Your idea of a good time after a bad day is a scoop of dulce de leche ice cream piled high atop a fudge brownie. You’re digging in because each creamy mouthful makes you feel inexplicably happy. Is that really so bad?
Surprisingly, emotional eating doesn’t have to be a problem, says Dr. Michelle May, author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.
“Trying to talk yourself out of getting a mood boost from food only sets you up for a bigger overeating problem - like bingeing,” she says. You can comfort yourself with food and stay thin with these simple ground rules.
Why we snack our way happy
“We’re hardwired to eat for emotional reasons,” May says. “From the moment you’re born and your mother holds you close to feed you, there’s an emotional connection between being fed and being loved. That’s why it’s counterproductive to say to people, ‘Just don’t do it.’”
The treats we crave most are packed with powerful natural chemicals that bring on pleasure.
How Can I Identify Eating Triggers?
Situations and emotions that trigger us to eat fall into five main categories.
Social. Eating when around other people. For example, excessive eating can result from being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in; arguing; or feelings of inadequacy around other people.
Emotional. Eating in response to boredom, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety or loneliness as a way to “fill the void.”
Situational. Eating because the opportunity is there. For example, at a restaurant, seeing an advertisement for a particular food, passing by a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching TV, going to the movies or a sporting event, etc.
Thoughts. Eating as a result of negative self-worth or making excuses for eating. For example, scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
Physiological. Eating in response to physical cues. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pain.
To identify what triggers excessive eating in you, keep a food diary that records what and when you eat as well as what stressors, thoughts, or emotions you identify as you eat. You should begin to identify patterns to your excessive eating fairly quickly.
Chocolate, for example, contains serotonin and another happy-making neurotransmitter, anandamide. And once that double-fudge brownie makes its way to your stomach, your body responds with a rush of endorphins, giving you a kind of snacker’s high.
By Kimberly Goad