Are your emotions choosing what you eat - How to stop emotional eating
When it comes to losing weight and being able to keep it off long term, the issues around the topic goes far beyond than just what's on our plate.
As I mentioned last week in part one of the three-part series, which takes a more in-depth look into why we struggle so much to lose weight and keep it off for good; which, if you haven't read yet I encourage you to go check that out first before reading any further.
Last week I talked about how much our mental programming and the way we view ourselves can affect our chances of success.
This week I want to take a deeper look into another reason that we eat, and how we may be using foods in other ways than just strictly for nourishment.
For many of us, it's not as simple as just changing the foods we eat to lose weight. When we use food in ways other than its intended use, we first need to look into the "why" behind the reasons we do this before we can make the changes we need to make.
Emotional eating and habits such as binge eating can often stem from a place of needing to fill or bury some inner void or feeling.
This relation between food and its ability to soothe and calm us is deeply rooted in us from birth and can be seen in babies that breastfeed. Babies will nurse for two reasons; one, for hunger and two, to for comfort and the need to be soothed by the mother. Often if these needs are not met in our infancy, we look to find ways to soothe ourselves as we get older, and for many of us, food becomes that vice.
Food has the ability to soothe us in several ways. On a chemical level foods affect our moods in two ways, but to fully understand these let's take a closer look at how our brains make us happy.
Our bodies produce a set of chemicals called neurotransmitters. These neurotransmitters work in different ways in our body by acting as signals in the brain telling us to behave and feel specific ways. In the case of keeping us feeling happy and relaxed, one particular neurotransmitter is responsible called serotonin.
When serotonin levels are balanced in the brain we feel content, happy, at ease and relaxed; however when levels are low, we often become anxious and depressed often feeling sad and helpless. Hence why antidepressants called SSRI's (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) work to keep serotonin trapped in the brain to help keep you happy for more extended periods of time.
So if serotonin is so essential to keeping us happy, how do we make it and what does it have to do with emotional or binge eating?
To make serotonin in our brain, we need a specific amino acid found in proteins called tryptophan. The thing is, it's not just enough to have tryptophan floating around in our bodies, we need to get it into our brain before we make use of it and turn it into serotonin. The only problem is that tryptophan can't just walk into our brain due to some called the blood-brain barrier. For tryptophan to makes it way in, it needs to be transported in by someone that has a full access pass; and that someone is carbs - more specifically sugar.
Tryptophan can hitch a ride on sugar and enter the brain where it can be turned into our happy chemical making us feel oh so good.
Hence why we often crave sweets when we are feeling down and out. Having an abundance of sugar rushing around our bloodstream means plenty of so called taxis hanging around waiting for tryptophan to hop in.
The problem here is that, while things like candy, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, and other sweet treats might give us that quick surge of tryptophan entering the brain; the wave is often short lived followed by a crash leaving us feeling sad again
A better solution would be to go for unrefined sources of carbs like whole grains, fruits, and veggies; which also turn into sugar in the body. Although they may not produce as many "taxis," they offer a consistent source of transport throughout the day, which in the long run helps to keep us feeling happy and calm all day long.
The other way food affects our mood is through another neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Dopamine affects the reward center of the brain and is essential for our survival. It can create massive waves of pleasure throughout our body letting us know something is good for us and urging us to get more or do more, of whatever caused that initial reaction.
One of the main reasons we are programmed to prefer sweets was to encourage us to stay away from poison in nature. In the past when we came upon sweet ripe fruits; the first taste of these sweets would trigger a dopamine release in the reward center letting our brain know this is good and we should keep doing this.
However, in our modern world, many things that are not good for us now cause this same dopamine response, such as drugs, gambling, and refined sugar. White sugar has now been shown to be just as addictive and damaging as cocaine.
So when we feel bad or unhappy our brain says
"hey, remember the last time we ate that Hershey bar and we felt so good, we should do that again right now."
Then after eating one chocolate bar our brain says
"OMG, ok that was really good, and I feel way better, let's eat another one right now"
And just like drugs over time we begin to damage and burn out our delicate dopamine receptors, hence the need for more and more to get that same feel-good feeling.
On a more symbolic level, we tend to use food in a few ways.
The very act of eating (specifically binge eating) can be seen as a way to stuff down or bury unwanted emotions deep down within us.
Alternatively, we can be using our weight gain to create a barrier, or a shield surrounding our delicate emotional insides protecting us from others and the world.
This is especially evident in victims of sexual abuse. Excess weight can act as an attempt to make us appear less desirable to individuals that may find us physically attractive and want to harm us.
Being able to confront these past wounds and dealing with the emotions may be difficult, but is a much-needed step in the process towards recovery, especially if we are highly emotional individuals.
Like I mentioned in my last blog, these changes don't happen overnight but starting to understand the forces that drive our behaviors is the first step in creating a change within us.
Next week we will look at food and how certain foods set us to fail when it comes to weight loss. We will also look at what foods we should be eating and which ones we should avoid when it comes to achieving lifelong success.
The road to recovery is a journey and never easy, but by changing the foods we eat, our daily habits and with proper support and coaching, success is achieved. To get started and to be a part of a heart-centered support group for women wanting to lose weight and overcome food addictions.
Join my new Food Over Mood Facebook group
And remember... Little steps in a new direction lead to bigger and better destinations.
I love hearing from you guys. Let me know below in the comments if you too have struggled with some of these deeper issues as to why we emotionally eat.
Love and Wellness