Stress and emotional eating
It is common knowledge that stress and emotional eating can adversely impact us both physically and psychologically. In this way, when we negatively cope with stress and emotions, we can easily begin stress-eating foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. But why does this happen? And why does it often happen on autopilot? Before you even realize, you find yourself elbow-deep in a packet of chips!
Now, if you eat when you are stressed occasionally, that is no problem. But if it is affecting your physical, mental, and emotional well being; then it might be an issue for you. This blog will help you take action to re-wire some of the habitual patterns that no longer serve your highest good.
Why does stress-eating happen on autopilot?
Firstly, our brain is a very old brain. Regardless of the actual situation, stress causes our brain to go into fight or flight mode. So our brain reacts as if a fierce tiger is approaching, preparing us for survival. Hence, the brain is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones), whilst our pre-frontal cortex (rational brain) is hijacked. This process literally shuts down our decision-making abilities. Survival instinct takes over. Ultimately, we prepare to freeze, fight, or flee.
Now, there actually was no tiger. Perhaps the cause of stress was work-demands or family conflict. Or maybe excessive coffee activated the stress hormones? Whatever it is, our body feels like it has just run away from a scary tiger. Also, it thinks we used significant energy. As a result, we now crave calorie-dense foods to prepare for the next attack. Not only this, our body will also hold onto fat (in particular, around our stomach area) to save some energy for when we might need it. This is one reason we crave when we are stressed.
Habits cause stress and emotional eating
Secondly, autopilot often occurs because of ingrained habits. Habits start with a trigger. For example, when you experience sadness, that triggers a certain behavior (such as eating a packet of cookies). You feel good momentarily, and get a hit of dopamine (a feel-good hormone in the brain). So you temporarily forget about the stress around you. Importantly, your brain will remember this feel-good sensation. And when we feel stressed again, your brain will send a signal: ‘Remember last time when we felt stressed, we ate something and felt good! Let’s do that again!’ So the cycle will continue! This habit will become part of your instinctual and bodily reactions.
Embodied behaviors example
Let me share another example to illustrate this. Think about when you might have rearranged your kitchen and decided to store your coffee cups in a different location. It might be days, or even weeks when you habitually go to the wrong cupboard to fetch a cup. You will constantly go back to the same position where they use to be. Because before you even have a chance to think about it, you will open the cupboard and realize ‘Oh, I changed the position and they are not here anymore’.
Thus, your mind has become your body. We literally embody certain behaviors and habits! It is the same autopilot process when we feel stressed.
The subconscious mind
Interestingly, 90% of our decisions are driven by our subconscious mind. In this way, many actions and emotional states are literally stored in our body and mind merely from repetitive behaviors. That is why some people are addicted to always feeling angry, sad, or frustrated. We embody this feeling and it becomes our ‘go-to emotional place’. And to feel good again, we eat. We temporarily feel good. And, our brain remembers. Then, the cycle continues even though we said last time ‘I will not do that anymore…’
What can I do to stop stress and emotional eating?
Here are some solid action steps….
1) Observe and change your thoughts
We need to change what we think. This will create new synapses in our brain and we will begin firing and wiring these new patterns. First, we need to become aware of all of our thinking patterns. Ask yourself, ‘What are my dominant thoughts?’ ‘I am lazy…so dumb…so fat and ugly. I will never lose weight’. Your brain picks up on the repeating phrases and says ‘Yeah, that is who I am. I am not going to change my identity’. Awareness and observing these thoughts is the first step in ending stress eating and emotional eating.
2) Identify repetitive emotions
Next, become aware of your repetitive emotions and feelings. What is the feeling you are addicted to? What is your ‘go-to’ feeling? Some people are constantly sad or seem to be depressed about something. To some degree, they are comfortable in that place. They (subconsciously) want to stay in that feeling. It’s what they know and it meets their needs. We need to be aware of this and be really honest with ourselves….
3) Decide you want to change
Thirdly, we need to make a decision that we no longer want to think, feel, or experience those thoughts and feelings. I am certainly not suggesting you repress emotions. I believe we need to feel all emotions and feelings. We need to see them as a message. But we need to question emotions and ask – ‘What does this feeling mean? Why am I feeling like this? Is it something that I need to act on?’ If some emotions are a constant theme and are no longer serving us, we need to change how we feel and work on it.
4) Intention setting
Finally, set an intention of what you want to do instead. Next time you are stressed, what are you going to do? What are the thoughts you want to experience? What are the actions? For example, next time you are stressed you might say ‘I want to speak to the person who upset me’. Or, ‘I want to start journaling to start processing my emotions and thoughts in a more powerful way’. ‘I am going to seek support and help and will process what I am feeling and learn new behaviors’.
Rewire your brain
Setting an intention paves the way for our brain. Your brain will begin practicing new pathways and synapses for improved ways of thinking and acting. What we wire is what we fire (automatically). Change can be faster than you think! Practice practice practice! Repetition is the mother of skills. So let me know what will you do next time you feel stressed?
6 KEY STEPS TO
END BINGE EATING CYCLE &
RELEASE EMOTIONAL WEIGHT
Regain power over food!
Binge eating and emotional eating is not a food problem, it is an emotional problem.
We can’t rely on will-power to stop binge eating. In this e-book I am addressing the underlying reasons why we use food as a drug and what our body is trying to tell us.