From the moment we come into the world, the act of eating is associated with love
and comfort. Newborns nursing or being held close while drinking a bottle have the immediate warmth of their parents or caretakers
during meals. As we get older, food is sometimes used as a reward for “being a good girl.” We carry that behavior
into adulthood, “rewarding” ourselves with food on particularly difficult or stressful days. We celebrate
with food, holidays, birthdays and family gatherings.
Beneath our deep emotional
connections to food, there are often underlying physical imbalances that can lead to cravings and overeating which also complicate
matters. And so it’s no wonder we turn to food when we are feeling emotionally unbalanced. It’s no wonder that
when women are told to simply stop eating if they’re not really hungry, they often can’t. It’s just not
While it’s common to comfort yourself with food when you’re feeling stressed,
sad, nervous, angry, tired, or even bored, it helps to have the right tools and techniques to help figure out the true cause
of your “hunger.” I hope this article will help you get to a comfortable place with the way you eat and offer
some real-life solutions for curbing emotional eating. If you have a deeper issue with food or overeating, I highly recommend
seeing a counselor or therapist to help you sort through and resolve these core emotional issues.
approach to resolving emotional eating has three steps:
- Gain awareness
- Explore possible root causes
- Make a plan
Are your emotions guiding your food decisions?
Why we eat, when, and how much are not
black and white questions — there are many shades of gray. It’s comforting to know that at some point in our lives,
all of us are emotional eaters. It’s not something to feel guilt or shame about. Here are some questions to consider:
- Do you turn to food when you’re upset or stressed?
- Do you feel guilty or unhappy about what you eat?
- Do you deprive yourself of meals
or snacks when something has gone wrong in your life?
- Do you find yourself eating when you’re
not hungry, just to feel better?
- Do you think about food all the time?
If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, think about how often the scenario happens. When your emotions
are routinely dictating what and how much you eat, the first step to changing the pattern is becoming aware of what you’re
doing. Instead of getting to the bottom of a bag of chips and realizing, I’m eating these because I’m stressed,
I’m angry, I’m sad, etc, it’s wonderful if you can learn to stop and recognize what you’re doing
before you’ve gone too far or even before you take your first bite. This way you can decide whether you truly are hungry,
you want to eat to help resolve your feelings, or whether you’d rather do something else.
root causes: food cravings aren’t always about self-control
Women come to me and
say, I have no self-control when it comes to eating. Any time I’m upset, nervous, anxious, or even happy, I
turn to food. It’s always good to start with potential physiological root causes — because these are sometimes
much easier to fix than deep emotional issues.
Women berate themselves for giving in to cravings
for sugar, carbohydrates, chocolate, salt, or caffeine, when in many cases cravings have nothing to do with self-control or
a woman’s emotional state. Instead, cravings can stem from genuine physiological imbalances in the body. The most common
imbalances I see that may cause cravings are:
Imbalance — often caused by chronic stress
- Neurotransmitter imbalance
— often caused by low serotonin, one of our “feel good” chemicals
imbalances — often caused by the shifting hormone levels that accompany menopause
sensitivities — most commonly gluten, dairy, yeast, eggs, soy, and citrus
- Yeast overgrowth
— often in the gut due to lack of healthy bacteria
- Blood sugar imbalances — often
due to a diet high in carbs and low in fiber
- Nutritional deficiencies — most commonly
B vitamins, zinc, and magnesium
- Leptin resistance — causing us to not get the “I’m
Systemic imbalances can mix up your body’s signals having to do
with food and weight, leading to overeating that may look like emotional eating on the surface. If you’re interested
in working past systemic imbalances and losing weight, our Gr8Life Program for Weight Loss Resistance
is an effective way for you to get past your personal barriers so your body will begin to let go of excess weight.
Make a plan: tips for satisfying eating
We don’t always have the time to explore
our emotional connection to food and can’t, or don’t, always think before we act. This is why it helps to make
a plan beforehand. Below are some very practical tips you might consider as you make a more comprehensive plan for dealing
with emotional eating. You don’t have to do all of these! Just peruse them and see which resonate most with your life.
Start with paying attention to your hunger signs. Rate your hunger on a scale of one to ten. One is not hungry at
all and ten is starving. Try to eat when you are at about seven. You should feel your stomach start to growl, but should not
be feeling light headed yet. Letting yourself get too hungry may lead to overeating.
Make a list of foods you enjoy eating and that make you feel good— go to this list when you feel confused about
what to eat.
3. Cut sugar from your diet. Sugar can be as addicting as some illegal
drugs and can certainly lead to overeating by sending hunger signals to the brain even when we’re full.
4. Drink plenty of filtered water. Sometimes
dehydration can make us feel like we’re hungry.
5. Find a high-quality multivitamin
like the one we offer in our Gr8Life Program to be sure you’re covering your nutritional basics.
6. Portion out healthy snacks in small bags to keep on-hand in the fridge and pantry. Some ideas
include: cut carrots, a handful of nuts, a few slices of cheese, or a hard-boiled egg. Planning ahead is especially important
if you travel a lot.
you’re going to a party or special event, make a food and drink plan ahead of time. For example, I’m
going to have one alcoholic drink and two desserts tonight. Next time I can do something different, if I choose to.
8. Try making all the food you eat from scratch for a week. This allows you to plan and be very
mindful of the ingredients and portions you choose. Many patients find success when they rotate between three different breakfasts,
three lunches, and three dinners.
For some women focusing on portion size, especially
in the beginning, is too restrictive. Work to feel good about providing for your body instead of feeling guilty or wrong.
Feeling good and eating well
If you think you might be an emotional eater, take comfort
in the fact that you absolutely can do something about it. Gain awareness, explore emotional and physical causes, and make
a plan. Our Gr8Life Program can balance your chemical imbalances to bolster your strength to make lasting changes in
your life — and we are always here for support. 727-938-9966