Often the strongest cravings for particular foods occur when we are at our lowest point emotionally. Lots of people use food for comfort occasionally either consciously or unconsciously, and on occasion it is not really an issue. This is often when we are dealing with a tough problem or we are bored and need to keep occupied. Problematic Emotional Eating is when you regularly eat to lessen or ease negative emotions such as stress, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness and loneliness which can sabotage your healthy eating, weight and diabetes management efforts. This type of eating usually leads to eating too much food, especially high calorie, sweet, salty and fatty foods which we tend to crave when negative emotions hit.
It is entirely possible however that if you’re prone to emotional eating, you can take steps to regain control of your eating habits and get back on track with your health management.
Mood and food
Both major events and daily life hassles can trigger Emotional Eating. When there is a major event in your life such as losing a job, dealing with health problems like diabetes, or a relationship breakdown, it is common to experience deep emotions that can trigger over eating.
Daily stress, such as running children around, juggling work, endless medical appointments, or managing the bills, can also trigger emotions that lead to overeating.
We know that some foods might have sort of “addictive” qualities. For example, when you eat foods such as chocolate, your body releases small amounts of mood and satisfaction raising hormones. These feelings can be like a “reward” for eating that food and might encourage you to choose foods next time you are feeling down. Related to this is the simple fact that the pleasure of eating something like chocolate lessens negative emotions.
Food can also be a distraction. If you’re worried about something and going over and over it in your mind, eating comfort foods may distract you. However this distraction is only short term. While you’re eating the food your thoughts focus on the pleasant taste of your comfort food. Unfortunately, when you finish eating, your mind goes back to the worries and you often also have the added burden of guilt about overeating. This is also the case in the situation of eating due to boredom or habit. In the end the feelings of guilt often feed into the cycle of Emotional Eating.
Getting control over eating habits
You can take steps to control cravings. To help stop emotional eating, here are 7 Tips to Help You Deal with Emotional Eating & Diabetes
1) Learn to recognise real hunger
Work out if your hunger is physical or emotional? If you ate just a few hours ago and don’t have a rumbling stomach, you’re probably not really hungry. In that case give the craving a few minutes to pass by distracting yourself and staying away from temptation.
2) Know the trigger
Over a few days, write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat, how you’re feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. You might also like to record your blood glucose levels prior to eating and 2 hours later. Over time, you may see patterns that help you to see any negative eating patterns & triggers you need to avoid, as well as the impact on your diabetes. You can use the mood and food diary from our library to do this.Food and Mood Diary
3) Find other ways to seek comfort
If you are dealing with a low mood, or high stress, instead of reaching for a chocolate bar or potato chips, go for a walk, treat yourself to a movie, listen to music, take a bath, do some guided relaxation, read or call a friend. If you think that stress relating to a particular problem is contributing, try talking to someone about it to work through the problems and seek counselling and support.
4) Don’t keep unhealthy foods around
It can really help not to have easy access to problem foods. Avoid having a lot of highcalorie comfort foods in the house. If you feel hungry or down, postpone going to the shops for a few hours so that these feelings don’t influence your decisions about what to buy at the shop.
5) Eat a healthy balanced diet
If you’re not getting enough calories to meet your energy needs, you may be more likely to give in to Emotional Eating. Some people miss breakfast for example or work through lunch. This often leads to comfort eating later in the day. It is important to try and eat at fairly regular times and don’t skip breakfast. Include foods from the basic groups in your meals. Eat mostly vegetables and fruits, as well as low GI grains, nuts and dairy products, healthy oils and lean protein sources. When you fill up on the basics, you’re more likely to feel fuller, longer.
6) Snack healthy
If you need to eat between meals, choose low calorie foods, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with healthy dip or a handful of nuts. These will fill you up and will not add empty calories.
7) Exercise regularly and get adequate rest
It is easier for you to manage your mood and your body can more effectively fight stress, when it’s fit and well rested. Exercise helps with blood glucose levels; heart health; weight management; stress management and depression. There are many forms of exercise for people with reduced fitness and physical barriers. Exercise Physiologists can assist with a suitable programme. Your GP can refer you for this. Sleep is also very important in the management of diabetes and mood.
If you do find Emotional Eating gets its way at times it is important not to beat yourself up, forgive yourself and just start again the next day. It can help to learn from the experience, and make a plan for how you can prevent it in the future. Focus on the positive steps you are taking for yourself and your eating habits and give yourself credit for making changes that ensure better health.
Do you have an issue with any particular stressors or situations that lead to emotional eating?