So yesterday we looked at ways to become more mindful about the food that we eat. When we become more aware of our eating habits it makes it easier to make smart choices.
One reason that we comfort eat is called ‘Displacement’ a posh word for ‘takes your mind off other stuff’ Basically when we spend time thinking about what we are going to buy, cook, eat, enjoy, we are no longer thinking about other stuff like bills, relationships, work. Thinking about food doesn’t give us much time or space to think about other stuff and that can feel quite nice.
You can be having a really crappy day and just the thought of that take-away or piece of cake immediately cheers you up. It can help stop you thinking about the problem or issue that is getting to you. The gratification or reward of eating is unmistakable, but why do we always crave the ‘naughty’ foods, why cant we crave chicken and broccoli????
Eating releases a serotonin also known as the ‘happy hormone’ when we do anything that reinforces our survival such as eating, sex or reaching a peak of achievement we get a release of serotonin. Some people eat excessively because it delivers a serotonin high even though it is short-lived with significant long term negative consequences. The taste of sugar releases endorphins that calm and relax us, and offer a natural “high”
You’ll have heard of dopamine by now, the neurotransmitter that controls our brain’s pleasure centre and makes us feel happy and content. While positive things like exercise and sexual activity naturally send dopamine levels soaring, so do less healthy things like drugs and – wait for it – sugar!
Considering how quickly our insulin levels rise upon eating a sweet treat and then crash again soon after (carb coma, anyone?), the need to continuously eat more in order to keep that high going gets more and more serious.
So what is the solution?
If we are eating to avoid feelings then the only solution is to deal with whatever feelings we are trying to hide from. Now this can range from a bit of boredom at work to much more serious issues. Anyone who is aware that there is a big underlying issue then I would always advise seeking professional help to support with overcoming this.
But for many of us it can be small issues that we can sort ourselves. Me? Well mine is boredom with a little bit of loneliness. My key times of potential over eating are once I am home in the evening and on my own. My solution is to not have unhealthy food in the house so there is no temptation and to keep myself busy as often as I can.
What is your trigger? Can you pin point the times you are more likely to crave comfort food?
A good way to figure this out to fill in a Food & Mood Diary. Keep track of all the foods you eat and also any times you begin to crave comfort food. Take a moment to look at that situation, are you bored? Stressed? Anxious? Worried? Happy? What is it that is making you think about food? Once you are aware of your trigger you then have the opportunity to put things in place to help stop you reaching for the biscuit tin. Eg
Boredom? Plan activities that will give you something to do.
Stress? Yoga, swim, chat to family or friends.
Fatigue? Relax, take a bath, allow yourself an early night.
Tension? Try deep breathing exercises or go for a walk.
Anger? Talk to a friend about it or write it down to get it out.
And to try and stop thinking about food all the time? Plan all your meals for the week, including snacks. This takes away all decisions on a daily basis. If you know you are having an omelette for breakfast, chicken salads for lunch and chilli for tea then you don’t need to think about food.
Any questions about anything discussed? It would be great to hear from you