Emotional eating is defined as consuming foods in response to negative emotions, rather than physical hunger. Research shows that around 38% of us turn to food for comfort in times of stress. That stress doesn’t have to be a huge stress, it can be in response to an underlying daily stress, general unhappiness, distraction from problems, or just something that becomes habit and gives comfort.
Whatever the trigger, there is a strong physical connection to finding comfort in food. Serotonin is our feel good hormone, and its released when we eat carbohydrate type foods. During times of stress and anxiety, we aim to make ourselves feel better, reduce the pain, or simply find a way of distracting ourselves. Eating carbs is by far the fastest way to that hit of pleasure.
Unfortunately, regular emotional eating can mean weight gain. It can be a downward spiral, as we then also feel bad about putting on weight, or not having any self-control.
All this is very natural and understandable, however it’s good to know how to break the cycle and avoid emotional eating altogether, so we can stick to our health and weight loss goals.
Here are a few tips and tricks to help you avoid the pitfalls of eating emotionally.
Its important to try and identify the triggers in your day that result in your wanting food for comfort. It might be a stressful work situation, a family event, or even a social gathering you don’t feel comfortable with. Work out ways to relax in the situation and deal with it, without resorting to food.
Keep a diary
Write down your stressful moments and how you coped with them. If it results in food consumption, write this down. Add a column next to it and in it describe an alternative way to deal with the situation when it arises again. Just the act of writing down your new way of coping with it, is a powerful tool to help you react differently next time with a more positive outcome.
Work out if you’re really hungry or not. Often we convince ourselves that its mealtime, and we’re stressed, so we deserve that pizza! Try and plan a healthily meal, prep it the night before, or write down the ingredients and buy them on your way home from work. Concentrate on nourishing yourself and caring for your body in this way.
Find other comforts
Eating is a physical as well as a psychological comfort! Try and make sure that you have something physical to turn to in times of stress. It might be a warm bath, or a manicure, or a yoga class. Ensure that you find something that fulfils your physical self that’s beneficial in some way.
Studies have shown that serotonin levels can be increased by up to 30% by physical touch and the effects can last for days. Plan or book a massage in times of high stress and get your serotonin hit this way.
Regularly eat foods high in omega 3 oils, which facilitate higher levels of serotonin in the brain. Oily fish such as wild salmon, mackerel and sardines are great. Avocados, nuts and seeds also contain a good amounts of omega 3, as does flax seed oil.
Levels of serotonin can be increased with exercise and it only takes at little as around fifteen minutes of moderate exercise to achieve this. However, don’t wait until you feel like exercising! If you’re feeling a little stressed and down then you won’t want to make the effort. ‘Form Follows Function’, so just get out and do it, you’ll feel so much better afterwards.
Sunshine on your skin will increase the amount of vitamin D produced in your body, which in turn promotes serotonin production. Try to get some exposure from 11am to 3pm each day as this is when the suns UV rays are at the right angle to ensure you absorb them. You can also increase the vitamin D in your diet, from oily fish, cheese, egg yolks, and beef liver. If you don’t consume those foods regularly, then consider a spray supplement, just one squirt under the tongue, daily.
Time of the month
Women sometimes feel the need to have more comfort foods just before menstruation. This is a physical response to needing more magnesium in the body. Its estimated that between 60-80% of women are deficient in magnesium. Try and increase your intake of this mineral from dark leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, avocados and bananas. You can also get a body spray magnesium supplement, as it’s absorbed well through the skin. Bathing in magnesium salts is also an excellent way to relax and enjoy increased levels. Dark chocolate also contains good levels of magnesium, (yippee!) however stick to 70% and above cacao content, to ensure reduced sugar.
And finally, some tips for when you really do need to eat and nothing else will do!
Make sure you predict when you might need a boost and plan for it. Measure out your treat snack, and put this in a bag or Tupperware. Knowing its there, and that you can’t over indulge, means you’ll stay on track and have a degree of control.
Eat a small carbohydrate snack to increase your serotonin. All you need to get that hit is around 25-30 grams of carbs, and no more. If you overeat you’ll simply get the same result but with additional unwelcome weight gain.
Wait around 30 minutes to feel the effect after eating, it will happen! No need to have anymore, just this small amount will help you though.
Protein slows down the release of serotonin so try to make your snack consist mainly of carbs without too much protein. This might be a few gluten free crackers with nut butter, a dark chocolate mousse made with sweet potatoes, or a banana and a square of dark chocolate. Having these foods on hand will ensure you don’t reach for the pizza or ice-cream combo.
Follow this advice and you’ll soon be the master of emotional eating! However, also remember to relax, if you do have the odd transgression it’s not the end of the world, we’re all human! Just make sure it’s the exception rather than the rule.
Thai Fitness Bootcamp Holidays have qualified counsellors and coaches that are experienced in working through issues with eating patterns and emotional eating. Our activities keep you occupied and busy all day, therefore allowing you to eat when you’re actually really hungry. We provide nutritionally balanced meals and snacks, to show you how to nourish and replenish your energy in an effective way. As well as this you’ll be in an incredibly beautiful and relaxing place, with full support from our staff and the ability to really examine your fitness and health goals for the long term.