As diverse as our emotions, so too the reasons why we might, ‘eat our feelings.’
Do you find yourself searching in the fridge or cupboards when you’re upset, anxious or bored? Is food a source of comfort when you’re emotional? Eating when you’re tired?
Identifying the root cause of our stress or emotive reaction to a particular circumstance, can help in taking the necessary steps to take control of eating habits and address the issue in a more mindful, pragmatic way.
Reflecting on my own emotional experience this week, I found it interesting that when deeply saddened, my appetite is non-existent and had to force myself to eat. I know many of friends and family that the opposite is true and can find themselves a litre deep in ice-cream before they register what they are doing.
Emotional eaters often crave high-kilo-joule or high-carbohydrate foods with minimal nutritional value. These are ‘comfort foods’ such as ice-cream, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, chips, burgers or pizza. The instant satisfaction from sugary or salty foods provides a brief moment of pleasure, pushing down the feelings.
Chronic stress or inability to deal with our emotions can reinforce this behaviour and have significant impact on mental and emotional health through the lack of a healthy and balanced diet.
Therefore it is critical to approach any underlying cause from a holistic point of view.
Identifying our triggers and how we respond to emotional circumstances
Are you tired? Didn’t sleep well and eating high carb, high sugar foods to give you energy?
Are you lonely, bored, angry or sad?
Was it a person, place or time of day that triggered this response?
Recognizing healthier ways to view food and develop better eating habits.
Eating meals high in fibre, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats will provide sustained energy throughout the day without the sugar spikes and slumps.
Can you avoid this person, place or find healthy ways to manage this time of day?
Develop appropriate ways to prevent and alleviate this stress.
Ensure that you are getting a good restorative sleep.
Minimise electronic device exposure before bed as this has been proven to interrupt our circadian rhythm.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee, alcohol and sugars as these will deplete your adrenals and create more stress physiologically.
Some of the following approaches can be helpful in alleviating stress, allowing you to address the emotion mindfully rather than with food.
Keep a food journal- write down what you eat, time and mood, whether this was mad, sad or glad. This will help in identifying a habit and gives insight into what you are feeling at a given time.
Distract yourself- if you find yourself staring in the fridge between meals, occupy yourself with the washing, or head out for a walk. If we distract ourselves and fight the urge, we can often mitigate a binge session and find ourselves more productive.
Talk it out- facing our feelings head on isn’t easy. However if we can discuss what we are feeling with a close friend or family, we can strengthen our resolve in healthy ways by reflecting on why this feeling has arisen. Finding positive solutions to our emotive responses intrinsically strengthens our ability to deal with stress.
Swap it out/ Clear it out- Do a pantry audit on your kitchen and clear out the comfort foods’. If you do not have the ice-creams, cakes and chips in the house, you can’t eat them. It’s a simple approach that with some commitment can clean up your dietary habits.
In replacing foods in our kitchen to support mental and emotional well-being, I have created a list below of go-to foods to support your emotional health with Mindful Nutrition.
Good Fats- Avocado, oily fish-salmon, eggs, olive oil, flax seed oil, nuts, seeds. All provide a feeling of satiety and support healthy gut-brain and hormone production.
Fermented foods- kefir, yoghurt, miso, kraut. Fermented foods provide probiotics that feed our microbiome in our guts. Our bodies immunology and hormones are regulated in the gut.
Vegetables- eat the rainbow. Consuming vegetables, preferably in their most natural state is the easiest way to support our mental and physical health. They offer a plethora of vitamins and minerals essential to maintaining health.
Wholegrain- black rice, wholegrain sourdough, oats. Support healthy gut and digestive function and make you feel full.
Preparing meals ahead of time or in bulk provides healthy and delicious options for those times when you don’t want to cook. Freeze soups, stews or pop the slow cooker on and arrive home to a cooked meal.
Often we mindlessly eat or drink (alcohol) to numb the feelings and distract the mind from the raw feelings and emotions of a situation. Whilst this might makes you feel better temporarily, too much and it can have detrimental effects.
Practicing Mindfulness opens the space to sit with these feelings, meet them face to face and experience them for what they are. A process to better understand ourselves and reflect on our experience into growth and maturity.
How do you recognise your behaviours? What changes can you make to support emotional stability and well-being?