Friday, December 19, 2008

Emotional overload

Emotions have such a grip on us as they govern our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Most of our responses come about from a range of emotions that flood through our conscious and sub-conscious minds and there is a growing amount of evidence to support the theory that what we think and feel has an effect on how our body functions. I’m sure we’ve all been guilty of grabbing a block of chocolate when we’re feeling lousy, confident that this is the best coping mechanism around. Sometimes the strongest cravings for food happen when you're at your weakest point emotionally.

What is it about food that makes it so attractive when we need comforting? It may partly be due to habit as we connect certain foods to particular memories (think Mum’s chicken soup when we’re sick). It may be convenience or perhaps just a mere distraction. The chemical connection between food and mood is important as certain foods, especially the ones from the beige food group (you know the one that contains bread, potatoes, pasta, noodles, sweets) increase the production of mood boosting neurotransmitters in the brain. When these levels drop, we are left craving more carbs, suffer from sleep disorders, depression and mood swings. Sound familiar?

It’s no surprise that emotional eating can sabotage your weight loss efforts as it leads to eating too much of the wrong types of food. The good news is that if you're prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your weight-loss goals.
  • Learn to recognize true hunger. Is your hunger physical or emotional? Emotional eating has little to do with physical hunger and everything to do with psychological need. If you ate just a few hours ago and don't have a grumbling stomach, you're probably not really hungry. Give the craving a few minutes to pass.
  • Know your triggers. For the next few days, write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you're feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over time, you may a link that reveals negative eating patterns and triggers to avoid.
  • Look elsewhere for comfort. Instead of grabbing a block of chocolate, take a walk, go to see a movie, listen to music, read or call a friend. If you think that stress relating to a particular event is nudging you towards the fridge, try talking to someone about it to distract yourself. Plan enjoyable things for yourself.
  • Don't keep unhealthy food around. Avoid having an abundance of comfort foods in the house. If you feel hungry or upset, postpone the shopping trip for a few hours so that these feelings don't influence your decisions at the supermarket.
  • Snack healthy. When eating between meals, choose a mix of protein and complex carbohydrate based foods. These foods will help to stabilise your blood sugar levels, reduce cravings and keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Eat a balanced diet. If you're not getting enough calories to meet your energy requirements, you may be more likely to give in to emotional eating. Try to eat at fairly regular times and don't skip breakfast. Emphasize whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as low-fat dairy products and lean protein sources.
  • Exercise regularly and get adequate rest. Your mood is more manageable and your body can more effectively fight stress when it's fit and well rested.

If you do give in to emotional eating, forgive yourself and start fresh the next day. Try to learn from experience, and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive changes you're making and give yourself credit for making those changes that will optimise your health.