“Food, with all its complexities, can be one of the most emotionally charged, indulgent and most secretive of all our relationships.” Nutritionist Hala El Shafie.
Do you regularly find yourself eating for reasons besides satisfying physical hunger itself? Do you take solace in food as a source of comfort, stress busting or as a reward, only to regret it soon after? Yes, we’re talking about emotional eating – how to recognise the triggers and move towards healthier patterns of self-nourishment.
The reasons we reach for certain foods are complex. As humans we are influenced by a cocktail of emotions, external influences, biochemistry linking our gut and brain and powerful associations we can learn throughout childhood. Emotional eating can be learned at a very early age, and can be a hard habit to break. After all, it is all around us – people bond over food, show love and care by feeding one another, and food is part of every major celebration on our calendar.
Often the decisions we make around food choice are driven by our social and emotional brain. This explains while even though we ‘know’ we should make a kinder choice we can continue to ignore our own inner voice. Eating for emotional reasons is normal from time to time. It is when the balance is thrown out of whack and we start looking to food to ‘cope’ with problems and pressures, that an unhealthy cycle forms which should be addressed.
Here are five tools that can help you get on top of emotional eating patterns.
- Understand your triggers. Have a good look at how you feel and what is happening in your life when you experience ‘that’ craving. Experiment with alternative ways to meet whichever need you are facing in that moment. Try making a delicious chai tea to reward yourself, walking barefoot in the garden to ground yourself, cuddling a loved one for stress relief, planning a fun activity to quell feelings of boredom and doing a quick meditation to calm an anxious mind.
- Keep a food journal. Write down what you ate and how you felt before, during and after eating. This is an extremely powerful way to become aware of your eating patterns, to become clear on whether your perceptions match reality and to help you hold yourself accountable when shifting your patterns.
- Face your fears head on. Stop using food as a buffer and feel your feelings by tackling the issue presenting itself directly. Avoid turning away and take steps towards dealing with the situation at hand by talking to a loved one or seeking professional help if necessary.
- Increase your shut eye. A study from the journal Appetite confirmed the link between inadequate sleep and emotional eating. You can get around this by ensuring you are having eight hours of quality sleep every night.
- Consider natural therapies. There are so many complementary medicine treatments that can support you to address the obstacles in your path and help bring about sustainable lifestyle changes. A homeopathy session can help address emotional drivers, and an acupuncture session can help even out emotional imbalances. Many people also find tailored flower essences and herbal medicines prescribed through a naturopathy appointment can help balance blood sugar levels and address hormonal imbalances which contribute to some food cravings.