We have all been there at one point or another…..You have a crappy day at work, you spill coffee/tea all over you new shirt, maybe your project gets shot down, you get cut off in traffic, your favourite pair of jeans somehow gets a giant hole in the crotch, or maybe it’s all this and then some! So you go home, open your cupboard, fridge or BOTH and seek comfort and security in whatever is inside….
I am not here to tell you that you should NEVER do this… I mean after all, I am only human and have indulged in this once, twice or a hundred times myself. After all, there is a reason that we find food so comforting, and most of the time it comes from the memories of our mother (or father) making us smile with delicious treats and meals filled with love!
BUT emotional eating, if done too often and as the sole way of coping, can lead to binge eating, and seeking emotional security in the form of food. This can all lead to weight gain, self confidence issues, mental health challenges and physical health issues like diabetes, cardiovascular issues, and hormonal disturbances.
Being a reformed binge and emotional eater myself,I know that overcoming this challenge, and even just acknowledging that it even exists can truly be very very difficult for so many reasons. First, food is everywhere in our society and society has really made it okay to seek comfort and security within food…especially for women! Think of all the times in a movie/tv show you have seen a woman who has just been dumped digging into mountains of food, usually in the form of sugary treats like ice cream, cookies, cake, and candy. Second, food is a cornerstone and a must for our survival as human beings! And third….part of the reason ALL living things eat is for pleasure! There are literally certain neurotransmitters that are released when we consume MOST food that give us a sense of well being, connection and pleasure.
So why is it so important to not just rely on food for emotional comfort?
Well besides the physical and mental health issues that have already been listed it is also important for 3 other main reasons:
- Relying upon food as your sole way of coping with distress and emotions actually makes you dependent upon it, which can lead to addiction to food. This is often how most drug/alcohol/tobacco addiction starts. We feel pain, or emotional distress, so we to cope we use. Using makes us feel good (temporarily) and so we keep using every time we feel bad again. Want to learn more about food addiction visit: https://www.thehealthloft.ca/food-addiction/
- We can stunt our emotional growth and intelligence. A lot of the time, emotional and binge eating is used as a way to escape whatever it is that is going on within your life, or yourself, that is causing emotional distress. The more that we avoid emotions, the more detached we become from our emotional well being, which means the less happy we usually feel over all.
- Our pleasure centers get all confused. When you start to create reliance upon ANY substance, food included, our pleasure centers become rewired over time to stop receiving pleasure from normal things that we should receive pleasure from. In the food world, this is when you see people who “do not like” vegetables or fruits…..it’s not because they do not like them! It is actually because the pleasure centers in the brain have been rewired to see pleasure as only that coming from eating whatever foods they are using to cope (using sugar treats, baked goods, or heavy carbs).
So how do we start breaking away from food as a coping mechanism and stop emotional binge eating?
Well, depending on how long and how often you use food as a coping mechanism for what is going on in your life will depend on how much work, time and effort you will have to put in. If you are someone who is deeply addicted to food and binge eats often to help deal with your emotions, you may want to consider joining a support group (there is one is almost every city, as a well as tons online!) or enlisting the help of a health professional. If you are someone who does it just every now and then but would like to nip the habit in the butt before it gets out of hand, doing it on your own with the support of a loved one, close friend, can usually do the trick. BUT, no matter where you are on the spectrum, the following tips will definitely help set you up for success!
- Make and drink a hot beverage BEFORE digging into your comfort food. Whether it is some herbal tea, a superfood elixir, or a decaf coffee, taking the time to actually make something for yourself shows love and appreciation for yourself (think of it as a form of self care) and it also gives you a few extra minutes of distance between that negative emotion that you were feeling to when you reach for your comfort food. By doing this, you are starting to rewire the brain, not solely associate food with comfort. Plus, let’s get real….Sipping and holding onto a hot beverage really feels like a big mug of love in and of itself!
- Get silent. When you start to feel that emotional distress rear its ugly old head and the need to reach for comfort in your favourite foods, try instead to just get silent with yourself, breathe deeply and really feel into that emotion. It doesn’t need to be a full sit down meditation, but maybe just a moment or two with your eyes closed really scanning and breathing into your body, and where it is exactly you are feeling that emotion. A lot of the time, when we just feel into an emotion and meet it head on, it will release itself because all it is looking for is recognition. BUT, most of the time we avoid doing this because we are scared we will get stuck in that negative emotion, when in fact it is exactly the opposite!
- Ditch the processed sugar! I am sure you are sick of hearing by now that sugar is the enemy…but in this case it really truly is! Seeking comfort in the form of processed sugary treats creates a cycle that is really hard to break because not only are you emotionally forming a dependance, BUT you are also physically forming a dependance! Processed sugar actually activates the SAME neural pathways that opioids and alcohol do! Processed sugar also causes a blood sugar spike and then crash later on which will leave you feeling depleted of energy, irritable and in a low mood/headspace which will have you reaching right back for that sugar, AGAIN!
- Learn a new POSITIVE coping mechanism. Often we pick up our coping mechanisms as children and don’t really give any thought to what they are or how we got them. BUT it is very easy to teach yourself new ones. All you have to do is pick something that intrigues you like; journaling, working out, singing out loud, getting outdoors, counting to 10, deep breathing, or busting a dance move! Once you have something that you think you would like to incorporate into your coping skills, start making a conscious choice to do that thing instead of reaching for food when you feel like you need a bit of comfort! After 3-4 weeks of consciously working on this, it will become second nature and then, BAM, you have yourself a new coping tool!
- Practice gratitude. Incorporating gratitude is a huge part of overcoming any obstacle in life but even more so when that thing has to do with our emotions. There are numerous ways you can incorporate gratitude into your healing process but my favourite ways are; listing 5 SIMPLE things you are grateful for when in emotional distress, keeping a DAILY gratitude journal, and saying a prayer of gratitude and thanks at the end of each day naming the biggest thing you are grateful for that happened that day.
Not sure whether or not you are emotional eating or have questions about what exactly emotional eating is? Visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/tests/health/emotional-eating-test for a free quiz and more resources.
Danielle is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner, Certified Counsellor and a Lifestyle Coach with a focus on mental health, adrenal, and thyroid issues. Danielle received her CNP from the institute of Holistic Nutrition in Vancouver and studied Psychology at the University of Calgary. Danielle has always been fascinated with just how much physical and mental health are linked when it comes to healing and so she takes a deep dive into each when working with clients on achieving their health goals. You can catch Danielle talking about all things health and wellness on her blog/website www.thymetonourish-ca.com and on her instagram page thyme_to_nourish