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3 steps to stop emotional eating

Food and emotion are intimately connected. I am sure anyone can relate to eating something that brings up fond memories.

It could be a chocolate cake that was waiting for you when you got back from school starving.  It may be a dish you ate at a family gathering.  Foods create memories. Sometimes we eat certain foods just to recreate the memories we felt. Powerful stuff!

Perhaps this is why it is so challenging to break an unhealthy habit that involves emotions. You are reaching out for that chocolate bar to reward yourself for a hard work. Reaching out for bowl of ice-cream while watching TV because you finally sit down and relax. In our mind, we know that these things are not going to serve our body, but eating these foods fulfill our emotion.  That emotion may be loneliness, comfort, relieve, reward, self-sabotage or to increase our dopamine level (feel good hormone!).

How do these habit form over time? 

My daughter used to get a stamp on her hand after her ballet class while others got a lolly.  She got an apple instead of a lolly from the checkout ladies at the local fresh market.  They started noticing that I would refuse their offer of giving lollies to my kids. 

Do you know how many kids activities involve giving sweet treats at the end? This may be cultural which I am not used to. I do love the cut oranges at half time at footy and soccer games.

My partner spoke of cheap take away (KFC, Hungry Jacks) Friday night meals as a family. A trip to McDonalds' for a birthday treat. May be these are sending the wrong message to the kids. Junk foods are not for celebration or special occasion food. May be we are creating an association between junk foods and reward. These get embedded in our head and later on as an adult we seek these familiar feelings in time of stress.

Dr Douglas Lisle, co-author of the ‘Pleasure Trap’ talks about why it is so hard for humans to make the right choices in this Ted Talks (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jX2btaDOBK8).  Human are wired to seek pleasure!

It doesn’t mean that you cannot break an unhealthy habit such as emotional eating. Especially if this is the behaviour that you want to change.  Here, I present some strategies that will assist in dealing with emotional eating.  The key here is not to ‘restrict’ or ‘resist’ because whenever you restrict for think CHOCOLATE all you think about is CHOCOLATE!!!  This is not about relying on your willpower but have systems in place to navigate the emotion.

1. Become aware of when you eat emotionally

Jot down the time of day and the emotion you feel and what you eat.  As you start to connect the dots between the emotion and the food, you will see the pattern of when this is happening to you.  Is it the mid-afternoon when you are low in energy?  Is it after dinner while you are watching TV?  Is it after a stressful meeting that you reach for that chocolate bar?  Awareness is powerful, just noting the occurrence will help you to take the next action.

2. Drink a big glass of water and check to see if you are actually hungry

How many times do we’re hungry but in fact we are thirsty?  Unless you have got your hydration down pact, a lot of people will fall into the trap of not drinking enough throughout the day.  Dehydration can trick you to think you’re hungry even though what you need is a glass of water.  So, reach for a glass of water before you make a decision about the next move!

3. Prepare healthy snacks in the morning

If healthy snacks are ready and waiting in the fridge, you are more likely to eat these. 

Having healthy snacks during the day will help keep your blood sugar stable. This meals that you can avoid the later afternoon energy dip.

Some suggestions for health snacks are

o Chopped veggies such as celery, carrot, cucumber sticks with hummus

o Apple slices with peanut butter

o Hard boiled eggs

o Handful of mixed unsalted nuts such as walnut, almond, cashew and brazil nuts

o Piece of fruit!

o Green juice (spinach, cucumber, celery, apple, lemon, ginger)

o Cubes of cheese with crackers

o Natural yoghurt with berries

These are few tips to get you started on the journey of breaking free from emotional eating.  Apart from food and emotion connection, there may be other reasons for your craving. One common mineral deficiencies seen in people craving sweets uncontrollably is magnesium. Magnesium functions to regulate the insulin, glucose and dopamine in the body.  If you want to investigate further about your nutrient status, book a consultation with me.

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