When we are feeling stressed or anxious or sometimes just numb we often reach for food as a way to comfort ourselves. Does this sound familiar to you? The familiarity and comfort of eating may bring a sensation of temporary peace, but the side effects can be disastrous, including:
- Addictive behaviors
- Eating disorders
- Withdrawal from family and friends
Over the years many different clients and students have told me that they learned to comfort eat as a child, when rewards were food. Now as adults sometimes self-love gets confused with the sensation and illusion of comfort when eating. And yet, we live in a culture where the motto appears to be “you can never be too thin” and their eating now causes them stress and lowered feelings of self-worth. Our cultural addiction to slimness is an imbalance, but so is the over eating. It’s time to find the balance in our lives around eating to nourish, eating for pleasure; and let’s not forget that eating is one of life’s pleasures, and being aware of what and when we eat.
You may be drawn to eat nuts and chips (salty and crunchy) while another person is drawn to chocolate and ice cream (sweet and creamy) or sometimes it just seems we cannot eat enough, so we keep eating whatever is around. By being aware of what we eat and how often we eat we can take control of our nutritional health and well-being. A direct and very quick result is an improved sense of self-worth.
In addition we may turn to alcohol. Alcohol may be good for your heart, but too much alcohol is not a good thing for your body. Too large an intake increases your body’s need for extra vitamins, including the B vitamins, which are so important to nerve health. So many of us in this day and age of high paced living are stressing our nervous systems and using lots of the B vitamins to maintain our health and well-being. Also, the body has a more difficult time using oxygen when too much alcohol is taken. This can in turn exacerbate feelings of stress and even anxiety by causing stress on the heart by increasing the heart rate. The result of too much alcohol is more sensitivity to stress, which in turn can cause anxiety reactions. In addition, it can cause depression.
The drawback of course is that what seemed soothing and stress relieving at the time often makes us feel so much worse later. We end up feeling bad about ourselves, which may then lead into a cycle of repeating the comfort eating to gain temporary relief until we feel bad again, and so on. Much like the problems of disrupted blood sugar levels that we looked at over the last couple of months.
If you find yourself in front of the fridge or staring into the cupboard looking for something to snack on I suggest you take a moment to do the following:
- Check in with your feelings. How do you feel? Are you hungry or is something else underlying? (You may need help learning how to do this as sometimes we have developed habits that over-ride our real feelings and sensations. If so, please don’t hesitate to contact me for an appointment. Appointments are available by phone or in person and we can get you started on getting back in touch with you!) If you realize that you are not hungry or you that you are not sure whether you are hungry or not, you may like to try the following:
- First thing is to get yourself a glass of water. Sometimes we are thirsty and we just do not realize it. Make sure you get your six to ten glasses a day of water. I know, I said it last month too, but it really does make a difference. This helps to fill you up and helps the digestive system stay healthy. It’s good for your skin and it helps to flush out the adverse effects of chemicals in the body caused by feeling anxious or stressed.
- Do not have a caffeinated drink or drink alcohol. These will actually make your feelings worse or even go so far as to prolong any sensations of discomfort.
- Stop all activity for a few moments and take several long, slow deep breaths. You will probably notice that your breathing became quite shallow. A natural response to stress is for the breath to shorten. By stopping to take time to regulate your breathing this will help you get back to feeling normal and begin normal healthy breathing again. This may be enough to re-frame whatever is going on, have you get back in touch with your body again and simply move on. Really, just taking the time to take some long, slow deep breaths can make a world of difference.
- Do not smoke. Although the act of smoking may give a temporary sense of relief and can cut physical cravings for food the nicotine in cigarettes increases physiological arousal. Nicotine is a vasocontrictor, which means it tightens the veins and it makes your heart work harder. In addition, there are hundreds of other chemicals in cigarettes that are toxic to the body. Your body has to work hard to get rid of these poisonous substances, causing stress and using up some more of your reserves of vitamins and minerals. Smokers tend to be more anxious than non-smokers and tend to sleep less well too.
- Walk away from the fridge or cupboard. If you really are not hungry and you are looking to eat for comfort, walk away and if you can take a brisk walk outdoors. You will breathe deeply, get some exercise and begin to clear your thoughts.
In addition you may want to look at the possibility that you have an eating disorder. Eating disorders can lead to all kinds of health problems but primarily to begin with it appears to be an issue around self-esteem and self-worth. An eating disorder is defined as a complex compulsion to eat in a way that disturbs physical, mental and psychological health. Should you find yourself wondering whether you have an eating disorder you should make an appointment with your primary health care provider. Or make an appointment with me to evaluate your options regarding learning to eat a healthy diet and begin to live the life you have always wanted.
And don’t forget to take time to enjoy the Spring weather. Get out and about and enjoy the increased sunshine and you’ll find yourself less worried about what’s in the fridge!