Do you eat a certain kinds of food when you are upset? Have you ever felt that eating is related to your mood? Many times it happens that as soon as we feel upset, we go to the fridge and grab a piece of chocolate cake or feel like eating ice cream. The way we seem to correlate between sadness, depression and eating is common between lots of people regardless of age or gender. Not only do we think about eating but also tend to be more attracted to sweets and it works. Eating sweets does lift our spirit and satisfies our needs at that moment. In an article titled “Are we emotionally what we eat?” released by BBC the author states that “negative emotions can send us rushing to the biscuit tin or hiding our horrors in a tub of ice cream – with up to 43% of people using food to alter their mood”. It is common when talking about emotional reasons and social motives. I thought to research the topic and see why this happens. It is very essential that one knows and understands the mechanism of emotional eating in order to be able to fight it and not give in to that depressing feeling. Emotional eating is like a vicious cycle, you feel depressed, you eat, and you gain weight and consequently feel more depressed and so on.
Emotional eating is defined to be “the practice of eating large quantities of comfort food (junk food) in response to feelings instead of hunger”. It is reported that 75% of over-eating is caused by emotions. Among the most common signs of being an emotional eater, is eating larger amounts of food, especially when this is not your normal appetite. Moreover, emotional eaters tend to hide food because of feeling embarrassed of eating all these quantities. Most importantly is that they eat when deep inside they don’t feel hungry but feel like eating a certain kind of food. The latter is very essential and sometimes hard to comprehend because when one is hungry he can hardly distinguish this feeling of being hungry versus wanting to eat. According to research, eating is nowadays more related to emotions than being related to hunger. Feelings like fear, aggression, boredom, loneliness or depression usually get mixed up with feeling hungry. In one of Oprah Winfrey’s shows, a couple of years ago, she had a very unique episode about dieting and losing weight. She chose herself as a case study and pointed out to how many times in her life has she gained enormous weight. Then she introduced her coach Rob, the one whom she hired to supervise her diet and help her maintain a healthy diet. He asked her in the episode in front of the audience about her emotional life and if she ever noticed what her mood was when she gained weight enormously. This was the first time she noticed that her emotional life has always been the reason behind her consciously floating weight. It was during her tough times, that she used to gain weight and eat more.
This happened to her and happens to us because food acts as a “tension reliever”. Both eating and thinking about food works as distraction from uncomfortable feelings. When one gets food focused, this takes attention from any negative emotion he/ she may be feeling. Some scientific resources say that “food and thinking about it can be used as a reaction to and as a defense against any intense feeling or stressful situation”. It is a chosen drug for escaping from all our bad situations and tense ones. This is not a mere illusion; it has its biological rationale behind it. It is due to the fact that when one eats, the chemicals we gain from food not only affect the appetite but also our brains so the connection between food and mood becomes a bit complex and hard to separate. “Because of this complex relationship, people might say they are hungry and genuinely believe it when in fact they are sad. They will also feel sad and miserable when they are hungry, because of the deficiency of certain neurochemicals”, as stated by BBC news. What happens is that when we eat, hormones like serotonin, endorphins and dopamine are affected. These are the very same chemicals which affect the mood. They are even sometimes put into anti-depressant medicines. Endorphin for instance, is a form of chemical that produces intense feeling of pleasure and acts as a pain reliever. It is proven that eating fats along with sugar stimulate the production of endorphins in our bodies. Hence eating donuts, chocolates or ice cream are good endorphin producers. Serotonin is another very vital chemical which flows in the blood circulation as a result of eating sugar and that is among the main reasons why one strives to eat sugary or sweet foods first thing upon feeling depressed. The latter chemical is a very strong one for bringing feelings like happiness, calmness, well-being and satisfaction. At the same time it is an indicator of feeling reduced appetite. On the other hand, low level of serotonin cause depression and feeling of hunger. That explains why we strive to eat chocolate and sweets as soon as we are undergoing the so called emotional eating phase. “Serotonin is a very powerful mood enhancer and appetite regulator”, as Anna Dranitsaris, a specialist in treatment of eating disorders and emotional eating says.
Emotional eating is not a serious illness; it is a normal common experience in our lives. Women especially are more bound to suffer of this habit due to hormonal changes and so on. This explains why some girls and women feel like eating when they are about to have their periods. It is due to mood swings at that time and the hormonal changes they encounter before, during and after the menstrual cycle. In order to help you indicate whether you are an emotional eater or not, track down what you eat, when you ate it and when you felt like eating it. After doing so for a couple of consecutive days, let’s say a week, you will be more likely to relate between different kinds of foods and your mood.
I am one of the people who run to eat when upset or feeling down to the extent that I gained like 5 or 6 kilos because of this lately. No one would wish that emotions and food take control over one’s life. We can’t let go to emotional eating nor make it a life pattern. How many times a day do we feel annoyed or depressed? We don’t want eating to be our only resolution or the ultimate problem solver as it will lead to other health problems. I collected a couple of very nice alternatives that one can do instead of eating. One of the interesting things is to hinder yourself from eating if you don’t feel hungry. Don’t listen to your body if you feel you just want to eat something. Secondly you can always do things like net surfing, reading a book, calling a friend or even go out for a drink when you feel like eating. These are things that will boost your mood and take your attention from food. Another useful advice is to do sports and exercises on a regular basis. Not only is sports healthy in itself; but it puts one in a good mood. Research proved that sporting helps release endorphins which put us in a good mindset. Just always try to remember that looking good and feeling good are too much correlated and each one is a pre-requisite for the other. To achieve them, you must watch your diet paying an extra attention to emotional eating.