What’s your drug of choice?

Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions.
I believe this is good news. One, it means that if you find yourself eating due to boredom, sadness, stress or depression, you are not alone (so there’s nothing “wrong” with you). Two, it means it is possible to solve the problem and better manage your eating habits and weight. The key is to identify your triggers.

“Food can act like a drug,” says Geneen Roth, the author of Women, Food, and God. “It can take the edge off whatever is going on, similar to the way a drink does for alcoholics. People think to themselves, ‘I may be feeling upset, but at least I get to taste something good.’ The go-to foods of ice cream, chocolate and cookies temporarily raise levels of serotonin (the feel-good hormone) and lower the level of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Interestingly, Brian Wansink, Ph.D., author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, surveyed more than 1,000 people and found that participants were most likely to turn to comfort foods when they were happy (86 percent) or when they wanted to reward themselves (74 percent), rather than when they were depressed (39 percent), bored (52 percent), or lonely (39 percent).

Do you have an emotional trigger? Do you base your food choices on your emotions?

The first step you must take is to identify your triggers, those emotions/feelings, environments and/or situations that cause you to reach for food for comfort or approval. Are you eating to avoid feeling sad or lonely? Did something happen at work that is making you feel uncomfortable, or very happy? Do you feel compelled to eat more than usual when out with a large social group? Are you working late to meet a deadline and nervous that you won’t finish the job?

Secondly, when you feel the craving coming on, pause for a few minutes. So often, emotional eating is mindless – you reach for food without even thinking about it. Train yourself to take a deep breath and think about what you are about to do. If you can identify that you are not so hungry, but rather emotional, you give yourself an opportunity to either make a healthier food choice, or engage in another activity.

The ultimate approach to overcome emotional eating is to look at all areas of your life and make them more fulfilling. Then, you can enjoy food for the energy and the nourishment it provides your body and not turn to food for comfort. This can be a very poignant process; not always easy but well worth the effort. Have you been holding yourself back from making changes in certain areas of your life? Now is the time to take control and you will observe a domino effect, with each improvement creating more happiness in each part of your life.

Next Steps:

  • Determine if you are an emotional eater.
  • Identify your triggers.
  • Look at all aspects of your life and notice if there are aspects you wish to change.
  • Create a plan to improve the parts of your life in which you don’t feel fulfilled.
  • Write at least 20 attributes you like about yourself.
  • Image © Institute for Integrative Nutrition

    Image © Institute for Integrative Nutrition

    These steps will help you feel more confident and understand more about your relationship to food. If you are concerned about your diet or if your lifestyle is not supporting your health and well-being, Contact me or call 413-282-7286. At Bravo! Wellness, I work with my clients to create manageable lifestyle changes so they are able to achieve their greatest potential in their professional and personal lives. Start living your best life today! I’m here to support you.

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    10 Responses to "What’s your drug of choice?"
    1. Kim says:

      I am definitely an emotional eater. I eat when i am upset, stressed and to relax. The hardest one for me to overcome is the eating to relax. I often feel like I have so much to do that allowing myself to relax isn’t really okay. So by eating I justify the sitting down because I have to sit to eat.

    2. Tamara says:

      I used to be a very bad emotional eater and I did so because I was stressed. I used to think that I was in control of the food, but it was controlling me. I have since recognized the triggers and don’t turn to food. So glad I got it under control!

    3. Leanne says:

      I am totally an emotional eater. Mine is to reward myself. I don’t spend enough time for me, so to compensate I reward myself when I can by food. I just need to carve out some “me” time,

    4. I am not an emotional eater, but in working with people who are grieving–emotional eating is a common way to “numb” the grief temporarily. What feedback would you give to someone who is grieving?

    5. Dorethia says:

      I have to be so much more conscious lately of not eating when stressed. Your points on identifying triggers is extremely helpful.


    6. Elizabeth says:

      I am one of those people who forgets to eat and then once I sit down, I can eat as much as my 6’6″ husband. I think that being around food, rather than putting yourself in an environment where food is not “in your face” accessible is a wise thing to do– then you can figure out other coping mechanisms.

    7. Joanne says:

      I have been known to eat from my emotions, especially when I’m bored. But I channel that into preparing the food, and am very happy while I’m cooking. Not only do I enjoy the process, but I also am spending more time on the preparing than the eating. I get to think while I’m doing it, and know the ingredients that are in my meal (I eat fairly healthy). But I would be interested in reading the response to Claire’s question above.

    8. Thinking of food as a drug really stops me in my tracks. I definitely use food as a reward, especially sweets. Thinking about the drug parallel and how easily that can spiral out of control is a handy and powerful reminder to do everything in moderation!

    9. Emily DeWan says:

      I find that I don’t want to make the effort to eat well when I’m stressed or sad, and that grabbing a cookie or making a box of mac & cheese is much easier. If I think about it logically I know that I’ll feel better if I cut up veggies or make a green smoothie, but it’s often difficult to get to that state of mind.

    10. Roz K Walker says:

      I love the thought of giving yourself the opportunity to either make a healthier food choice or to engage in another activity. By taking that brief pause, you can avoid making unhealthy eating choices. Thanks for this tip!

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