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Food and emotions

Food and emotions
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Even if you’ve never dealt with emotional eating, Covid-19 pandemic-induced stress, school closings, job stand-downs, and stay at home orders may trigger you to turn to food to cope. The inclination to eat emotionally is normal. We’re practically taught from birth to use food to address our feelings. We bond over treats, plan celebratory dinners, and bring meals to neighbours in times of need.

But ongoing emotional eating is different. An unchecked pattern of eating to ease your feelings during times of stress, can wreak havoc with your mental and physical energy, disrupt healthy sleep patterns, weaken immunity, and up health risks. The good news is you can systematically untangle food and emotions. Here’s a five-step strategy I use with my clients to foster a more balanced eating pattern, even under stressful circumstances.

Tune into your body’s cues

Tune into your body’s cues
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The first step is to tune into your body to differentiate between body hunger and mental hunger. Physical hunger has physical symptoms, like a growling tummy. If you feel hungry, but you’ve recently eaten or have no physical signs of hunger, check in with your feelings. In a 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers say there are four basic emotions: happiness, sadness, fear, and anger. My advice is to pinpoint the primary emotion you’re experiencing so that you can address it in ways that don’t involve food. For example, if you’re angry, doing something physical may help, like cleaning, organising, or working out. If you’re sad, a better match may be to call a friend, spend quality time with a pet, or watch a melancholy movie and release some tears.

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Connect the dots between feelings and food

Connect the dots between feelings and food
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The second step is to further explore the ‘whys’ behind your eating choices, and the four-emotion concept can help. For example, do you find yourself eating crunchy or chewy foods when angry, and creamy, comfort foods when sad? If you’re not sure, start a food-and-feelings journal. In addition to tracking what you eat, record your hunger and fullness levels, and your emotions. The idea isn’t to police yourself, but rather learn about your relationship with food. Once you’re aware of your ‘whys’ (as in, I’m reaching for ice cream not because I’m hungry, but because I’m sad), you can consciously test out alternative coping tools.

Find out which are the best foods to help reduce stress.

Create an eating schedule

Create an eating schedule
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Step three is all about structuring your time. For most of my clients, the risk of eating emotionally is greater on the weekends, when they have more free hours. No doubt your usual routine has been derailed by the coronavirus. Try to set up some structure as best you can. Eat meals around the same time each day, spaced about three to five hours apart. In addition to preventing mindless munching, settling into a consistent eating routine will help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, as well as hunger hormones.

Eat without distractions

Eat without distractions
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The fourth step is to commit to mindful eating when you do sit down to a meal – don’t multi-task. Sit at a table instead of in front of your TV or computer, and eat without checking your phone, reading, or other distracting activities. While it may feel awkward at first, my clients who do this even once a day find that they’re better able to tune into hunger and fullness cues, and feel more satiated after eating.

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Be kind to yourself

Be kind to yourself
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The fifth and final step is to be kind to yourself and employ positive, gentle self-talk.  Bullying yourself about emotional eating only heightens emotions, which can increase the drive to eat. If you wind up polishing off a tray of biscuits while watching the news, reflect on the ‘why’ rather than beating yourself up. If you could go back and redo the day, what would you do differently? Change isn’t linear, and that’s OK. Sometimes a step back can be a learning opportunity that alters how you handle a similar situation the following day or down the road. It’s this step-by-step process that leads to sustainable change, and the adoption of alternative ways to cope.

Finally, it is OK to enjoy special treats. It’s not realistic or even necessary to banish certain foods from your home⁠ – it’s all about how you eat them. Build your favourite goodies into a meal, and indulge mindfully, rather than spontaneously. The goal isn’t to restrict yourself, it’s to create balance, which feels much better than deprivation or overindulging. Now more than ever, balance is key.

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Source: RD.com

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