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Coping With Emotional Eating

I really enjoy eating. I think many of us do. My opinion is food can and should make you feel good. It is instinctive and part of our survival mechanism. You eat to live, but pleasure does, and always has played a large role in your nourishment. You are wired for it. The pleasure centers in the brain are stimulated when we eat and emotional satisfaction often follows.

Not every meal is gourmet, 3-Michelin star accomplishment, but those that are offer a unique satisfaction that transcends the physical food. Family events and cultural traditions magnify or deepen the satiation and you will have sentimental attachments to food, be they for better or worse. Occasionally you will find yourself drawn to eat because of your emotions and this is where you can often get yourself into nutritional `hot water`.

On a day to day basis, you might not automatically identify your patterns with emotional eating, per se. You might find yourself using food in a crutch-like, but not overtly emotional way like downing a couple cups of coffee each day for a continuing energy boost or unwinding from the day with a regular glass of something alcoholic, or having a square or two of dark chocolate after your evening meal or as a snack. In these and many other cases, these are Paleo friendly foods you consume without problematic consequences. Likewise, now and then you might have an urge for a non-Paleo food and, depending on circumstances, may give yourself the option to indulge. The Paleo Police are not on the lookout.  An occasional dietary indiscretion or indulgence does not always imply some deeper psychological issue. Sometimes a cookie really is simply a cookie.

There are times, however, where you may find yourself turning to food at some point to stifle or distract our emotions. Eating at night out of abject boredom, or deep loneliness is a common occurrence, especially now during times of isolation and physical distancing. Food provides momentary relief from feelings of stress or anxiety, it provides comfort when sick and a distraction to feelings of physical or emotional pain. Difficult times or transitions can leave you feeling empty, and food becomes the filler or coping mechanism for a few days or maybe a few weeks. These would all constitute emotional eating where the choice to eat something and the feelings the food evokes become a substitute for something bigger than what is in your hand about to go into your mouth.

The Paleo lifestyle emphasizes the power food has to heal, to provide pleasure and to serve as a vehicle for connection and community. The problem arises when you begin using food for these emotional triggers, you can begin to form some less-than-optimal habits and self-defeating behaviours. When emotional eating becomes a regular pattern not only does your health suffer, but you suffer emotionally by avoiding or suppressing what is truly behind the impulse. Way too often the food is used to illicit pleasure when pleasure in ways unique to you, may be lacking in your life. Addressing and working through your emotional triggers can begin to create balance and focus on the pure enjoyment of eating food.

Dealing With Emotional Eating

Accept

Food can make you feel good. Humans instinctively seek out certain foods (often what you might refer to as your comfort foods) based on the interaction of stress with your hunger hormones. Research shows that certain foods can inhibit your brain’s anxiety response – the stress relief is real. There are, however, many ways to manage your stress – some of which you may even find more beneficial than eating a food for a moment of instant gratification.

Pause

Learn to respond rather than simply react. Tell yourself to stop. Use hand signals, colours, whatever triggers your mind to turn its attention, even for a moment. Stop your thoughts. Stop yourself from walking to the fridge. Go do something else, even for a few minutes (you can set a timer if that resonates with you). If your mind feels like it is not complying….

Assess

Check in with yourself – how are you feeling in this moment, how does it differ from a moment ago and how do you want to feel soon. Be as honest and forthcoming as possible. Have you had a really (blank) day? How has this week been for you? Are you worried about how the world is shifting and changing and how you are going to navigate your new normal? Writing out your feelings can be very therapeutic, you could journal or have a dimple checklist in a visible spot to remind you of what’s important to you. Write the day and check off what triggered your cravings.

Address

What is food standing in for? What is going on for you on an emotional level that needs to be addressed and tended to?  The answer might be as simple (and obvious) as getting outdoors for a few minutes or connecting with friends and loved ones (even if it has to be online right now). Emotional eating can also be a deeply rooted association that has perhaps built up over a lifetime. This is where seeking out the help/support of an experienced therapist and/or relevant support group can be key. It is not necessary to keep stuffing down the impulse. By addressing your needs, you may find a true freedom and ‘lightness’ to move forward emotionally, physically and spiritually in a significantly more productive way.

Shift

Create a list of alternate tasks and pastimes. These can be for your moments of pause, and beyond. This can be for those moments when you pause. Make the list visible and available. You know your cravings will be triggered at some point and the more visual reminders you have to create a better response, the more likely you are to succeed in shifting the behaviour. Try to have at least ten things you can do – but add to the list whenever you feel inspired.

Forgive

You may have found yourself staring at an empty plate, bag or box having eaten something you know was not the best for you, and perhaps you did not even want to eat. This is often followed by wallowing in guilt, which leads to shame, which circles back to isolation and insecurity, and right back to the impulse to fill the emotional hole again. You cannot change the last (even if it was only 5 minutes ago) but you can work at breaking the cycle. Admonish the guilt. Be compassionate and kind to yourself. It is unrealistic to expect you will never emotionally eat in these stressful situations, but rather you can acknowledge the episode, try to figure out the emotions that are paired with the eating, and what are some substitute behaviours that would return some sense of control to you.

Right now, one of the most important things you may be craving is connection. Finding ways to reach out and connect with people virtually can really help with coping through these uncertain times.

Our current situation is incredibly challenging for most people and it is important to maintain (or recommit to) taking care of your health, as eating and nourishing our body with whole, real, nutrient dense foods is particularly important for your immune system right now. Finding ways to make the food you do have access seem more exciting and satisfying may help with the feelings of ‘food boredom’ Order in – get chef prepared meals delivered to you

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Michal Ofer is a wellness and digestion expert and nutrition coach. She is focused on assisting clients to take control of their health and happiness through the sustainable food and lifestyle choices that best support them. Through strengthening the body from the inside out, her clients are able to reach new heights of health, happiness and wellness. Michal obtained her Professional Training and Certificate from The Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. She has a further studied through the University of Colorado (Boulder) and Stanford University and is a Certified 21 Day Sugar Detox Coach. Michal has also received a Bachelor’s Degree in Life Sciences and a Master Life Coach Certification. For further information and to connect with Michal visit her website at www.michalofer.com

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