Emotional Eating

We have all been broken up with, some of us have lost a job, most of us are blindsided by very tough circumstances every once in a while and we all have learned to cope in different ways (some good, some bad).  

So what now? They’re gone so what do you do? Emotionally you are devastated. Where does that put us? 

How about a gallon of ice cream with a couple of ounces of chocolate syrup and maybe some sprinkles with a 2 liter of coke and a large pizza? You'll gloomily snack on that each night while hunched over in the corner of the couch because that is the safest most comfy place on the planet considering the state your in, right?

Heart break is real and, in the bigger picture, emotional turmoil is a guarantee in life. We are emotional beings and although that’s a pretty easy conclusion to come to, we are absolutely horrendous at dealing with ourselves (never mind trying to effectively deal with others). So what if we got ahead of this thing? What if we looked at where we are likely to end up and then altered our course accordingly? Do not become consumed by the emotional trauma in this specific moment and understand that, like anything, we simply must stay the course. Prior to having a rough go of it we weren't stuffing our face with pizza so why do it now? We know what we should be eating! (And if we don't, do not worry, the answers are here...for the most part of course)

But that actually sets this up nicely. That leads us to food! And I believe this is where most of us are. We are emotional eaters. Dallas and Melissa Hartwig touch on this in their AMAZING book It Starts with Food (I am using the 2nd edition although it is very nearly exactly the same as the 1st), “Cravings aren’t merely about your behavior related to the food in question—they’re about your emotional motivation and the conditioning (habit) that is created with repeated satisfaction...they're more closely related to moods like anger, sadness, or frustration than to hunger" (p.30). WE DON'T EVEN HAVE TO BE HUNGRY!

If you ruined my day I would, almost without a doubt, at least struggle to keep myself from ordering a large pepperoni pizza and a 2 litre of Pepsi from Papa Johns. It is my go to comfort food. If my week was not as productive as I had hoped, or the City of Houston just told me that I have to hire a wizard to expand the parking lot at my potential location, or you break up with me, then this is probably what you will find me eating one evening in the very near future. It is absolutely incredible just how resolute I become about placing that order, especially when you consider that if you caught me on a good day, or even a mediocre day, the thought of consuming that would make me sick. 

The power of cravings are immeasurable and they will conquer us in a time of weakness. I am very aware that pizza does not sit well in my stomach. I am also aware the amount of sugar I consume in that 2 liter of Pepsi also ruins my mood. And, of course, I know that the nutritional value of these choices falls somewhere between lacking and laughable. (unless you are in our public school system where tomato sauce is a vegetable, right?). But somewhere along the lines I assigned pizza and soda to fill the role of comforter. And now, it’s really dug in. 

Is there a reason we all tend to gravitate towards similar foods in our time of need? Robb Wolf published a blog post written by Kevin Cann discussing Stress and Food Reward Systems, “Meal choice can directly affect mood.  Certain foods can reduce anxiety and irritability and place us in a more positive place.  This is due to the effects food can have on opioids, serotonin, and dopamine” (Cann). Our tolerance for the foods we eat increases similarly to how our tolerance for alcohol will increase as we drink more often.

Maybe I drank a small soda back in the day and it hit the spot. I then assigned it to my “hit the spot” team. But a few months later it had to be a large pepsi or a few pepsis in order to feel the same. It sounds silly talking about soda the way an addict refers to drugs or an alcoholic discusses his struggles, but then again, it’s all really the same sort of thing. Cann goes on to discuss the increase in insulin levels as well as the amount of inflammation in our system as a result of over consuming these “highly rewarding” foods. 

So what do we do or what are we left with? Obviously if it was a simple as saying, “don’t eat that crap” then America would be a much more beautiful place (you’re not not beautiful because you aren’t a size 6. You’re not beautiful because you are arrogant and proud of how lazy and ignorant you’ve allowed yourself to become. Diabetes, heart disease and general awfulness don’t discriminate so if your panties are in a wad because you interpret that as meaning only skinny girls are pretty, you have a whole lot more to worry about).

(AND can we just go ahead and say that as long as you are just trying to be the best you possible then you are probably pretty damn beautiful? Quit telling women they are too bulky just because they workout and you don’t. Quit telling people they are too skinny. Quit worrying about people who are larger than you. Mind your business, be better, and help others. Got it?) 

Sorry. That one got away from me a little bit.

So what about will power. Surely if you are just resolute and immovable in your stance to not falter then you will succeed. This is certainly true. however, will power is not always reliable. We are complex creatures and every once in a while we don't feel like ourselves. Our behavior may reflect this and we may find ourselves face deep in a bowl of frozen yogurt. 

"Knowing that willpower is a learned skill and not some mysterious inborn quality gives the lie to one common diet myth – that we’d all be able to eat healthy all the time if only we 'had enough willpower.'" (Paleo and Will Power by Paleo Leap). This does not mean you are off the hook for slipping when you clearly should have stood tall. But this does give us understanding that will power is not our only tool for combating poor choices in life.

It comes down to lifestyle management. Things are going to come flying out of left field from time to time. That is life. But if you are managing your daily routine with quality sleep, healthy stress levels (it’s ok to get stressed as long as we deal with it properly) and solid nutrition, then when life goes sideways or upside down or whatever direction life goes when everything seems to fall apart, you will be able to manage the crisis without worrying about your nutrition and, therefore, your health falling apart. 

Emotional responses are without a doubt the biggest downfall in the nutritional journeys of my clients. Glasses of wine for the ladies, beer for the boys. Fried foods. Ice cream and chocolate. We have trained ourselves to put these things on a pedestal. But if you grit your teeth and take on what life is throwing at you, understand what better choices are and where you should be, and put yourself in a position to succeed, I believe you will find yourself still standing and in a much better/stronger place once it all settles back down.

You know the right choices to make. You have the education and resources to understand how food impacts your health (go back and click on the links in this post, they are awesome and incredibly informative). It is just a question of whether you will dig deep and make the right choice. But knowledge alone may not be enough. After all, we have already mentioned that nobody actually thinks binge eating chocolate is the way to go.

So it comes down to surrounding yourself with a community of support. Thankfully CrossFit offers just that! So we're all set! But if you are not apart of a local gym, or your gym does not have a strong nutritional component to it (then what are you doing there? Jk...but seriously!) your support group could be your family, your special someone, your best friends or even just me. I've got time. 

My last point, and the least popular almost without a doubt, is a bit of encouragement just to sleep more! Even just an hour! If you are used to 5 hours, then go for 6. The impact that sleep has on our lives is far reaching. There are dramatic videos and pictures of people going without sleep and aging 5 years in appearance for every 1 calendar year. No clue if that is accurate but I do know that our appearance is often the only thing that will really get us going. Sleep more and you will look better! You'll also think clearer and be more productive but looks are more important than brains right? (No. Looks are not more important than brains.)

(This is not a Paleo source, but it does lay out the basic guidelines for dealing with serious emotional eating issues. Check out the Mayo Clinics Post here!)

 

-Ben