Food Cravings, Emotional Eating, using Food to deal with stress … they’re something we talk about with our friends (because we can be totally open and with our friends).
We all know what it’s like to have food positively screaming at us, right girlfriend? Somehow, especially at this time of year, we end up eating more than we’d planned and more than we want.
Did you know we use foods to stimulate or self-medicate ourselves? The foods we choose to perk us up, comfort our anxieties, and relax our tensions actually exacerbate the stress we are feeling. After an emotionally-taxing day we tend to reach for sugar or refined carbs to improve our moods. With our hormones continually adapting to all the events we encounter or the tasks demanded on us, the hormonal imbalance at the end of the day often leads us to the package of cookies in our cupboard as soon as we walk in the door. “The psychological experience is as much involved as the biological experience” – (Why Women Need Chocolate, Debra Waterhouse, MPH, RD, 1995).
Sugar boosts the good-mood hormone, serotonin. Serotonin is the hormone that provides us with the feeling of joy, satisfaction, and confidence. When our serotonin levels are low, our brain does what it can to bring serotonin levels back to normal by sending out messages that we call cravings. The combination of fat and sugar is most desirable to women as fat lifts our endorphine level which is a pain-relieving hormone that is as powerful as morphine. The majority of women report during their “monthly time” is when cravings are more intense. We are unable to resist the strong messages from the brain as it trying to keep hormones at their appropriate levels. Therefore, as good-mood hormones dip, we are left with uncontrollable sugar and fat cravings that are nearly impossible to resist.
The key to ensuring good-mood hormone levels is to maintain stable blood sugar levels. If the brain is supplied with maximum energy throughout the day with “healthy” carbohydrates, proteins, and good fats it will provide us with alertness, creative thinking, and stable moods. Our resiliency to life’s demands depends on eating healthy meals that will sustain us. If our blood sugar levels drop and we “starve” the brain, it will protest with headaches, irritability, and fatigue. When low energy and unclear thinking occurs, we lose our self-control around food—putting us at risk of making some very poor choices to fulfill our needs.
The top mood saboteurs that we continually use to lift our moods and restore our energy are sugar, sugar substitutes, and refined starches. They are found in refined processed snacks or sugary store-bought treats such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, muffins, crackers, cereals, sweetened drinks, and colas. As they provide no nutritional value and contain additives that are addicting, they are not only toxic to our bodies but also to our moods.
Here’s how the process works. Within a minute of consuming a diet cola and cookie your body becomes highly stressed trying to neutralize the destructive impact of these “foods.” First your body sends out adrenaline, “the fight or flight” hormone as it senses your body is being attacked. Then endorphin and serotonin levels go up making you feel good temporarily. Insulin is called onto the scene to deal with the excessive high blood sugar. The insulin also tells your body to store fat. After the insulin has completed its job, your energy and mental stamina start to plummet. This brings forward your stress hormone, cortisol, to release emergency sugar stores from the liver so you don’t pass out. Since cortisol doesn’t usually feel pleasant, it motivates us to get rid of it by, you guessed it, reaching for a sugary snack again. This process can happen two to four times a day, putting great strain on our hormones, affecting our moods, and increasing our chances of weight-gain.
This vicious emotional-eating cycle can be as rapid as the bad-mood foods we chose. Our moods and our emotional dependency on certain foods drive us towards the quick fixes. In order for an intervention to happen, we need to recognize how our habits are contributing to the stress-eating cycle. There are a variety of healthier choices that will provide our bodies and minds with the essential nutrients needed to function optimally. We can eliminate emotional eating from taking over our lives and have the quality of life we are seeking by just feeding our brain and nourishing our body with the right foods.
Treena Wynes is the author of Eating Ourselves Crazy and founder of a weight-loss counseling business who focuses on emotional health in order to achieve healthy weight-loss goals. She is a former compulsive eater, therefore, has the strong personal understanding of the powerful grip of emotional-eating. Her website is www.food4thoughtwellness.ca.
How do you handle stress girlfriends? (By reaching for brownies?) Do you experience Food Cravings? Does this girlfriend advice give you some insights?
Treena – thanks SO MUCH for helping girlfriends deal with our food cravings and emotional eating. For more girlfriend advice on dieting and emotional eating, check out these Girlfriendology guest blogs/interviews:
- Emotional and Binge Eating – Girlfriend advice
- Emotional Eating and Friendship
- Interview on Emotional Eating