Overeating Part 2: Emotion Driven Overeating

Now that you have assessed the lifestyle factors that may be inducing overconsumption that is non-emotion based, its time to explore your eating psychology, dedicating time into depicting the situations that surround your overeating.

It may seem like a drastic comparison, but your body can react to food like a drug as it can change your biochemical reactions. Eventually, when you have comfort eaten frequently enough, your brain is wired to source out comfort in food. This is because of many foods, especially carbohydrates, increase production of serotonin and tryptophan, allowing us to experience a temporary feeling of calm, often accompanied by a mood boost.

Receiving this form of comfort from time to time is ok, but relying on excess amounts of foods to regulate your mood is a dangerous and counterproductive habit, which ultimately, leads to a vicious cycle of depending on food for emotional regulation. Further down the line this can “Eventually, when you lead to serious health issues, as well as implicating your natural have comfort eaten stress response, as engaging in daily stress (chronic stress) frequently enough, your dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with brain is wired to source immediate short-term threats (a shot of cortisol and adrenaline).Unfortunately, your body does not always recognise this stress has been triggered by hostility at home, your boss, or even an electricity bill. A healthy body and healthy mind go hand in hand, and, the more equipped you are to deal with stress or undesirable emotions proactively and productively, the easier it is to stay true to larger health goals, not to mention improve your well-being.
Stress can show up in many forms, maybe you feel very emotional, and sometimes you experience rapid and unpredictable emotion changes, maybe you notice yourself feeling disconnected from everything around you, or perhaps your thoughts leave you feeling overwhelmed, with a thousand thoughts rushing throw your head. With all of this commonly reported by individuals on a daily basis, is it any wonder we find ourselves reaching out for comfort, calm or even distraction in food?

Exercise; Emotion and Food Diary

By increasing your awareness, you can begin to counteract this response. Try the following exercise, as it all starts with the simple act of noticing what is going in your life when you overeat. This exercise includes keeping a daily diary and noting down any strong emotions you feel and their cause. Be that anxiety, sadness, happiness, fatigue, exhaustion, even uncertainty. Perhaps you have a stressful day at work; your partner has annoyed you, your family are overwhelming you, no matter how big or small it may seem, write it down.

Give yourself daily diet feedback before you get into bed – write as much or as little as you like, honesty is the important part. Did you treat yourself to a takeaway- despite trying to diet, did you buy a chocolate bar from the vending machine at work – despite not being hungry, or, did you eat healthy all day? Although two weeks may seem tedious, the first week you may be somewhat aware that you have to admit any diet sins to this diary, which may lead you to eat better than usual (this is called the ‘Hawthorne Effect’). By the second week, it will feel more natural, and hopefully, relaxed- allowing the exercise to be more realistic and helpful.

Once you have completed two weeks, have a few days off, then go back and read over your diary with fresh eyes- note the good days and the bad- can you see any patterns, what emotional stressors lead to overeating or comfort eating?

After establishing your triggers, you can start to actively look for ways to interrupt them, and ultimately, create new responses. This is the beginning of rewriting and retraining your neuropathways to respond to stressors in a healthy, non-food related, manner. An example may be that you have a weekly board meeting on Tuesdays which often leaves you self-doubting and deflated. Book a Zumber class every Tuesday evening to boast your mood before ending the day, or go for a walk Tuesday lunchtimes, perhaps with some peaceful music, a podcast, or audible book.

Make a list of “non-food” nourishing activities —personal to you— that elicit a relaxation response, then find ways to include them in your day. Be sure to layer these up at times that you know will be challenging or stressful times (moving house, deadlines, a separation etc.). Examples include calling a friend, taking a short walk, a long bubble bath, reading a book, listening to music or try your hand at sketching. Any of these activities can short circuit the desire to overeat as a form of medication. It will take time and practice, but commit to trying this for a few weeks and notice what happens, soon these non-food related reactions will become a habit, and you are likely to experience a lot more peace, both physically and mentally.

From Stress to Success

Next time you feel yourself becoming stressed, try some of the following tools;

Walk

So simple, yet, extremely effective. The repetitive action of walking triggers the body’s relaxation response, helping to reduce stress. Just ten minutes is said to give an immediate energy boost and improve mood. Although it may feel unnatural to up and walk next time you feel stressed or low, you will soon be hooked after you feel the benefit post-walk. Perhaps after you have started to move more every day and gain confidence in your ability, you may try jogging. Jogging for long distances naturally releases neurotransmitters that reduce some of the hormones that cause stress and anxiety-like symptoms, this also tires your muscles in a way that is extremely effective on stress symptoms.

Name It & Contain it.

Dedicate 10 minutes (and 10 minutes only) to writing down the thoughts rushing around in your mind. Things that need to be done, worries, insecurities…anything! By getting them down on paper, you halt rumination and worry. That list will be there tomorrow; you can sleep easy and tackle them the following day. You can even address them individually, and start working through them, perhaps you will see how silly a worry or insecurity may be once written down. An effective method for worry, in particular, is to write down what is indeed worrying you and the worst possible outcome of this worry, then write what you can do in that scenario. Then you have faced your fear, the worst of the worst, but you have an action plan if that were to happen. Then there’s no need or use in ruminating over the same fear, worry itself is non-productive and serves no purpose. This acts as a placing of your concerns into a box, closing it and walking away until you can be proactive about the situation.

Alongside these activities, later on, we will be looking at tools you can actively use within your day that can counter stress responses on the go, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Mindfulness.

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