Have you ever asked yourself, 'Why did I just eat that?', 'Why am I eating even though I know I am not hungry?' 'Why is it that I am happiest when food is in my mouth?'
The consumption of food and drinks is an important act for life and maintenance of health. The problem is when we mindlessly consume food and drinks to feel relaxed, accepted and happy, and then feel guilty.
Our eating of food is sometimes as a result of our feelings, moods or emotions. The feeling to eat is sometimes triggered by stress, anger, hurt, loneliness, boredom, excitement or happiness. This type of eating is known as 'emotional eating' and is very common among all age groups, male and female, and affects the rich and poor, and the educated and not so educated in our society.
Emotional eating, if not controlled, may cause weight gain which may result in obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. Emotional eating prevents successful weight loss and causes 'yo-yo dieting'.
Now that most of us feel guilty about eating the salty, sweet and high-fat foods that give us comfort - that little spoonful of ice cream that made us stand at the counter or sit in the bed and finish the entire container of ice cream, or the one handful of chips to get rid of the 'little craving' and you ended up finishing the pack or a couple packs - here are a few practical tips to deal with emotional eating:
Know or learn what triggers the emotion. Be strong and walk away from the food. This may be difficult at times, but practice makes perfect. Don't be hard on yourself if and when you fail to walk away and give in to the temptation to eat. Try harder next time!
Eat smaller portions than what you would normally consume when the emotion is triggered.
Eat fruits cut in small pieces instead of the cakes, biscuits or other sweet food items. It is better not to use utensils to pick up fruit; therefore, hands must be washed and, most times than not, by the time the hands are washed, the emotional state has improved and the interest to indulge in eating is gone.
Drink water (flavoured or unflavoured), lightly sweetened drink or diluted juices.
Drink a hot cup of unsweetened or lightly sweetened tea or coffee. This sometimes have a soothing effect and helps with relaxation.
Eat crispy or crunchy vegetables. This is an excellent distractor and helps to relief boredom and improves concentration because of the chewing sound.
Eat small amounts (a handful) of unsalted or lightly salted nuts or seeds instead of salty chips that are most times non-nutritious.
Sleep for more hours at nights. With more sleep or rest, there is sometimes less need for snacking or craving for energy foods to keep awake.
Stand and walk around; a change of scenery may help. Avoid entering the kitchen, lunchroom or pantry ... that is where the temptation is greatest.
Do positive talk. Find someone with a positive outlook on life and strike up a conversation. Talking keeps the mouth busy and discourages eating.
Avoid or limit situations that cause nervousness or anxiety. This may result in overeating to calm oneself.
Accept your emotions. Let us not be ashamed of them and the fact that some emotions may cause us to eat more foods. Take one step at a time to overcome emotional eating.
Make healthier food choices to manage our emotions.
Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Centre, Montego Bay, and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.