What’s your comfort food? Chances are you have a go-to food— or several— that makes you feel warm, happy, and content. So when you’ve had a rough day, emotionally or physically, you might be tempted to load up your plate with a meal or snack that makes you happy again.
Unfortunately, finding comfort in food isn’t so good for your fitness goals. And it could develop into an unhealthy relationship with food.
Find out how to stop emotional eating and find your joy elsewhere.
Why does eating feel so good? According to CNN Health, the reason goes beyond the delicious taste of the food. Your brain actually releases feel-good chemicals when you eat, as a kind of reward for nourishing your body. Scientists have a name for this— “ingestion analgesia, literally pain relief from eating.”
So you’re not imagining that comforted, happy feeling. It’s totally for real, and it’s part of the body’s survival mechanism. That good feeling after eating ensures that you’ll eat again, and again, often enough to stay alive.
What your body doesn’t realize is that you’re not living in a cave, hunting and foraging in the wilderness. You live in a country that’s overflowing with food, so you have unlimited calories available to you; and you don’t need to exercise in order to obtain the food. Your car takes you to the food, or you can have the food delivered. Since your brain won’t rewire itself anytime soon, it’s up to you to do the work.
Are you eating because you are legitimately hungry? Or are you sad, tired, bored, or anxious? Maybe you’re unhappy with how your workday went, or you’re feeling unfulfilled in your career. Perhaps you had an argument with a friend or family member. Maybe there’s a big event coming up, and you’re nervous about it.
Once you identify the underlying emotion that’s making you reach for the comfort foods, you can think about what other options you may have to resolve that emotion.
Are you eating while watching TV, just to have something to keep your hands busy? Maybe instead of sitting and snacking while viewing your favorite show, you could draw, paint, knit, or exercise. Give your fingers something to do besides deliver food to your mouth.
We all make mistakes, right? Sometimes the source of your emotional eating may be a relationship problem. You’ve messed up and hurt somebody you love, or someone else has hurt you. Maybe the issue wasn’t addressed or remains unresolved.
Sometimes, working through the problem can give you the emotional peace you need. Talk to the person gently and calmly, and try to work out the issue with reason and kindness. Restoring that relationship can give you a feeling of wonderful peace and happiness that lasts much longer that the brief reward of food.
Maybe you’re stressed or tired. You’ve had a long, exhausting day, and you desperately need to relax and unwind. By all means, eat a balanced meal; but afterward, find other ways to rejuvenate your body.
A yoga break, a meditation session, or a light run can help you relax. A massage, a hot bath, or intimacy with your partner may offer much-needed stress relief.
If all else fails, distract yourself.
Watch a TV show or a movie that’s so intense you won’t even think about food. Read a book. Journal about your day. Call a friend. Sip some strong, hot tea or sparkling water instead of eating. Chew gum, or eat something so spicy or sour that you’ll only want a tiny bit at a time. Eliminate your go-to comfort foods from the home so you won’t have easy access to them, and substitute healthy snacks like raw fruits and veggies instead.
When you redirect your body and brain often enough, you train yourself to find satisfaction in things other than food— and that’s good news for your fitness future and your emotional health!
Do you have some practical tips and techniques for avoiding emotional eating? Share them in the comments so others can try them too! xx