We often come across the phrase “Eat for the body you want and not for the body you have”. But have you ever wondered, what is it that makes us eat for the body we HAVE and not for the body that we WANT? Have you ever experienced yourself going on an unexplainable binge-eating marathon? Have you ever supremely vulnerable just by looking at certain food items, and then just given in to those temptations without a moment’s regret about all those weeks of hard work and clean eating?
If you have, you’ve done what thousands of others tend to do – eating food out of stress, also called ‘Emotional or Stress Eating.’
Why do we Stress Eat?
Most of us turn to food not only in order to relieve stress, but also tocope with Sadness, Loneliness or Boredom.Stress eating is the very reason why most diets fail because when we stress eat, we don’t just eat to satisfy our hunger, so we don’t put a ‘full stop’ to the bingeing. Therefore, emotional eating can successfully sabotage your weight loss efforts and eventually, put you into a bigger emotional crisis than that you started off with! It is truly a vicious cycle.
Let us take a look at the possible causes of Stress Eating and try to eliminate them one at a time.
- Lack Of Awareness – In most instances of stress eating, you’re not aware what you are eating and when you are eating it. You just reach out and grab that one thing that seems like it will satisfy this ‘unexplainable’ hunger.Usually, this type of ‘unconscious eating’ happens when you have already finished your main meal yet you feel the urge to ‘snack’ on something.
Solution –Mindful Eating. I know it’s tedious at first to completely focus on what you eat, but once you develop the habit of being ‘aware’ of what you eat, it becomes easy. In order to do this, first, analyze. Make a note of all the food items you binge on when you are in a particular mood, or which you find difficult to resist. Second, do away with the source of your temptation. Do not buy those items, instead, resist them at the grocery store itself. Never shop at a grocery store when you are angry, sad, or depressed. Make a list of healthy food items you need to buy and stick to the list. Once you stop stocking your pantry with food your brain finds irresistible, the habit of conscious eating can be developed more easily.
- Food = Comfort/Pleasure–I have encountered a lot of people for whom food is the only source of pleasure. Food calms them down and soothes their mood. Food provides comfort to them like a friend or family does.
Solution – Get in control of your mind and try out various other things which might make you feel as comfortable as food does, but without any harm. Here are some ideas-
Build your own Support System. If you’re lonely or bored, call up or meet a friend who always makes you feel good.
Cultivate a good habit/hobby. Pick up a sport and start playing. Believe me, playing a sport can do wonders to your mental health! A good hobby will keep you equally engaged and would help you fight anxiety and boredom. Whether sports or hobbies, you’re sure to stay away from unnecessary binging.
Feed the poor.This is an amazing way of doing good not only to your health but to the society we live in. Especially for people who find pleasure in food, try feeding the poor and needy people with the exact same food which you have been craving for. You will surely get incredible peace, satisfaction and pleasure out of this act.
Own a Pet. Unless you are allergic to fur, or fear animals, owning a pet will divert your mind from its hankering for ‘comfort food,’and focus on a tiny (or large) bundle of very huggable fur.
Try Stress Management techniques like yoga, meditation. Best of all – HIT THE GYM and vent out all your frustration there. There’s nothing that busts that stress more than your own Endorphins!
- Inability to Handle Difficult Feelings–Ever noticed this, that as children, when we used to cry or feel upset about something, our parents would buy us our favorite candy or icecream just so that we could stop crying? This stop gap, unfortunately, becomes a mental habit of escapism. We always try to avoid facing harsh feelings in life. Instead of learning to deal with defeat, sadness, sorrow and rejection, we try to pacify the crying inner child by ‘eating’.
Solution – Now I know this is not as easy as it sounds. But it is very much possible. What if we learn and train ourselves to accept such experiences of difficult feelings?It will help you increase your will power and determination to stay on track all the time, basically you will be able to separate the emotional crisis from a feeling of ‘hunger.’ At the end of the day, you will grow stronger mentally.
- Hatred for your body –Now this is another vicious cycle. You hate your body or the way you look à You turn to food to make yourself feel better à It ensures you become fat -àYou hate your body even more, now burdened with a sense of helplessness for not being able to come out of this loop.
Solution – A very simple solution to this is to start loving yourself the way you are. However you look or the way you are, you are unique and beautiful, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Accept the way you are…but don’t stop there. Loving yourself does not mean becoming complacent about things that you should change. Motivate yourself to be a better version of yourself everyday. Stop comparing yourself to anyone but you. The more you love yourself, you will feel inclined to take care of your body, and the better your body will reciprocate.
- Energy Levels–It is very important for us to manage our energy levels throughout the day in such a way that we do not get tired very soon. When our body is hungry or tired (stressed), it sends strong signals to our brain to eat, and at that point of time, our will power is too low to resist our cravings.
Solution – Design your daily meal plan in such a way that you don’t get tired easily. Now some people might have a regular energy supply with just two big meals a day, but some others may not have the appetite of eating giant portions in one sitting. Such people can divide their food intake for the day into a number of small meals distributed at regular intervals. Understanding your body is very important.Sleep well. The body needs sufficient and undisturbed sleep to recharge its battery.
- Need for Social Acceptance – Most of the times, your friends, family, peers or colleagues are the ones who force you to eat, especially when you are on a diet. Social pressure of this sort usually has two outcomes – either you give up and accept the offer because you’re afraid of ridicule/rejection, or you resist the offer, and actually end up feeling left out in the crowd.
Solution –Build your own community and be strong-willed. Surround yourself with like-minded people who will help you in your journey, and motivate you instead of pulling you down or ridiculing your efforts. Again, this is not as easy as it sounds but once they see the results of your hard work, they will certainly moot for you. Do not be afraid of missing out. If the crowd doesn’t feel you fit in, build your own crowd.
Stress Eating is a sign of some issue that lies deeper. Do not ignore it, but try to identify the real cause for distress. A little attention and diversion will help overcome this mental block and help you combat your emotional eating disorder effectively.
Remember, it is all in the mind!
Author credits – Amogh Gadewar