Over the last several days, I’ve been sharing my “Ten Commandments of Dieting that Your Doctor Will Never Tell You.” The first six commandments to permanent weight loss success are 1. Thou shalt not worship food as your god; 2. Thou shalt not worship a false image; 3. Thou shalt not murder, 4. Thou shalt not steal, 5. Thou shalt not covet and 6. Thou shalt not cheat against thy confidence and self-esteem. The seventh commandment:
7. Thou shalt not lie.
Are we lying to ourselves about the true cause of our overeating? Are there insidious reasons behind our eating addictions that we are failing to recognize? Is stress, depression or frustration negatively impacting our dietary choices?
We need to discover the cause of our overeating so we can effectively fight it. We have to know what the “the enemy” is before we can defeat it. Understanding why and when we overeat will help us win.
Everyone knows that eating and our emotions are intertwined. We don’t have to have endless research studies or scientific debates to know it’s the truth. We all look to food for comfort, energy, happiness and more.
Chemical messengers in our brain (called “neurotransmitters”) respond to food intake by affecting our emotions, cravings and appetites. For example, the messenger “serotonin” controls feelings of satisfaction and happiness. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression, decreased energy and increased appetite. Stress can deplete serotonin, which may account for why we have food cravings when we are experiencing tense or difficult times in our lives.
People who are sad or fatigued may crave chocolate. The sugar and fat combination from chocolate is believed to increase serotonin and endorphin levels. Many parents give their child candy to soothe an injury or sadness. This may cause the child to mentally associate candy with comfort, even into adulthood.
A recent study found that people’s eating patterns altered based on their mood. While not “set in stone,” the results are interesting:
Stressed: salty foods like crisps and soy sauce
In need of comfort: ice cream
Sad: sugary foods and caffeine
Sexually frustrated: pretzels, breads and crackers
Lonely: rice and pasta
How do we identify overeating caused by emotions? Most people can discover their triggers simply by taking some quiet time to analyze it mentally. An important question to ask yourself is, “Under what mental condition am I most likely to overeat?” Most of us already know what our weaknesses are. My most vulnerable situations are caused by stress, particularly if I’m working late at night. It’s easy to want to toss a pizza in the oven or munch on sour candies. If you can’t figure it out just by thinking about it, keep a simple food diary for a week by writing down what foods are consumed at what time and how you were feeling at the time.
You may discover that there is not an emotional trigger related to your eating, but that is still very valuable information to know. It means your cause of overeating is simply physical hunger.
And if you routinely crave a specific food that is related to a specific mood, create an “Emergency Emotional Pantry” with nutritious foods that will still satisfy your cravings without harming your body.
Knowledge is power to change. Choose to discover your emotional weakness, so you can effectively plan ahead.