You are what you eat. What you eat affects your thoughts and what you think affects how you feel. Unhealthy eating can exacerbate your reactivity to stress and then your stress response brings physiological changes that cause cravings for sweet and salty foods. Therefore what you eat affects your levels of stress and anxiety.
From the beginning of your life you have been rewarded with food. As a baby when you cried you were fed or given a bottle. As a child you were rewarded with dessert for eating your vegetables or tidying your room. Perhaps you celebrated your graduation from University or gaining a promotion at work by going out for a meal in your favourite restaurant. We eat to reward or entertain ourselves.
We also eat to lessen or negate an unpleasant experience. If you lose an important business contract or go on a date that doesn’t go well, you find comfort in the contents of your fridge. When you are feeling busy or overworked and you finally go on a much needed holiday you look forward to eating out at all those great restaurants to help you to relax and unwind.
Emotional eating occurs when you turn to food based on emotional feelings rather than physical hunger. Eating to “stuff your feelings down”, or eating foods that have positive memories attached to them that make you feel better, or eating just to distract yourself from strong emotions. Comfort foods deliver only short-term relief. The emotion you feel is only partially desensitised while you are eating the food. If you had a time schedule to show how long the food makes you feel better, as opposed to how long you wear the food, it would be easier for your rational mind to take over.
It would be more helpful to replace the emotional satisfaction that the food provides with an activity that serves the same purpose. So if during a busy day you usually take a break to relax with a cup of tea and a biscuit. An alternative may be to sit and relax for a few minutes while practicing mindfulness, listening to some soothing music or doing a few deep breathing exercises.
By pinpointing the times, locations and reasons you emotionally eat, you can begin to change your behavioural patterns.
Identify when you are most likely to eat – you are bored, need something to do, feel nervous, lonely, afraid, frustrated, stressed, or anxious.
Where you eat – while driving, in bed, watching TV, during tea breaks, or at social events.
And why you eat – when you need to feel loved, to feel more important, to relax, to feel secure, to compensate for something unpleasant, for companionship, or as a reward.
Ask: What could I do instead? Give yourself plenty of time to think of alternative activities that genuinely appeal to you. Perhaps do something creative, read a book or magazine, call a friend, go for a walk or bike ride, go to a movie, work on a project or hobby, close your eyes and relax for a few minutes, go for a drive to a scenic spot, swim, engage in a sport you enjoy, knit or sew, do a puzzle, interact with others, etc.
The food that you choose to eat is the most important factor in your life that you have total control over in order to maintain your physical and mental wellbeing. Being aware of this, will result in the ability to be more in tune with your body; integrating mind, body, and soul. This can result in a greater understanding of food as nourishment in order to gain and maintain your physical and emotional wellbeing, where you feel stronger and more resilient to the pressures you face.
Decide that you are important enough. Prioritise it in your life and support yourself in being successful.
Take tiny pigeon steps and pick one small change that is quick and easy and will get you started.
Be kind to yourself and forget about all or nothing perfectionism.
Change is one of our greatest teachers. It asks us each day to prove our commitment to ourselves.
Ask for support from a friend, spouse, coach, colleague, family member, or whomever you feel comfortable with. Spend time with like-minded people.
Keep it simple and easy. The less complicated it is, the less excuses you’ll make.
Celebrate even small successes by choosing rewards that are meaningful to you.