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Emotional Eating: Experts Reveal The Triggers And How To Control Them



For Ernest Hemingway, it was oysters. For Nora Ephron, it was mashed potatoes.

Humans have been eating our emotions for as long as we can remember. But that does not make it a good idea.

Cortisol is our main stress hormone (cortisol, dopamine and serotonin)

Cortisol is our main stress hormone , triggering our fight-or-flight instinct. It also regulates how our bodies use carbohydrates, fats and proteins. So if we're stressed or anxious and cortisol kicks in, that can make us want to carbo-load.

"When we're stressed, our bodies are flooded in cortisol," said author and psychologist Susan Albers "That makes us crave sugar, fatty, salty foods."

Then there's dopamine and neurotransmitter associated with learning about rewards. It kicks into gear at the promise that something positive is about to happen, like eating a food you love. The comfort foods we turn to because they taste so good give us a surge of dopamine, Albers said, and we look for that high again and again.

"There is research that says even anticipating eating certain foods generates dopamine," said Karen R. Koenig, a licensed clinical social worker. author . That explains why scientists call it the "anticipation molecule" ̵

1; it's released when we know we're about to experience something pleasurable. "You do not even have to eat [to generate dopamine]," "Koenig told HuffPost .

chemical, "which when it drops to low levels can be linked to depression. A hormone and neurotransmitter, serotonin itself is not in food – but tryptophan an amino acid necessary to produce serotonin, is. Famously associated with turkey, tryptophan is also found in cheese, and that could be why Thanksgiving drumsticks and grilled sandwiches are a comfort. Carbs can also boost serotonin levels, which can improve your mood, and chocolate, too is linked to a serotonin spike.

Sarah Allen, and psychologist specializing in mood and eating disorders, lists stress and boredom as two main drivers of emotional eating.

"Eating gives us something to do. It fills our time, giving us a way to procrastinate, "Albers told HuffPost.

We often use food to mark the time – lunch, for example, can provide a break in a dragging work day. So we come to associate eating with relief or even excitement, and it's only natural that we would reach for those same feelings when we're worried or sad.

"Events do not have a meaning; we give them a meaning, "Koenig said. "The meaning of eating is, 'I'm going to be happy. I'm not going to be in emotional discomfort. I will have this wonderful experience. "

This connection is also relevant when it comes to another kind of emotional eating: happy eating. Think about how you celebrate great achievements and special occasions, or even just define fun outings. We chose the familiar discomfort of the food over the unfamiliar discomfort of a woman, feelings.

"There's a conscious and unconscious emotional discomfort," Koenig said. "Sometimes we know [what we’re feeling]sometimes we do not – we just feel uneasy or not happy, and we do not deal with that. Instead, we just eat. Then we get what we know we'll have: shame, remorse, regret. …

Comfort foods do not tend to be the most common cause of emotional eating. be healthy. We want cake or pasta or chips when we're emotionally eating. There are few reasons for this, according to Albers: We have emotional memories around certain foods that are more likely to involve your grandmother's lasagna than a salad. Plus, our culture categorizes certain foods as treats or guilty pleasures, and that's what we want to soothe or reward ourselves. In addition, something like a candy bar gives your blood sugar a surge, which makes you feel better in the moment.

But after we eat for emotional reasons, we may not feel too great – because we know we overate or consumed unhealthy foods. Or maybe we feel just fine – because we're celebrating a hard-earned promotion with a red velvet cupcake. Either way, we are replacing our original feelings with the emotions that emerge out of eating, from shame to satisfaction

We associate comfort foods with positive memories

"said Jordan D. Troisi, associate professor of psychology at Sewanee University.

Troisi worked on a 2015 study conducted for the journal Appetite by a State University of New York at Buffalo Research. The study involved a group of undergraduate students, some of whom were asked to remember the time when one of their close relationships was threatened or they felt alienated in some way. Afterwards, those who recalled the feelings of isolation or loneliness were more likely to consume comfort foods, Troisi said, and they found these foods to be tastier than other students who were not eating comfort foods in an emotionally negative situation

" We are working with the assumption that individuals … consume comfort foods when they feel isolation because they remind them of the strong relationships they have or have had, and that can alleviate that isolation, "said Troisi

Think about all the happy and comforting memories you have involved with food. Maybe your family used to celebrate occasions with a trip to the ice cream shop, or maybe your mom or dad used to soften the blow of a bad day with macaroni and cheese.

Here are how experts suggest you control emotional eating

All of the experts we spoke with said that emotional eating can be OK in moderation. But when this behavior becomes a habit, that can harm you both physically and emotionally – physically, because of the regular consumption (and perhaps overconsumption) of foods that are not so healthy, and emotionally, because, as Albers noted, eating to avoid

So how do we separate our emotions from eating? To start with, we have to remember food's true purpose – to nourish us. In fact, Koenig suggests that the term "comfort food" itself could be part of the problem.

"A misleading misnomer if there ever was one, comfort is not something we want to keep associating with food," Koenig said. "We want to file food in our brains under nourishment and occasional pleasure. We want to seek comfort through friends, doing good things for ourselves and engaging in healthy activities that reduce internal distress. "

" As soon as you start looking for food, stop, "Allen advised. "Think, 'am I hungry? Do I need food in my stomach, or is one of my triggers going off? What do I need right now? '"

Both Albers and Koenig said that we should ask ourselves if we're really hungry for food or if we need some other action to treat what we're feeling. Allen suggests journaling, even if it's just jotting down what you're eating and taping that note to the fridge, to recognize a pattern in what you eat, when you eat it and why. Koenig recommends thinking of a flow chart: I am hungry – yes or no? What do I want to eat? Do not I hungry? What am I feeling? If you're grieving, think of constructive ways to sit with that grief. If you're angry or hurt by someone, go talk to that person

Albers and Koenig also pinpoint the concept of mindful eating. Eating should be its own activity. Instead of mood-driven consumption, we would be solving our emotional needs on our own and concentrating on our meals on their own. What good is even the most delicious treat if you're so emotionally distracted that you're just eating and eating to the point where you can not even taste it anymore and you've ignored the signs of fullness to the point of discomfort ? When we eat, the goal is to sit down and really experience that meal and its flavors, and be aware of when we're full.

One important thing to remember if you're trying to curb emotional eating habits is not to go cold turkey: Do not give up on every single food habit at once, do not beat yourself about the times you eat your feelings and think about other forms of comfort and reward

"When you tell yourself you can not have something, then you want that thing, "Allen said. "If you say you can not chocolate, you think of chocolate."

The risk of being too hard on ourselves is that it only increases feelings of stress, longing, shame and guilt, all of which can just lead to and vicious cycle. We can enjoy our cookies every now and then, but we should try to eat them for the pleasure of eating a cookie and not as a form of self-treatment


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