Do you ever find yourself staring into the refrigerator or looking in the pantry and thinking to yourself “ I just don’t know what I want, but I want something”. Well my friend that is emotional eating. Your body, mind, or soul is requiring nourishment of some kind, but our brains don’t really understand what it is, so we turn to food. The reason we do is it has been our go to response anytime we aren’t sure exactly what to do. I see so many folks that eat due to boredom, depression, sadness, uncertainty, and more.
We, as a society also tend to eat to celebrate, gather, or just chat. Food is the center of so many emotional events. However, too many find themselves trapped in the cycle of feeling uncomfortable, eating to numb out, then feeling guilty. We call this a habit loop. It can be very difficult to break this habit loop. We think we are bad when we exhibit certain reactions. It’s really just your thoughts that are bad. It’s the same with food. We say things like “I was bad today, I ate a cupcake” or “I was so good, I ordered a salad instead of the pasta I always get.” We associate the food choice with good or bad. In reality it’s only our thoughts that are good or bad.
On average 45 millions people go on a diet every year. This has resulted in the diet industry making over $33 billion every year! We often have some outdated ideals about weight loss also. Most people try to lose weight with restrictive diets, and they will see results, however they will be short lived. Once you stop restricting the calories you eat, the weight will return.
Another issue is when you lose weight you also tend to lose some muscle in the process. When you regain this weight it’s almost all fat. The average person will gain up to 11 pounds for every diet they go on* We fool ourselves into thinking if we just eat less we will be successful. That will usually lead to bingeing later on. When you restrict the food you eat, you cause cravings. When your cravings get too strong, we give in. It’s easier to just give in than to white knuckle your way past the cake in the break room.
Many of the women I work with are also dealing with hormone imbalance. They aren’t even aware it’s part of the problem. When our cortisol levels are high, and our insulin is out of control we experience highs and lows on the emotional roller coaster. They are dealing with stress, anxiety, guilt and other emotions that reek havoc on their digestive systems.
When you are rushing through your day and grabbing a bite here and a bite there of your lunch trying to make your deadline for your work, your body feels the stress and thinks you are in danger. We call that the “critter brain”* and it’s job is to protect you.
Let’s talk about your autonomic nervous system. It’s made of of the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. It’s responsible for regulating the unconscious actions in the body. When you are stressed your body goes in to fight or flight mode (this is thanks to your sympathetic nervous system).
Your brain doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a lion or being yelled at by your boss. However, even if you have eaten the healthiest meal, your digestive system is put on hold to send blood flow to your extremities to help you flee danger. Find time in your schedule to get in some movement. It doesn’t have to be hours in the gym, you can play with your kids, walk your dog, ride your bike, anything that gets your heart rate up. This also provides you with a rush of endorphins, you know the feel good hormones. You will be pleasantly surprised at how just a 30 minute session of movement can improve your mood. It then gives you some clarity on your next decisions. Maybe you drink a bit more water, make a better food choice, it can even improve your sleep! All of these things play a big role in balancing your hormones and that can help keep your weight off.
Another cause for emotional eating can be dehydration. Millions of adults are walking around right now dehydrated! Your body will send you signals for hunger, thirst, needing to use the bathroom, even sleep. You just need to know what to look for. I recommend drinking 8-12 ounces of water as soon as you wake up. This will help your body feel better and support the healthy function of your internal organs. You will want to continue to drink water throughout the day. An easy way to determine how much water is right if you is to take your weight, divide by 2 and convert that number to ounces. You may need more based on your activity level. But this is always a good start. When your body needs water it might feel like a hunger signal. This is why you want to know the difference. You might not be able to sip water during the day. In this case increase the amount you drink when you are able, such as first thing in the morning, mid day and when you get home. You will go to the bathroom more often at first, but your body will adjust. You will also feel better! Dehydration can cause fatigue, headaches, even dry skin.
If you are struggling to lose weight, and think it’s only you, you’re not alone! You might just need to tweak a few things and be a little forgiving to yourself. Eat nutrient dense food, drink plenty of water, get some sleep, and allow yourself some space.