Ever had a tricky meeting at work with your difficult boss and then blindly attacked the Hobnobs? Or a row with your partner and then wolfed down a slab of cheddar? Reaching for food during or after a difficult emotional moment is a way of distracting ourselves from dealing with the negative emotions that spring up. Most people lead busy and stressful lives and emotional triggers for dealing with stress and upset with food are making us fat. Learning to self sooth and deal with tricky situations is perhaps the last 'diet' you'll ever have to learn.

Unfortunately it's not the easiest diet to follow - the propensity to self sooth with food can easily become habit forming. We create emotional triggers that will lead to food (and it's not usually carrots and celery those emotions will lead us to!). Just like Pavlov's dogs, we can condition ourselves -  to respond to emotions with food.

Then to really seal the deal there is the chemical response we get from the type of food that is usually at play during an emotional moment. I think it's safe to say that ice cream is a typical 'pick me up' food, so taking ice cream as an example - it is a near perfect combination of fat and sugar and on a chemical level this combination gives us a drug like high. (It takes a strong will to have just one scoop of B&J's!) Ice cream releases the happy chemicals - serotonin, opioids and cannabinoids (that one sound familiar?) into the brain. On a chemical level it's almost as addictive as a class A drug.  Add to that the psychological dimension of self soothing and you have a dangerously seductive concoction!

But there is hope! In pausing for thought every time you suspect that something other than hunger is at play in your cupboard seeking antics and asking - what is this about, you'll get accustomed to differentiating between genuine hunger and emotional cravings. You'll recognise genuine hunger as it comes on slowly and will usually be satisfied with any palatable food. A craving comes on suddenly and is usually for a specific food that will provide that chemical high. The starting point is just questioning it - you may not be able to resist the craving at first but at least you'll have some understanding over it which will give it less power over you. The more often you can resist it, the stronger your resolve becomes and the easier it becomes to battle the urge to reach into the fridge. 

A study done by psychologist Cynthia Power showed that food cravings people repeatedly have correspond to certain emotional triggers:

Craving cheese and crackers - feelings of confusion and frustration.
Craving meat - feelings of anger.
Craving ice cream, custard - feeling the need for comfort.
Craving chocolate, coffee - feelings of sadness and neediness.
Craving crisps - feeling stressed.
Craving pasta - feeling lonely.

Just pausing for thought next time the food craving hits and asking yourself if this real hunger or something else can make you healthier, slimmer and a mentally stronger person. Now you just need to find another outlet for those emotions - look at that, the sales have started already!  

07/26/2012 01:53

You co relate the food and stress. We never think this logic before.


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