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In my 26 years of existence, the one thing that I can totally vouch for is the fact that each and every one of us has weight loss on top of our list of resolutions on every new year’s eve. However, the factor that triggers the resolution in the first place can actually end up ruining it. Obviously, the factor that I’m pointing at are your emotions.
Don’t even try to deny it, ladies. I know that we’re all the same when it comes to dealing with our emotions —spending lonely nights with tubs of ice-cream and drowning our sorrows in a packet of chips!
Yes, emotional eating is real and yes, our waistline has to bear the brunt
A journal published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information after considering many pieces of research and studies, claims that women tend to counter negative emotions/feelings of stress, sorrow, heartbreak, work pressure, and failure, by eating certain ‘comfort foods’ that tend to soothe them. Now you know the reason behind the ice cream tub on your lap.
But what makes you reach out for food in spite of being so calorie-conscious?
In this time and age, everyone is aware of the negative effects of weight gain such as the increased risk of heart problems, diabetes, blood pressure issues, and strain on the bones. Then, why does the emotional-you defeat the rational-you in times of stress and sorrow?
1. First and the obvious reason—your emotions: Dr. Preeti Singh, senior consultant, clinical psychology and psychotherapy at Paras Hospital, Gurugram, points out that in times of emotional instability, women tend to use excessive eating and drinking as a coping mechanism.
“In my experience, mostly women, who have just gone through a breakup or are involved in an emotionally abusive relationship, or suffer from obesity/body-image issues are highly likely to indulge in emotional eating,” she says.
“Prevalence of this amongst women who have had a difficult relationship with their mothers, especially controlling ones as well as those who have faced rejections and abandonment can also be noticed,” she adds.
2. Survival and compensation instinct: According to research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, our body has a strong survival instinct which, in times of stress, shifts us into a fight-or-flight mode. Basically, your body does the best it can to fight the stress. Having done that, it tends to think that it has expended all its calories and energy on the fight. There stems the need for compensation, arising due to the apparent utilisation of the already-consumed calories. This makes you reach out for food.
3. Blame it on your hormones: In times of stress or tension, your body produces a hormone called cortisol which is responsible for increasing your appetite. Obviously, being so overwhelmed with emotion can make you lose your better sense of judgment, making you crass things to beat that hunger.
4. Comfort food can actually give some much-needed comfort: Unfortunately, the increase in cortisol levels can also increase your insulin levels while your blood sugar level drops, automatically making you crave for sugary, high-fat foods according to a journal in the Harvard Health Publishing. Moreover, several studies have proven the mood-uplifting powers of desserts like chocolate time and again. Not to mention, the carbohydrates in junk food contain an amino acid called tryptophan which is known to balance our mood. Combine these effects with cravings and all things junk become a perfectly calming antidote to stress—at least a temporary one.
Well, for starters, you get stuck in a rut. I’ll tell you how. All that sugar-rush can uplift your mood and energy. But remember, once the sugar is utilised, you will fall flat on your face while dealing with a subsequent sugar crash or a sugar dip in the blood which will make you feel cranky once again. More calories, more junk, more cravings, and more weight gain follows.
Don’t lose hope. Here’s some advice to help you out.
Surely, keeping your emotions and emotional eating under control isn’t a cakewalk. But nothing is impossible, including fighting this habit. Here’s what you can do:
1. Know the difference between physical and emotional hunger: In the week moments when stress calls for junk, spare a second and ask yourself: Is it your body signaling hunger, or is that your emotions calling for food? And this will help you take a call on what to do next.
2. Know your triggers: Nothing beats recognizing the toxic elements in your life that cause emotional turbulence and choosing to either ignore or simply eliminate those factors for a happier, less-stressed, healthier you.
3. Engage in stress-relieving activities: Countless number of studies have shown how exercising can reduce cortisol and release the happy hormones (endorphins) in your body. So, put on those running shoes and get going. On second thoughts, indulge in any physical activity of your choice to counter stress.
4. Be around loved ones and if possible, a pet: Dr. Singh stresses on the importance of surrounding yourself with people who love and understand you for the sake of your own emotional security and well-being. Additionally, keeping a pet can take away a lot of your stress and negative emotions too, she says.
5. Eat, but eat smartly: Thanks to cortisol, you can’t exactly help that increased appetite. But, you can definitely choose what to eat. Neha Pathania, chief nutritionist and dietician at Paras Hospital, Gurugram recommends snacking on foods like upma, uttapam, spinach-and-corn sandwich, idli sambar, masala idli, oatmeal pancakes, paneer-stuffed moong chilla, and banana chips when stress-hunger calls.
She also suggests choosing healthier alternatives to junk to save on some calories and provide nutrition to the body. “Instead of consuming a bag of chips, munch on a handful of almonds or roasted peanuts mixed with jaggery. Roasted foxnuts (makhana) with a bit of chaat masala can also help,” she says.
“Replace the fizzy and sugary drinks with fluids such as coconut water, lemon water, buttermilk or plain water,” she adds.
Not to mention, fruit salads, sautéed veggies, and fibre-rich foods can also make a turbulent phase more bearable.
Needless to say, if your situation seems totally out of control, seeing a professional can make your life easier.