How to Overcome Emotional Eating (part 1)
In this 3 part series, we’ll examine why we are prone to eating our emotions, how to outsmart yourself out of emotional eating, and when necessary, what it means to call in the reserves to successfully reach your goals instead of a bag of potato chips.
A patient, we’ll call Mary, recently came to see me. Three years ago, she successfully completed a metabolic makeover; she looked great, felt 20 years younger and couldn’t believe how mentally aware and alive she acted. Not to mention her glee over her 30lb. weight loss. Her biggest fear she related to me back then was “when I get emotional, I eat junk food.” She managed to keep her healthy lifestyle for two years then major stressors entered her life and she started eating junk food again. She gained all the weight back and developed severe joint pain and brain fog, both of which she was now on medication to manage. Then she reentered my office.
Most people who enter my office with chronic conditions have success after fully understanding all the factors affecting their condition and following a protocol that eliminates the causes one by one. However; the most challenging complication to overcoming chronic problems is “Emotional Eating.”
Why do I crave junk food when I’m stressed?
People eat junk food when stressed because sugary and fatty foods raise serotonin and dopamine. When these feel-good chemicals in your brain increase, you will temporarily experience a spike in happiness and motivation. But these foods also create obesity, inflammation, and diabetes. Despite knowing Emotional Eating is only providing a short-term boost and giving in to it will be harmful, your “Emotional Brain” easily overpowers your “Thinking Brain.”
Is your brain thinking or doing?
Here is a huge clue to overcoming Emotional Eating: Your thinking brain needs to understand the why of this occurring and then be able to identify when your emotional brain takes over and you dive into chocolate covered sugar bombs. Since your Emotional Brain directs your moment to moment reactions, you need to strengthen your Thinking Brain. This is not an easy task, but it is doable. Here are your first steps:
1) Exercise-I know, if you don’t like to exercise your first thought is probably “ugh.” That should tell you which part of your brain is in charge. Your emotional brain is saying “nope, I’m not going to exercise,” but your thinking brain is saying, “get off your butt.” Perhaps you would be willing to start walking for ten minutes a day? Try not to think of it as exercise – think of it as increasing your brain power. Walking just 10 minutes per day will strengthen your “Thinking Brain’s” muscle to flex over your “Emotional Brain.” And, you’ll burn a few calories.
2) Diet-Did I hear you “ugh” again? In my book “The Whole Body Cure” I try to give very specific nutritional protocols for health related issues. But since we are discussing Emotional Eating try the simplest diet I know: If you can’t read it don’t eat it. Yes, it is that simple.
3) Meditation-Relax, it’s not all ohmmm stuff. If you already meditate then you have felt the benefits. If you haven’t, what do you have to lose? Research is 100% clear; meditation is one of the best and safest ways to improve “Thinking Brain” function. If you have never meditated, I suggest you try any 7-minute meditation for seven days and see if you feel just a little bit calmer or less anxious. Apps like Calm or Headspace can help you start your meditation journey.
You’ve heard it over and over again, “exercise and eat right and you’ll be on the path to good health.” It can be true for some but not easy for most, especially if you fall victim to emotional eating. Decreasing the time and intensity of exercise to a 10-minute walk is not as daunting as committing to a gym membership and tugging on Lycra pants. Eating foods that don’t even need a label, like an apple or orange is a great way to shift your eating habits. Meditation, as little as seven minutes has been shown to improve your Thinking Brain’s influence over your Emotional Brain. If these strategies are all it takes for you to overcome emotional eating, congratulations, keep up the good work. Need some more help? Read part 2 of “How to Overcome Emotional Eating.”