Guest Post: Emotional Eating – Why Do We Eat Comfort Food?

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Sophia Smith is beauty and style blogger, an eco-lifestyle lover and a food enthusiast. She is very passionate about natural skincare, minimalist wardrobe, yoga and mindful living. She has contributed to a number of publications including: Eco Warrior Princess, Viva Glam Magazine, How to Simplify, Carousel and Cause Artist. You can find out more about her writing by following her on: Facebook  Twitter  Google +

First, let’s get one thing out of the way – there is nothing inherently wrong with comfort foods. They can be nutritious, rewarding, and delicious. But eating anything in excess and with no control, comfort foods included, is far from healthy, and often has roots in our emotions. Too much broccoli, the lauded super-green, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, and you might be headed towards hypothyroidism. Too much lemon water and you could jeopardize your dental health.

So, how and why do we lose control of our eating habits and end up binging on a bucket of ice-cream or emptying our cookie jar? To put it simply, it’s human nature. But let’s take a closer look at how our emotions and diet are intertwined and what you can do to get your eating back on track.

Food for Feels

As we’ve already established, there is nothing wrong with a scoop of ice-cream, but the reason you reach for it can determine whether or not you are stress eating or simply enjoying your favorite dessert. And when stress kicks in, we’re often completely unaware of our decision-making and look for justification in hunger that doesn’t exist.

Since we make over 200 food-related choices every day and are exposed to innumerable stressful situations, it’s no wonder we are often governed by our feelings instead of rational thinking.

When are we most prone to eating even without being hungry? When we’re bored, stressed (hence the name), distracted, anxious, sad, or feeling guilty. In those moments, food seems like the only, and most immediate source of gratification, a way to restore our feeling of happiness and satisfaction. Studies have shown that even something as simple as watching a sad movie can trigger overeating, so imagine what getting fired or a fiery row can cause in your mind.

Unfortunately, the fleeting sense of satisfaction leads to more eating, and overeating, in an attempt to fill an emotional void right now, as opposed to focusing on long-term health goals that inspire wiser food decisions.

The Comfort Factor

If you have ever seen anyone reach for spinach or asparagus to soothe their sorrows after a breakup, please notify the medical authorities, because the world has yet to see such derring-do. It’s no coincidence that Ben & Jerry’s, cookie dough and Nutella top the comfort food list as our most beloved edible source of solace.

You’ll also probably recall a time you ate one too many slices of pizza, or more macaroni and cheese than you should consume in an entire week. All of these, and many other comfort favorites contain plenty of sugar and fats that make your brain go haywire, flood your body with happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin, spike your blood-sugar levels and put you in a state of bliss, at least for a moment.

Scientifically speaking, we all know that other, healthier alternatives do exist that can achieve the same results, if not even better, while at the same time protecting your wellbeing. Meditation, exercising, love-making, a warm bubble bath, a massage, to name a few, are as rewarding as they are healthy, and they do stimulate your brain’s pleasure center. But they take time, effort, patience and willpower, all or some of which we often lack in moments of weakness. Plus, when stress takes over, we tend to find justifications and excuses such as “one more couldn’t hurt” or “I’ve deserved an extra cookie” to rationalize something which has nothing to do with rationality, but emotions.

How to Tip the Scales

First of all, you need to understand that the problem of emotional eating can be so complex as to span all the way to your childhood, since research has uncovered a link between parents who feed their kids for comfort and their kids eating for comfort later in their adolescence. Such a deep-rooted nemesis should never be taken lightly, but tackled with resolve and strategic thinking. Get to know your triggers, and identify them in order to find a suitable substitution to replace your eating frenzy.

Conditions for change will rarely, if ever, be perfect to finally get your emotional eating under control and replace it with mindful, awareness-based food choices. In fact, stress is needed for you to test if you’re able to overcome the primal urge to feel pleasure and subdue the pain of whatever is causing you to feel bad.

Whatever your stressor: sadness, boredom, anxiety, or guilt, find a different source of comfort that will support your life’s balance. Treat your meals as rituals, explore healthy cookbooks, add new spices to make your cooking more fun and engaging, and make sure you get enough sleep to reduce your cortisol levels. When you enjoy your regular meals, and invest time and effort to make them healthy, chances are you will be less likely to resort to binge eating.

Fortify your nutrition with healthy supplements such as Ethical Nutrients that will prevent micronutrient deficiencies and restore balance in your diet. Craft your own meal plan and stick to it, in order to avoid overeating, and choose wisely with whom you share your meals – because we often stick to our limitations if our friends support us.

Finally, an occasional indulgence in moderation is healthy for you, so unless your health calls for severe restrictions, there’s no need to resort to them in your attempt to gain better control over your eating habits. They might, in fact, exacerbate the problem. In plain English: don’t give up an occasional cookie or ice-cream scoop. Just don’t let them be your emergency exit when life throws you a curve ball, but find better ways to cope, and make them a cherry on top of your health-oriented life.