Eating is as much a mental experience as it is a physical one. Emotions and stress certainly influence our appetite and eating habits. When stressed our bodies release certain hormones and neurotransmitters which trigger our desire for foods that will produce quick energy (think carbohydrates, cookies, sweets, etc) that will fuel our “fight or fight” endeavor.
These same foods also increase the levels of serotonin and endorphins in our brains which help calm us and make us feel better. And endorphins, what I like to call Mother Nature’s morphine, not only decreases pain and the effects of stress, but can actually make you crave more of what you are eating. They are called “comfort food” for a reason!
What are you really feeding, your heart or your stomach?
The Thanksgiving holiday can be a perfect storm for emotional eating. Ample amounts of potential stress (crowded airports and delayed flights, packed freeways, high holiday expectations, Black Friday shopping and lots of family time—especially all of the family time) coupled with plenty of food—enough to feed a small army!—can set anyone up for a deluge of donuts!
So, how do you manage it all? I tell my clients it is all about balance and awareness. First, make a conscious effort to include healthy snacks along with the traditional holiday cookies and sweets. Second, know your terrain. Identify your stressors beforehand. Know who or what sets you off. Third, know your exits. Limit time around certain people (you know who they are!), avoid certain topics (maybe it is not a good idea to talk politics this year) or have a good book or movie to escape into. Fourth, pay attention to your feelings. The most common feelings that precede overeating include: depression, anxiety, anger, boredom and loneliness. If you are experiencing any of these feelings during your holiday, be cognizant of your emotional hunger versus physical hunger. What are you really feeding, your heart or your stomach? And finally, enjoy the food! Just listen to your body; it will tell you when you are full.