A Salad With Your Sorrow?

A pint of Ben & Jerry’s. That whole freaking bag of potato chips. A box of donut holes. No, it’s not the MDA trifecta of evil (although it could be). Sure, they’re among the proverbial symbols of “mood food,” and the saying about Ben and Jerry’s is true: ice cream tops the list, according to Brian Wansink, professor and author on the subject of emotional eating. (Wansink found that beyond top honors, gender determines what we drown our sorrow in. Women turn to chocolate – surprise – and cookies, while men hunt down heartier fare like pizza, steak and casserole.)

But even if these kinds of products have never seen the inside of your kitchen let alone your stomach, that doesn’t mean you’re immune from turning to food for more than nutrition. Yes, even innocent carrots and grape tomatoes can be used for deleterious purposes. No food is safe from the scourge of mindless, emotionally driven eating.

Ultimately, emotional eating is about the response to internal pulls (other than basic hunger). Stress, sadness, loneliness, frustration, boredom, indecision or even the avoidance/craving for intimacy can all be causes. And it turns out the siren song of emotional eating can be more insidious than our response to the external temptations of holiday treats or social spreads. A study published in the medical journal Obesity found that those who ate in response to internal motivations like emotions were more likely to have problems losing weight and keeping it off than people whose triggers were more external like social eating. If you think you see a glimmer of your reflection in this frame, here are a few tips to get you in the right relationship with food:

Choose a diet and exercise routine that minimizes blood sugar spikes and dips.
We couldn’t possibly be talking about that Primal Blueprint lifestyle again! You betcha.

Create Structure
If it helps, eat the same general things each day: eggs with veggies for breakfast, salad for lunch, etc. The structure will keep you on track, or it will at least allow you to better sniff out those emotionally-driven deviations.

Try a Food Diary
Countless experts recommend grabbing a pen and paper instead of a snack when a nagging emotional craving hits. If you aren’t truly hungry, you’re likely hankering for something other than food. Record when during the day, and what you think the underlying feeling might be that’s pulling you toward the refrigerator. You’ll be able to indentify patterns and triggers that will help you regain control.

Address Underlying Issues
Sometimes we’re just looking for a distraction to avoid loading the dishwasher or grading that stack of papers in the briefcase. However, many people prone to emotional eating are dealing with larger issues that can include depression, anxiety, overwhelming stress, relationship troubles, or feelings of self-contempt. Seek out a therapist and give yourself the kind of help that will truly feed and empower the spirit.

Maintain Life Balance
The lower the drama, the less incentive there is to work it out with an afternoon snack. Nonetheless, life hands us our share of stress and even upheaval. In the face (or absence) of these, try as much as you can to keep the routine going (i.e. structured eating, workouts, sleep, etc.). At the lowest or most difficult points of our lives, routine can truly help carry us through. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Enjoy Finding Other Comforts
Instead of turning to food during times of stress or distraction, get yourself outside for some sun, take a walk, head for the weight room or even just the steam room at the gym. Tend the garden, or buy some fresh flowers. Take some time in the work shop or get a pedicure. Drive the dog and/or kids to the park for some frisbee, or pick up the phone and call a friend. Life is full of gratifying options that won’t leave you feeling guilty afterward.

We’ve all been here at some point. Got tips, questions, or words of wisdom you’d like to share? Jump right in.

Irini Souiki Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Sensible Vices

How to Cheat

FitSugar: National Eating Disorder Awareness Week

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