What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional Eating is when you find yourself eating for reasons other than satisfying actual physical hunger. With food marketers constantly appealing to our emotions, promising an emotional benefit beyond the food itself, such as comfort, excitement, belonging. It is no wonder that food has become invariably linked to our feelings.
To stop emotional eating, we need to redefine our relationship with food and this is where Mindful Eating comes in.
Step by Step Guide to Mindful Eating
Find your triggers
What makes you turn to food to "feel better"? A rush of sugar will spike your glucose level creating a momentary sense of pleasure and satisfaction. This, however, will only be followed by a serious dip when your glucose level drops.
Learning to be aware of your emotions and to deal with them without trying to block them out will give you a chance to listen to your body, your mind and discover other ways to accept negative emotions and be compassionate to yourself.
Only stock healthy snacks
Stock your fridge with delicious, healthy foods, pack your calendar with exciting things to do and be disciplined about setting aside time for yourself to relax.
Eat to satisfy physical hunger
Timing between meals is just as important as the portion of each meal. Research has shown that eating frequent small meals/healthy snacks during the day is much more beneficial than letting the body go into hunger mode which promotes binge eating.
Eat slowly and stop when your are 80% full
It can take up to 15-20 minutes after food is first eaten for the full range of satiety signals to reach the brain. By this time and for some time afterwards, you will experience feelings of "fullness".
Feeling "full" can obviously stop us from overeating and this can be enhanced by clever choice of food which is more satisfying and nutrient dense.
Take time to enjoy your food
Interestingly, the way your brain perceives food is affected by how you "feel" about the food.
Our relationship with food can be summed up in Rumi's observation:
The satiated man and the hungry man do not see the same thing when they look upon a loaf of bread
When we place a plate of rice, chicken and salad on the table:
- An athlete will see the protein which will help him/her gain muscle mass
- A person looking to lose weight will see calories and fat
- A vegetarian will feel disgust at the sight of a dead animal and will lose all appetite.
Research has shown that our perception of food will have an effect on how the ingested food is metabolised.
For instance, when we are presented with food, our emotional "take" on the food will hit our hypothalamus which integrates the activities of the mind with the biology of the body. The hypothalamus receives sensory, emotional and thought input and transduces this information into physiological responses.
Remember the last time you salivate at the sight or thought of your favourite food? You are experiencing physiological response to an anticipated event even before it hits your taste buds! Your body is preparing itself for its ingestion, with the digestive system on "stand by". Digestion in this instance will be stimulated and you will get a fuller metabolic breakdown of the food while burning its calories more efficiently.
Conversely, if you feel guilty eating your food or judging yourself for eating it, this negative input will generate inhibitory responses in the digestive organs resulting in a less than optimal metabolisation of your food. The food may stay in your digestive system longer, diminish your population of health gut bacteria and increase the release of toxic byproducts into the bloodstream. Inhibitory signals in the nervous system can decrease your calorie burning efficiency via increased insulin and cortisol which can result in more of the food getting stored as body fat.
It is therefore important to learn to eat the right foods and foster a "good" relationship with food. Practising mindful eating is one of the first steps towards living a healthy lifestyle. This, when combined with proper nutrition and balanced training, will ensure that you develop the right muscle mass to protect your spine and joints for a healthy, active and enjoyable life.