This is what most emotional eating is about. Calming ourselves down.
Anxiety & Nerves
If you pay attention you’ll find that you tend to overeat when you’re feeling jittery and anxious. You may not always be aware of how you feel but most of the time anxiety is at the root.
Food is a powerful way to calm our nerves. We get our first hit of this drug when we merely anticipate the fact that we will be eating soon. We are like Pavlov’s dogs in that way. We get excited and our internal state changes, knowing that soon we will experience something good.
It’s sort of like the feeling you get before you go on vacation. The happiest days on a vacation are the 3 days leading up to it and the first half to three-quarters of the actual trip. After that you know you are going home soon and while the last days are still fun, they are tinged with the feelings that go with, “this is going to be over soon.”
Basically knowing you are going to be eating something delicious very soon is enough to change your state in a positive way.
The second hit of our drug we call food comes when we taste it and experience the pleasurable sensations that come with actually eating it.
If you’ve ever watched someone eat something really tasty you’ll notice that they close their eyes, moan a little, breathe deeply and then nod their head in approval and say how good it is.
Those are not only signs of pleasure but signs that the parasympathetic nervous system is activated (the opposite of fight/flight) which is responsible for calming you down. Eating tasty food activates the pleasure center and soothes the nerves.
Salads, veggies and chicken breast don’t activate those centers quite so much unfortunately. It’s sugar and fat that deliver the goods and for some reason we can keep eating those foods all day long and not get tired of them – pancakes, breads, pasta, cookies etc.
We may enjoy steamed broccoli, and I mean REALLY like it a lot, but after a certain amount we’re done. It’s because broccoli doesn’t give us our fix and so we lose interest in it fast.
The 3rd and final effect of emotional eating comes when we have finished and are full. At this point our body has to get to work on digesting the food and that takes energy so we feel more settled and sometimes even tired afterwards.
At Thanksgiving people always proclaim that the reason why everyone’s so tired after the meal is because of the protein tryptophan that is found in larger amounts in turkey. Tryptophan is said to be something that soothes you somewhat, but the amounts you get in turkey are not enough to make much of a difference.
The reason why people are tired afterwards is because they just ate large quantities of food that were high in fat, carbs and sugar. More food equals more digestion needed, especially with that type of food and so your body diverts lots of energy to your GI tract to do it’s job and you end up feeling tired as a result.
Feeling tired and settled is usually preferable to feeling anxious and so we welcome that.
Insulin too plays a role here. When we overeat foods that are rich in carbs/sugar, which is most of the preferred foods people tend to want when they overeat, our insulin levels spike and that is another cause of fatigue and feeling “mellow.”
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly
It’s no wonder that one of the things we do to cope with anxiety is to turn to food. The simple act is easy enough to do and delivers so much in return. Our anxiety feels overwhelming whether we are aware of it or not and so we use many different ways to try to manage it.
Being busy, checking emails or FB, TV, shopping, drinking are all examples of other ways of coping and there are many more than just those mentioned. Most people use more than one with food being a popular choice.
The good thing about using food is that it’s not as harmful as some of the other methods like smoking, gambling or drinking. At least not in the short term.
The bad is that you gain weight and usually have mild to severe medical problems as a result.
The ugly is that you are distracting yourself from the root of the problem and so without being aware of it will likely repeat the food addiction behavior for a long time, paying the price. Prolonged pain, suffering and lost years are usually the costs to emotional eating gone unchecked.
If this sounds depressing I understand. It need not be though. Taking on your emotional eating is an opportunity to not only fix your weight, body and health but your life as whole. Try to see it as a way to fix most everything in your life by focusing on one issue.
The guide below is a good starting point on how to do just that.
Eating to soothe is fine. It really is and there’s no need to berate yourself for it. The best thing you can do is become aware of it and follow that awareness as deep as it goes.
That’s the journey and one that pays off in spades if you take it on.
THE EATING LOVE GUIDE (FREE)
The Eating Love Guide has helped many people regain control of their eating patterns, resulting not only in weight loss but also better health and improved self-esteem. To read it online, click here.