I think we’ve all heard the term “comfort food.” We tend to think of things like chocolate cake, candy, chips or even southern fried chicken as comfort food. I talked this past week to a friend of mine who struggles with her weight and she shared the comfort food she had consumed to get through a really tough, emotional week.
As she described herself inhaling amounts greater than what three people would normally consume, she broke down in tears; so frustrated with herself. We both concluded that using the term “comfort” in any way related to what she had done was a paradox.
The truth is—there is nothing comfortable about overindulging and binging on a bunch of things that only hurt you. In fact, when you are done, probably the last thing you feel is comfortable. I remember those days in my own life. So she and I continued to talk about the dangers of emotional eating. And what to do about it.
I have this described as “eating is eating in response to feelings rather than in response to hunger.” And I think there are many reasons we crave food when emotions are running high.
Scientifically and biologically food brings a change in the hormonal levels in the body. These changes actually bring about some sort of relief from what you are feeling. And chocolate, for example, can actually improve feelings of sadness or depression because of the endorphins that are stimulated by the chocolate. So it’s understandable why we use (and abuse) food like we do. But there’s got to be a better way to cope. Agreed?
So how do you avoid overeating when you are feeling emotional? I think the first thing to do is to determine what causes the binges.
For example, do you have the compulsion to overeat right before a big presentation at work? Or when you and your spouse are fighting? Or when the kids are acting especially crazy? Or when finances are tight? Or when you are just exhausted?
It seems to me that the most common triggers for emotional eating seem to be stress, anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue or insecurity. Another cause of emotional eating is boredom. And you know the remedy to that. Get off the couch and get moving! Physical activity brings with it so many positive results.
Once you recognize the situations that make you feel like overeating then it may be easier to brace yourself against it. In other words, if you are aware of the cause, you can prepare to fight it better.
I would also suggest identifying your “comfort foods” and then refusing to have them in the house! Hopefully the harder it is to get your hands on them, the less likely you will be to stuff them in your mouth.
As with everything in life, we’ve got to be deliberate in the choices we make. It’s not always easy. And while food can be a temporary detractor from worries or negative feelings, remember abusing food can also bring with it feelings of guilt and additional stress related to obesity and health problems.
If you have an issue with emotional eating and you want to break the cycle, don’t just sweep it under the rug and let your health and well-being pay the price. Try practical things when you have the overwhelming urge to overeat, like going for a walk or talking to a friend, or even just drinking a glass of water. (Water is a great way to fill your stomach and make you feel less empty.) And don’t forget the spiritual side of any battle. You can call on your faith to help you overcome any obstacle.
So the next time you are feeling a little weary and are afraid you will be guilty of emotional overeating say a little prayer. And then just say to yourself…”step away from the cake.”