Is stress eating your way of soothing yourself when you feel anxious, stressed, or upset? Perhaps you are addicted to foods and stress makes the desire for those foods even stronger?
A little emotional eating is natural and not something to worry about. But when you find yourself reaching for sweets and too much food too often, it can wreak havoc with your health and weight goals.
The concern is not necessarily that you indulge or overindulge on occasion, but whether it is happening often enough to sabotage your healthy eating plan, your well-being and your weight. It is a matter of whether you feel in control of what goes in your mouth or not.
There is more than one reason why we grab for food when feeling stressed or anxious.
First, feelings of emotional distress have a powerful effect on the brain. Chemicals associated with these feelings trigger strong cravings for snacks and comfort food. Brain chemical and hormonal changes decrease your sense of fullness and reward your compulsion to eat more.
Secondly, emotional eating is often a learned behavior. Like most subconscious programming, you learn to use food for comfort by association and repetition. Most likely, these associations are formed before the age of seven, but can happen anytime.
It is not uncommon to associate food with love. After all, we all have to eat, and most of us eat several times a day. During those times we interact with others. Our parents fed us and held us. Later, we had their attention as they spoon fed us.
From birth on, we have heard messages that certain foods make us feel good, enhance relationships, and make activities more enjoyable.
A cookie and a hug from mom eased the pain of a poor grade or a skinned knee. Your family probably celebrated happy occasions with a nice meal or cake and ice cream. You may have been rewarded or distracted with goodies. Associations were formed, even though there is no direct connection between the two.
And then there is the media. How many advertisements and commercials have you seen of approving parents, excited children and satisfied, smiling workers eagerly stuffing yet another processed munchie into their mouths?
To compound this, your brain makes associations between what stresses you and what you are eating at the time. Without even realizing it, you condition yourself to eat those foods whenever those feelings are triggered.
If you feel compelled to stuff sweets and other comfort foods in your mouth throughout the day to comfort yourself, you may be an emotional eater. For you, these associations are strong and more encompassing. You may feel like you are living to eat instead of eating to live. And along with that, come health problems and unwanted pounds.
First, know that eating when you are stressed is a natural response. It is not a reflection of who you are as a person. Also know that changing your stress eating patterns is do-able, but it takes awareness and commitment. The following suggestions will help you change those patterns and improve your relationship with food.
Food addiction is real. Feeling stressed can make your cravings for certain foods even stronger. Like any addiction, the foods you are hooked on have hijacked your brain's reward center and frontal cortex.
If you suspect food addiction as a cause of your emotional eating and weight issues, check out The Hunger Fix by Dr. Pamela Peeke. You will learn about what happens in your body with addiction, the roots of your addictive eating, and create a detox and recovery plan you can live with.
Overcoming emotional eating can be tricky, but it is certainly doable. Controlling stress eating is is vital to managing your weight. You can get this natural reaction under control by exploring your triggers, choosing other options, reducing stress, and persevering. Before you know it, absentmindedly stuffing a bagful of chips into your mouth will be a thing of the past.