How to Overcome Emotional Overeating
Eating is a part of life and it is an emotional experience. Always. There is a crisis in people’s self-image of what they are to look like. Girls as young as 8 years old have felt the pressure to stay slim and will start dieting. When they can’t live up to what they see in images on television, magazines and even among their peers they can become frustrated and depressed. What can result is an eating disorder root deeply in their emotions and feeling of self worth.
Sometimes we think of an eating disorder as only applying to conditions such as anorexia nervosa and binge and purging. However there is a greater number of girls, boys, women, and men alike who are emotional over eaters. This condition is further compounded by the quality of food available and that we are socially programmed around eating.
We all know that our bodies get nutrients from food. However there seems to be a disconnect or sense of denial about eating consciously. Many people are zombie eaters. By this I mean they are eating distracted and without thought to what or how much they are eating. Are you eating while stressed, tired, rushed, happy, sad and all the while you are eating over a computer screen, in front of the television, or in your car? You get the idea. This is all setting you up to go overboard with your eating habits and it can result in gaining weight. We are all emotional eaters. It is when things go to extremes that an emotional eating disorder develops.
Most people don’t even realize they are emotionally overeating. The problem of emotional eating may end with the scale but it begins in the mind. Stress takes its toll on your life. When your defenses are compromised your health takes a hit and so do your emotions.
Everyone has good days and bad days. How we deal with the bad ones brings emotional eating into play. You look for comfort for your hurts. People who turn to food for comfort find a coping mechanism that won’t judge them, hurt them or tell them “no.” To complicate the issue, eating pleasurable foods can stimulate the release of endorphins just like exercise. So, after you eat, you feel better.
Emotional eaters use food to relieve stress. They hide behind the food instead of seeking solutions to the problems. This is not uncommon when the stressor is something horrible such as physical abuse or a death. However, it can also be due to just the regular day to day stress.
So, how do you know you are using food in this way? The first sign is obvious. You will gain weight if you eat too much. In light of the weight gain, examine other areas of your life:
* Have you been under stress lately at work or at home?
* Has anything traumatic happened in the your life over the last year?
* Are you dealing with a problem but haven’t found a solution?
Answering “yes” to any of these questions could mean that you are an emotional eater. You eat but you are not necessarily hungry at the time. The foods that you choose are what we term “comfort foods”:
* High fat foods like French fries, fried foods
* High carb foods like macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes
* Sugary foods like ice cream, donuts, cookies, cake
There is help if you find you are an emotional overeater. The first step is recognizing that you have a problem. You’ll experience feelings of helplessness and guilt. The guilt is over potentially ruining your health and the helplessness lies in the fact that you don’t see a way out. Keep a journal reflecting how you feel when you eat and you will begin to understand how that relates to what you are eating and your food triggers.
Secondly, seek counseling. There are many types of counselors out there that can meet your needs. Emotional overeating has nothing to do with dieting or changing your eating habits but rather has everything to do with gaining control over your emotions.
A counselor might suggest things like visualization, practicing problem solving skills, relaxation techniques and family support. Visualization helps you to see your problems in a realistic way and not blow them out of proportion. You will also learn to see food as nutrition for loving and nurturing the body and not an emotional crutch. Loving yourself through good nutrition is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself.
Thirdly, provided you have a supportive family, they can learn your triggers for stress and be on the lookout for changes in your eating habits. They can help you be aware of the foods you are eating, assist you in making healthy food choices and exercise along with you. Proper diet and exercise increases immunity, blood flow and positive thinking. Yoga enhances the mind/body connection so you don’t eat when you aren’t hungry.
Finding new ways to solve your problems and deal with stress will push food out of the equation. You’ll feel good about finding solutions which will replace the dependence on food while at the same time improving your self-esteem.
Start by removing processed foods, and sugars. Many experts also feel it is important to remove gluten, grains, dairy, soy and eggs as well. Strive to eat only whole organic foods. To help get you started, here are ten power packed foods (organic preferred) designed to give you energy, vitality and all around good health!
- Beans – If they give you gas, take precautions before you eat them. Soaking them first can help. Beans of all kinds (kidney, navy, lentils, chickpeas, Northern) are high in protein. This is plant protein so it contains very little fat, carbs and calories. If fiber is a problem in your diet, eating a healthy portion of beans each day can keep your digestive system healthy.
- Steel Cut Oatmeal – Oatmeal is popular as a food that lowers blood cholesterol. Oatmeal is a filling grain that also provides much needed fiber to keep hunger at bay and your blood sugar constant. Avoid this one if you are looking to eat grain free however.
- Fruits – Fruits are filled with antioxidants such as Vitamin C and A. Antioxidants fight free radical damage in the body and reduce the risk of cancer. Berries such as blueberries and grapes have the highest amount of antioxidants. But choose an array of fruits in a wide variety of colors for maximum health. The antioxidants in fruit boost the immune system to fight the effects of aging in the body.
- Allium foods – This class of foods includes garlic, onions, leeks and shallots. Garlic is known for lowering cholesterol. Allium vegetables help guard the body against the risk of cancer and many other ailments. They also help lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Eating these power packed vegetables in their natural state especially garlic increases their health benefits.
- Wild Caught Salmon – Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of heart disease and other conditions like atherosclerosis. Wild salmon is a fatty fish but it contains good fats that have been proven to improve health in children and adults. Salmon is rich in protein which is of great use after an exercise session to build muscle tissue.
- Flax seed – Like salmon it contains omega-3 fatty acids. These seeds also contain omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids. You get a lot of power to fight high cholesterol, heart disease and diabetes with this seed. Ground flax seed can be added to fruit smoothies, sprinkled in yogurt, and other foods.
- Peppers – Peppers are colorful. They contain antioxidants like beta-carotene and Vitamin C. Peppers range from mild and sweet to so hot you’ll be calling the fire department. All peppers contain a substance called capsaicin. Capsaicin has the properties of an anti-inflammatory, a pain reliever, lowers cancer risk and heart disease. They are good in salads, salsa and all sorts of dishes.
- Nuts and seeds – Nuts are high in fat but those fats are the good kind. Almonds, Brazil nuts, walnuts and pistachios are all providers of good fats and protein. Crush them into a fine powder and use as a coating instead of higher carb bread crumbs. Nuts help to lower cholesterol. Eat them right out of the shell with no additives.
- Açai – This berry has been very popular lately. It is rich in antioxidants and increases energy. You can get more done and look better while doing it. You can get Acai juice and supplements in your health food store if you can’t find the whole fruit.
- Greek Yogurt – Yogurt contains calcium, Vitamin B, and protein. If you don’t drink milk, yogurt is an alternative to get your calcium in to build strong bones and teeth. Avoid if you have a sensitivity or allergy. Live yogurt also contains friendly bacteria to help promote a healthy digestive system.
BONUS Super Food: Avocados – This is a powerhouse food rich in healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and supports heart health, absorption of other nutrients, and has anti-inflammatory properties.
Building a better healthier body begins with what you eat. Try these super foods to get started on the right foot. To avoid overeating, you will need to work on your emotional healing and learn to love yourself.
You can learn more about diet and emotions in my book, “Seeds 4 Change: A Path to Health and Healing”.