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7 Ways Your Emotions Cause You to Overeat

7 Ways Your Emotions Cause You to Overeat

There is so much more to eating than food. Apart from the significant influence of your biology, it’s affected by place, timing, whether you’re alone or with others, and, of course, your emotions. How you feel, what you feel, and the intensity of your emotions can make the difference between reaching for the refrigerator and choosing to take a pass.

Are you eating to fill emotional needs and minimize or prevent emotional distress? Then you might just be an emotional eater.

We all have our ups and downs, but some of us have an emptiness or hunger that goes deeper. Sadness that won’t go away, confusion we can’t resolve, a purpose we can’t find. It’s an emotional need that can’t be pacified with food – even if eating feels good at the moment.

While it’s okay to eat as a reward or pick me up from time to time, it becomes a problem when your first instinct is to head for the pantry whenever you’re stressed out, upset, or lonely. We all need coping strategies, but this one can lead to weight gain, associated health problems, and eating disorders.

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Curious if your emotions are causing you to overeat? Here are 7 ways that this can happen.

1. You are overwhelmed by sadness or shame

Down and out? Let’s grab something to eat. Sad about that breakup? I’ve got some ice cream! Screw up at work today? Here, have a drink.

The number one thing you may want to do when you’re feeling sad is to numb the pain. This may mean reaching for food, particularly that of the high-carb, sugary, and fatty variety. There is a reason for this, as such food sets off a chain reaction that ends with the release of that feel-good chemical, serotonin. It’s more than just good taste. The food gives your brain the pick-me-up you need to feel better almost instantly. The irony is that this can backfire, causing guilt at all the extra calories ingested and the lack of control not only over your emotions but your food intake as well.

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2. Boredom sets in and what else is there to do but eat?

Picture this – it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon, and you have nothing to do. You’re sitting in front of the television watching some garbage reality show, and you reach for a bag of chips or a box of cookies. A few mindless minutes later, it’s gone. What the heck just happened?

When you’re bored, you may not be fully attentive to your surroundings or actions. It’s the opposite of mindful – you’re not tuned into what you’re doing. This can result in extra calories ingested for no good reason other than to kill some time.

3. Your brain is on fire – with stress and anxiety

In our overcharged, hyperlinked, multitasking society, stress is the new normal. And most of us are desperately searching for ways to alleviate it. Enter food into the equation. Stress has been shown to increase intake of sweet, calorie-dense foods. Whether it’s alcohol, sugar, or a big heap of some comfort food, you may be hoping to find that holy grail of calm through food.

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What causes this? One culprit may be the high cortisol levels associated with chronic stress. As Pamela Peeke, M.D., M.P.H. was quoted as saying in Shape Magazine, “The body assumes that with elevated levels of cortisol, physical activity will follow.”  In our day and age, we often don’t follow a stressful event with physical activity, but our body isn’t exactly clued into that. Since sugar- and fat-filled foods inhibit stress-related brain activity, the result is that we feel less stressed out after hitting that boat-sized plate of pasta. But like most good things in life, it won’t last, and the stress will return.

4. You want to connect to a prior time or event

Think back to a happy event in your life and you’ll likely recall a time with friends and family, novelty, connection, stimulation, and fun.  These are “sticky” memories, and what makes them stick is the complex, multi-sensory input of the experience. You may distinctly remember the smell, feel, sight, sound, and taste of foods you were eating at the time and connect it to the positive emotions you felt. Whether you realize it or not, you may be drawn to eating those same foods as a way to reconnect with memories of past events and loved ones.

5. You deserve a reward!

You kicked that presentation out of the park, got that promotion, or just finally drop-kicked that toxic person out of your life. You deserve a reward, right? Sure, there is nothing wrong with celebratory eating, and often it is just what you need. But if you reward yourself too often or find yourself coming up with new and admittedly flimsy excuses to do so (congrats to me – I showed up to work today!), then it can become a problem. 

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6. You need a friend

Food can evoke feelings of safety, much like a security blanket. So many who overeat talk about food as a distractor, a friend, a buffer against the blows of the outside world.

We’ve all felt the need for security or the comfort of a friend. When one isn’t around, food may be the best substitute you can find. But food will never fill the emptiness of being lonely, and it can’t protect against the pains caused by a sometimes cruel world.

7. You’re scared…

A lot of us are scared and for good reason. We have to navigate unsafe communities, problematic relationships, confusing work prospects, and internal struggles, all while being bombarded on a daily basis with multiple accounts of tragedy, illness, mishaps, and death. One way to mitigate fear is through food. Research has shown that fear can precipitate eating; and interestingly enough, a recent study showed that even the threat of certain emotions may promote overeating.

There is still so much to know about how our emotions, biology, and circumstance intersect to cause overeating and related health problems. A first step in maintaining a healthy weight is to become aware of the role of emotions in your eating. Next time you reach for a donut, ask yourself the question of whether you are trying to satisfy a physical or emotional hunger. The latter – though real – can’t be satisfied by food alone.

Featured photo credit: Ali Inay via images.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on March 25, 2020

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

How to Live Longer? 21 Ways to Live a Long Life

When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

So, how to live longer? Here are 21 ways to help you live a long life

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in Moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity.[1] Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce Stress in Your Life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch Less Television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t.[2] It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes.

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Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat Less Red Meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer.[3] Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity.

If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t Smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity.[4] Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat Foods Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease[5] and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease.[6] Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

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9. Be Optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists.[7] Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a Pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease.[8] Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink Coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life.[9] Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat Less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure.[10] Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity.[11]

Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

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How to meditate? Here’re 8 Meditation Techniques for Complete Beginners

14. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease.[12] It may also increase the risk of cancer.[13] Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh Often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook Your Own Food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

Take a look at these 14 Healthy Easy Recipes for People on the Go and start to cook your own food.

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18. Eat Mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.[14]

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.[15]

20. Eat Foods Rich in Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

Find out more antiosidants-rich foods here: 13 Delicious Antioxidant Foods That Are Great for Your Health

21. Have Sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease.[16] It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

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Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

Reference

[1] Wiley Online Library: Late‐Life Alcohol Consumption and 20‐Year Mortality
[2] BMJ Journals: Television viewing time and reduced life expectancy: a life table analysis
[3] Arch Intern Med.: Red Meat Consumption and Mortality
[4] PLOS Medicine: Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review
[5] JAMA: Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acid Intake and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in Women
[6] NCBI: Effects of Omega‐3 Fatty Acids on Cognitive Function with Aging, Dementia, and Neurological Diseases: Summary
[7] Mayo Clinic Proc: Prediction of all-cause mortality by the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory Optimism-Pessimism Scale scores: study of a college sample during a 40-year follow-up period.
[8] Med Hypotheses.: Pet ownership protects against the risks and consequences of coronary heart disease.
[9] The New England Journal of Medicine: Association of Coffee Drinking with Total and Cause-Specific Mortality
[10] American Journal of Hypertension: Blood Pressure Response to Transcendental Meditation: A Meta-analysis
[11] Science Direct: Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomerase activity, and psychological mediators
[12] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[13] JAMA: The Disease Burden Associated With Overweight and Obesity
[14] African Journal of Biotechnology: Anti-cancer effect of polysaccharides isolated from higher basidiomycetes mushrooms
[15] Science Direct: Periodontal disease, tooth loss, and cancer risk in male health professionals: a prospective cohort study
[16] AHA Journals: Sexual Activity and Cardiovascular Disease

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