your body try a 3-minute stretch, especially heart-openers on a bolster or cushion. Or you could try pranayama or other types of deep breathing for 3 minutes.
– Other practical tools can be pre-determined. You may find it easier to set guidelines around healthy eating and avoid making decisions when you are hungry. Make sure you are hydrated or if you need to keep it simple just stick to 3 square meals at the same time every day and no snacking in between. J
I trust this gives you an explanation as to why you could be experiencing changes in your eating habits and hopefully you find the suggested tools helpful.
Stay safe and healthy and do get in touch if you have any questions.