Question to Coach Seana: “I find that when things are going smoothly it’s easy for me to be fit and stay the course. When my life gets stressful (and I mean more than the usual stuff not everyday stress, but life changes, like dealing with health issues) food becomes a reward. How do you work through the high end stress and not indulge?”
AAAhhh…COMFORT FOOD! It’s always there for us in times of need; Financial stresses, relationship problems, busy schedules and many other life stressors.
The Triggers for Stress Eating
It’s pretty common to hear from so many people; “I was doing so well with my eating until _____happened”. But why is reaching for a bag of chips or a pint of ice cream so comforting and rewarding? Well, the answer is actually very scientific!
The Science Behind Stress Eating
Your body and your mind are hardwired to give you feedback about how you feel from moment to moment and day to day. Food might enter through the mouth and go down the digestive tract, but because the gut and the brain interact like a Nascar highway, the food you put into your mouth affects the brain, your feelings and thus your idea of how that food can “help” you in the future.
Here’s a quick breakdown of how it works: Sweet, fatty and salty foods send a specific signal to our brain that rewards us with pleasure. These signals originally were designed in nature to tell us what is good and nutritious to eat and what we should avoid. Today, however, our food is highly processed, so unless you’re always eating whole foods, most of your food includes highly and unnaturally concentrated flavor sensations which send a rush to your brain, similar to an opiate.
The endorphins released to the brain from the food are neurotransmitters known as opioid peptides and use the same pathway as morphine or heroine. Usually these endorphins are designed to help us deal with physical and emotional pain, otherwise every little incident would feel catastrophic to the body, however they’ve found that foods can also provide the same response mechanism through this pathway.
Essentially, the body remembers this pathway of bliss from a past experience and when we are stressed, emotional or tired, we are protecting ourselves from “feeling” in that moment, by reaching for something that can once again achieve the pleasure and reward we experienced in the past. We never seem to crave lettuce, zucchini or kale during these emotional times! The body is very protective and smart and yearns for pleasure over pain.
At the same time, however, this highly concentrated food that we crave is also completely stripped of it’s nutrition, so the body is very confused and continues to overeat because this processed food is sending mega-pleasure signals, but is also looking to provide the body for adequate nourishment and it’s not getting it.
These sugar-laden and fake foods rewire the brain and mess with our pleasure, reward, and emotions. This leads to stress and emotional cravings as a mechanism for the body to regulate itself and get it back to a happy place that it’s experienced in the past.
These foods, by the way, are also designed this way on purpose so we keep coming back!
How we can we change the emotional eating habits?
The first and most important step is to reconnect delicious, rewarding food with the nutrition that nature has always offered us. Even on days when you “treat” yourself to the processed food, you are setting yourself up for your next “out of control” craving. (That doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy processed foods, it just means that you should prepare yourself for more cravings in the days that follow and have a plan of action).
- Get seven to nine hours of uninterrupted sleep a night in a dark room and manage your stress.
- Think positive and live positive. People in negative emotional states tend to crave sweets more than those in a positive frame of mind.
If hunger is not the problem than food is not the solution.
- Ask yourself whether you are really hungry, or are you just sad, angry, lonely or tired.
- If you have a goal in mind that you’re working on for your health that does not align with overindulging in non-healthy foods, then don’t ever have them around.
- Focus on food for it’s health component, never for weight loss as restriction has been found to be very burdensome and fatigueing to the brain.
- If the food item wasn’t around 10,000 years ago, comes in a box, sits on a shelf or has a list of ingredients, there’s likely a better choice out there for you.
- If you find that you’re emotionally eating more than 1-2 times per month, keep a journal and look for patterns.
- If it’s a regular occurrence, find a friend, partner or coach to reach out to and help you overcome the initial hurdle of emotional eating. This is nothing to be ashamed of and a something all of us experience.
Never be ashamed or guilty about emotional eating…learn from it!
EarthFIT Personal Training under the guidance of Whole9 Nutrition Partner and Holistic Coach Seana Hart, offers specific detox and challenges designed to eliminate the cravings of these highly processed foods and teach each individuals about their own body and eating styles.
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