Tag Archives: eating

How to Change an Emotional Relationship with Food

5-Tips-for-Heart-Healthy-Snacking-700x395Bored? Stressed? Waiting? What do many of us do when this happens? EAT. Many of us tend to fill time with eating or use it to relieve stress. Often we’re not even hungry or we choose to snack on easy but unhealthy choices. These choices can make our self-esteem plummet, and can even result in us feeling guilt, remorse, or depressed. Here are a few tips and tricks to try and change an emotional relationship with food.

Drink water. Carry a bottle of water around and if you have an urge to snack, drink water first. It’s easy to misread our body’s signals and think we’re hungry when we’re actually thirsty. By avoiding eating unnecessary or last-minute foods, we also avoid feelings of guilt and remorse, which helps reinforce our confidence to make positive and healthy decisions.

Be mindful. There’s a bowl of chips in front of you and before you know it, it’s empty! We’ve all done this. We at times unconsciously snack when it is immediately available just because it’s there. Stop and be aware. Stay in tune with yourself and your senses, rather than going on autopilot.

Understand your urge to much. Part of making healthier decisions is understanding what is driving us to certain behaviours in the first place. If you find yourself relying on eating to fill time, your urge to much may be coming from boredom – in this case, one tactic is to try to find something else to do. If you’re eating to relieve stress, it may be time to explore another stress-relieving activity such as yoga or walking. Once you’ve identified your personal weak-spots, be prepared for situations that challenge you: Keep a book in your bag, so you read rather than munch. Have nothing to do? Go for a walk instead of making a sandwich.

Understand that Change Takes Effort: An emotional relationship with food doesn’t just change overnight or with a lazy approach. It’s a process that can take months and even years to understand and implement. And this change takes effort and preparation. For example, If we arrive thirty minutes earlier than expected at our destination, many of us will stop at a corner store or shop and pick up something to snack on in order to kill the time. By carrying a healthy snack with us each day that we’ve prepared in advance, like a bag of nuts or some chopped up celery, we can prevent ourselves from picking up that chocolate bar because we already have something to snack on.

A lot of the challenge we face lies in the fact that it is easier to buy that bag of chips than to cut up those peppers. Change isn’t always easy. Just keep in mind that at first it may be a nuisance, but eventually it’ll seem like you have always lived like this. New behaviours practiced often become habits, so by choosing the right behaviour just a few times, we can create a pattern that will lead to a whole new series of healthier choices.

The Psychology of Junk Food

_MG_7489aI’ll admit, I never understood the character of Claudia from my childhood Babysitter’s Club Novels – the girl who had junk food stashed away in all parts of her bedroom: under the pillow, in her drawers, and even under the bed! But now, as an adult, I fully get it. I always have a few things stashed away in my cupboard for junk-food emergencies — Junior Mints, Miss Vickie’s Chips, and Diet Dr. Pepper. These little indulgences are always there and never questioned; as I’m a huge advocate that life in moderation is the key to ultimate happiness!But everybody knows that junk food and unhealthy eating has negative effects on our physical health. An excess of junk food can cause unwanted problems such as blood pressure issues, obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Junk food takes a psychological toll as well making us feel more tired and lazy, contrary to the belief that people are lazy because they are unhealthy or obese.

The Cycle of Eating Junk:

So what exactly is happening to our brains when we eat something unhealthy? Sweet taste receptors on our tongues are activated when we taste sugary food, then they are activated again when the food reaches the stomach. These sweet taste receptors send a signal to the cerebral cortex in your brain where different tastes such as sweetness, saltiness, and bitterness are quantified. Sugar gives our reward system positive sensations in the same way socializing, sex, and drugs do making it arguably have the same type of addictiveness with less intensity.This positive sensation is created by releasing dopamine from the brain, the chemical responsible for every time you feel good. Sugar is a common food that sends dopamine into your brain, but sadly, most “healthy” foods do not trigger a dopamine release in your brain. (Why am I not surprised that broccoli is NOT one of these foods?:-)

When we eat a particularly delicious healthy meal for the first time, the great taste will spike the dopamine levels in our brain. But after continuing to eat the same dish for a long period of time, the dopamine spikes will start to diminish. This means that it is super important to constantly be trying new healthy foods and changing meals in order to feel motivated to eat healthy foods.Break the Cycle: If you are trying to break your habits of eating unhealthy foods there are some things you should keep in mind. Food is one of the most powerful emotional stimuli, and we all know that eating patterns are causes by emotional decisions (not conscious decisions). From childhood, parents give children unhealthy and tasty food when they act “good” and this carries on into adulthood and people apply it on themselves.

Gain some Peace when it Comes to Food: Food ultimately shouldn’t be tied to our emotional ups and downs. Starting small helps because it keeps goals attainable. I’ve always been an advocate for dropping the labels of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ as well. You’ll know something is good for you when in a mindful state, a food truly makes you feel ‘good.

Understand that Eating Well is part of Taking Care of Yourself: Just as we wouldn’t go without brushing our teeth, or going to our doctor’s appointments, refusing to eat well can have serious consequences to our overall health. Recognizing this is one of the key things I’ve seen people realize before making big changes when it comes to their junk food intake. Take care and good luck!

By: Kimberly Moffit

Psychologist, Psychotherapist, Mental Health Professional