Eating makes us feel good. For many reasons. Since ancient times, tribes ate together and celebrated happy occasions with food. This is engraved in our genes. When we eat, – especially fatty foods and carbohydrates, like sweets and bread – our brains produce feel-good hormones. This helps boost our mood, if only for a few minutes, when we’re feeling down. That’s why comfort food exists. Whether consciously or not, we relate certain foods with happiness, our brain chemistry changes and we feel better. But then, like a drug, the effect wears off and we are miserable again. Even more so since we gave into a craving that we know is bad for our health or fitness goals.
The trick is to identify this behavior. Observe how you feel when you lose control and overeat. When that guilt sets in after the fact, ask yourself what were you feeling right before? What has been going on in your life, or through your mind? Chances are you’ve been stressed, depressed or upset in some way.
If stress is the culprit, – like too much work, too many things to take care of, kids, etcetera – good news! Exercise is a great stress buster. A 20 minute brisk walk or light jog can clear your mind right up. Exercise improves serotonin and endorphin production – among othr things – which help improve your mood. Also, don’t underestimate the power of music. It has been scientifically shown that listening to music you enjoy can also positively alter your mood considerably. So before you reach for that giant bag of chips or the tub of ice cream, donuts, or all three, ask yourself: why am I craving this? Does this fix the issue that is stressing me out? How will I feel afterwards if I eat this? Then it may be easier to opt for a healthier choice if you truly need nourishment, or just skip it all together and opt for a quick walk listening to your favorite music if you’re not really hungry.
I know it won’t be that easy at first and it’s ok to break down a few times at the beginning. It’s like learning to ride a bike. Nobody was born a bicycle rider, we all fell a few (or many!) times before we were able to successfully stay on. Because it is difficult to go cold turkey, I suggest – especially when you’re barely getting to know yourself better – that you opt for a mini version of your comfort food. Instead of a pint of ice cream, get one of those little tiny cups. Instead of the family size chips, get the smallest bag, instead of a bucket of chicken, get a 2 piece meal. Adding a yoga or meditation session (or more) to your week will deliver even more benefits.
If you (or a counselor/therapist) find that depression is at fault, you can follow a similar course of action. Realize binge eating won’t fix what’s making you depressed and remember how you will feel afterwards. Once again, opt for a smaller version of your comfort food or a healthier alternative or go for a jog or a stroll. What is important is that you identify this behavior and become conscious of it so that you can regain control.
With both stress and depression however, it will be imperative to address what is causing the emotional imbalance to begin with and reduce your stress that way. Targeting the root of the problem through introspection or counseling will make it even easier to avoid emotional eating. Depression can also be helped by exercise, yoga and meditation, as well as naturally antidepressant foods like salmon and walnuts. We’ll talk more about foods for specific uses in future posts. But for now, you can check out Organic Authority for their 8 go-to foods or Readers Digest for their 4 recommendations! And even a simple google search will find you many more ideas and options.
If you’re more of a lazy eater – meaning you will only eat what’s at home if you’re there – don’t keep junk food at home. That way even if you overindulge, it will be on something like fruit or stove top popcorn and not chips, cookies and ice cream. To achieve this, it is best to do your shopping on a full stomach and make a list of what you will buy. And preferably, listen to good music on your way to the store or while shopping to maximize a rational selection of foods!
To recap: Pay attention the next few times that you overindulge and analyze how you feel when you make the decision to do it. Write it down. Stop, take a walk or make a healthier choice. Once you have identified the problem, address it. Why are you stressed? Why are you sad? How can you fix it? Also, add some physical activity and healthy foods to your life. Walking, jogging, yoga and meditation are great ways to deal with depression and stress! And don’t forget the tunes!