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Last Updated on December 11, 2020

What Is Emotional Eating And How To Stop It

What Is Emotional Eating And How To Stop It

Do you sometimes eat to feel better or reduce stress? We don’t always eat to satisfy physical hunger. But sometimes, we eat for emotional needs instead. When we do, it’s often comforting but less healthy foods—and this is called emotional eating.

If you think you suffer from emotional eating, read this article to find out more about how to identify it and practical tips on how to stop.

What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is when you eat high-calorie low-nutrition foods whenever you feel stressed.[1] Emotional eating attempts to fulfill your emotional needs and make yourself feel better rather than your stomach. There is a wide range of emotional triggers to this, such as boredom, stress, anxiety, habit, depression.

Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional concerns, and it can actually make you feel worse. As not only does the original issue remain, but you may also feel guilty for eating more than you need.

How Can I Tell if I’m Emotional Eating?

While it may seem obvious to only eat when you are hungry, it can be quite hard to identify emotional eating because you may not even realize that you are already doing it.

But you are probably wondering: how can I tell if I do this, too?

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One way to identify if you are emotional eating is to keep a diary of how you feel when you eat. This will help you identify your triggers, too. Consider and record how you are feeling every time you eat, what you ate, and how you felt after.

  • Do you eat more or less when you are feeling stressed?
  • Do you eat to feel better?
  • Do you find eating cheers you up or calms you down when you feel anxious?
  • Does food feel like a comforting friend?
  • Do you feel you are powerless over what and how much you eat?
  • Do you use food as a reward?

There is a huge social and enjoyment aspect of food and eating that is healthy. Getting pleasure out of food is different from using food as your primary emotional coping strategy when you feel low, stressed, angry, upset, tired, bored, or lonely.

Emotional eating often starts with negative thoughts, which is a learned behavior, that we usually pick up subconsciously. But it can also be linked to positive feelings, such as rewarding yourself or celebrating an event.

Is It Physical or Emotional Hunger?

At first, it can be really difficult to distinguish between physical and emotional cues for eating. However, some practical tips can help you work out the differences:

Physical hunger:

  • Gradually builds and can wait
  • Unlikely to crave specific foods
  • Stops when you are full
  • Is not associated with feelings of guilt once you have eaten

Emotional hunger:

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  • Comes on suddenly and feels like it can’t wait
  • Likely to crave specific items of food
  • Isn’t satisfied after eating
  • Can trigger feelings of guilt, shame, and powerlessness

Risks Associated With Emotional Eating

When you eat for emotional reasons, not only are you unable to address the root causes of your emotional concerns, but it is also often associated with guilt and overeating. This sets up a negative cycle where we feel bad that we overate but then use food to soothe us again.

Overeating can lead to obesity, which increases your risk of cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, cancers, arthritis, and depression. Becoming obese can also lead to a loss of control, especially over our weight and eating. Overeating can also cause nausea, which gives a strong feeling of discomfort.[2] These risk further emotional eating.

Stress Can Impact What You Eat

Stress has both a physiological and psychological impact on appetite. Nutrition is now known to also affect stress via the two-way connection between our gut and brain (gut-brain-axis). Chronic stress is associated with a greater desire for energy and nutrient-dense food, such as high fat and high sugar.[3]

The stress hormone, cortisol, has been found in mice to have the opposite effect on the hormone leptin, which inhibits hunger. Mice with higher levels of cortisol continued to eat and gained weight. This suggests that not only might you eat due to stress, but cortisol amplifies this by making us feel physically hungry even when we aren’t.

This demonstrates that there is a physiological component to emotional eating as well as a psychological one. High-fat and high sugar foods stimulate reward pathways in the brain that are associated with pleasurable experiences. Withdrawal of these foods may result in increased cravings for them.

Stress is an important factor in the development of addiction and relapse. The addiction to the neurochemical rewards of these high-fat and sugary foods may be linked to stress.

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Microorganisms in Your Gut Also Affects Your Mood

The trillions of micro-organisms that live in our gut (microbiota) play an important role in susceptibility to many diseases.[4]

Incredibly, our behaviors such as social activity, stress, and anxiety-related responses can be modulated by our microbiota. However, the methods by which this influence occurs remains poorly understood.

The gut-brain axis describes the two-directional signaling between the gut microbiota and the brain.[5] Studies have shown the composition of the microbiota and the production of different neuroactive metabolites formed by them can have direct effects on the brain.

In a large population study, the presence of different microorganisms was correlated with quality of life and the incidence of depression.[6]

Can I Stop Emotional Eating?

The good news is that once you have thought about and identified your triggers for emotional eating, it then becomes possible to challenge these behaviors.

There are several practical steps that you can take to help change your eating habits:

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  • When you get a craving or feel hungry, check in and see what your emotional state is.
  • If you feel hungry, pause and decide if it can wait or not. See how you are feeling and why you have the craving.
  • Try to avoid having forbidden foods as they are so much more tempting.
  • Eat mindfully, focusing on each mouthful without the distractions of a screen.[7] Pay attention to each bite. Enjoy the flavors and textures of what you eat.
  • Savor every mouthful, and don’t eat in a rush. It also takes time for hormone reflexes to let you know that you are physically full.
  • Accept that we all have negative feelings. But avoiding them can mean they rebound, time and time again.
  • Avoid the need to finish the plate of food just because it’s there. Listen to your body, and stop when you are full.

If you feel bored, try reading a book, doing sudoku or a puzzle, or find a hobby you enjoy. If you feel lonely, try connecting with friends or volunteering, even if it’s only digitally or on the phone.

If you are feeling upset, try listening to music, enjoying a smell that evokes happy feelings, or reaching out to friends or pets. If you feel exhausted, resist the temptation to load up on sugar and try a warm bath early at night or get a hot drink instead.

Support Your Emotional Health With a Healthy Lifestyle

We all have stresses or moments of anxiety and boredom in our lives. To avoid emotional eating, it helps to have other ways of supporting your emotional needs instead of just using food.

Additionally, these will help with resilience so that it’s easier to navigate more challenging times that you face and will face in your life.

Here are some tips to support your emotional health with a healthy lifestyle:

  • Aim to get a good night’s sleep of approximately 8 hours.
  • Exercising regularly not only improves your physical health but also your mental health and reduces stress.
  • Make some time in the day for yourself, and permit yourself to relax, even if you only start with 5 minutes each day and build up from there.
  • Value your friends and family, as a close bond can help with coping with challenges.

Final Thoughts

Emotional eating is harmful not only to our mental well-being but also our physical health. It’s not something that people want, but it happens nonetheless. Emotional eating is not easy to control if you have no idea about it, or if you don’t know that you already do it. You can start with the tips in this article to help yourself stop emotional eating and learn to manage your stress better.

More Tips For Emotional Eaters

Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dr. Harriet Holme

Registered Nutritionist, and doctor

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Published on April 8, 2021

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot Powder (And How To Choose A Good One)

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot Powder (And How To Choose A Good One)

Beetroots are vegetables rich in nitrates, antioxidants, and polyphenol compounds that have a role in improved cardiovascular function and exercise performance.[1] However, beetroot juice has limitations with storage and taste preference, and so other more convenient forms have been investigated. One of these forms is beetroot powder.

What Is Beetroot Powder?

Beetroot powder is made by dehydrating or drying out thin slices of beetroot (to remove all the moisture) and then grinding them into a powder. If you don’t like the earthy taste of beetroot, then beetroot powder might be an alternative since it is more concentrated than fresh beetroot but with a relatively neutral taste. One fresh beetroot is the equivalent of approximately one teaspoon of beetroot powder.

Powdered beetroot can be added to sauces, smoothies, pasta, gnocchi, curries, cakes, muffins, or anything you choose to add nutrients and color to. Watch out that your urine may change color too! Due to the natural sugars in beetroot, it can also be used as a natural sweetener. Beetroot powder is even used in natural cosmetics.

Beetroot Powder VS. Other Beetroot Products

One study looked at the total antioxidant potential, phenol compounds, sugars, and organic acids in beetroot juice, cooked beetroot, powder, and chips. They found higher amounts of total antioxidant potential and organic acids in the chips and powder compared with the juice and cooked beetroot.[2] However, it’s important to consider that it is a lot easier to take larger quantities of beetroot when powdered or juiced than just eating it and this means ingesting much more sugar.

6 Health Benefits of Beetroot

While beetroot may have potential health benefits, it’s not clear if these are temporary or have long-term effects. More research is needed to answer this question and what the optimal dose is. Most studies have focused on beetroot juice, with only a handful of studies investigating beetroot powder. There hasn’t been evidence so far to support the benefit of beetroot powder on blood flow.[3]

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Despite that, beetroot contains several different compounds with different properties. Here are the six health benefits of beetroot powder.

1. Beetroot Powder Is Rich in Nitrates

Firstly, beetroot powder is rich in nitrates. Nitrates have important roles related to increased blood flow, gas exchange, mitochondrial efficiency, and strengthening of muscle contraction.[4] By causing relaxation of the smooth muscles that encircle arteries and veins, nitrate leads to the dilation of these blood vessels, thereby lowering blood pressure. Nitrate medications are used for people with high blood pressure, angina, and heart disease to relax blood vessels, widening them to allow greater blood flow.[5]

A meta-analysis that combined 22 different trials and analyzed the results together found that additional beetroot juice significantly decreased blood pressure.[6] However, there isn’t evidence to support the long-term effects.[7]

2. Beetroot Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Secondly, beetroot contains antioxidant polyphenol compounds that have anti-inflammatory properties. Antioxidants are molecules that have the ability to neutralize free radicals and protect against cell damage that can lead to chronic diseases. Eating a diet high in antioxidants found in fruit and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of chronic disease.[8] Different polyphenol compounds are different colors, that’s why you will often hear about eating a rainbow of fruit and vegetables.

3. Beetroot Has Anti-Cancer Effects

Beetroot also contains betalains that have been found to have anti-cancer effects in cellular models in the laboratory.[9] Clinical trials are now needed to assess if there are potential anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects and the nature of these effects. While the anti-cancer effects of beetroot in humans aren’t known yet, including them in your diet may help and is unlikely to risk harm.

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4. Beetroot Powder Is a Great Source of Vitamins C and Folate

Beetroots are also a great source of vitamins C and B9 (folate). Vitamin C and folate have many important roles in our bodies. Vitamin C is required for the biosynthesis of collagen, which acts as a scaffold in the skin and ligaments. It is also has a role in wound healing and protein metabolism. Folic acid is vital for the production of healthy red blood cells, and cellular growth. Inadequate intake of vitamin C over a 3 month period can lead to scurvy, and smoking can further reduce the bioavailability.[10]

5. Beetroot Contains Essential Minerals

Beets also contain the minerals iron, manganese, and potassium. Iron has a vital role in the transportation of oxygen by healthy red blood cells. Over 40% of children worldwide have iron deficiency anemia and women of childbearing age are also at increased risk because of menstruation.[11] Potassium may actually prevent the harmful effects of eating excess salt (sodium chloride). Manganese has several roles including metabolism, bone formation, and the immune system. Beetroots are a great way of including all these micronutrients in your diet.

6. Beetroot Powder Is a Great Source of Fiber

Fiber is such an important component of our diet, with most of us needing to eat much more to reach the recommended daily amount of 30g. For every 10g of fiber you eat a day, you may decrease your long-term risk of bowel cancer.[12]

Fibre also acts as a pre-biotic, providing food for the friendly micro-organisms in your gut called the microbiota. There are trillions of micro-organisms in your gut that are now known to play a key role in inflammation and both mental and physical health. Eating beetroots can help to increase your fiber intake and support a healthy gut community.

It’s clear that for relatively few calories, beetroot contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, nitrates, and antioxidants. For these reasons, beetroot is labeled as a “nutraceutical” and supplementation has become increasingly popular.[13] While most studies have looked at the effects of beetroot on blood vessel dilation, there are still many unanswered questions about other potential benefits.

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How to Choose a Beetroot Powder

Like all other supplements, there is very little regulation. Therefore, it is very difficult to be sure exactly what is included in the supplement or assess the quality. My recommendations for choosing a supplement are to check for a product license and always buy from a reputable company.

There are, however, no agreed benchmarks for quality or efficacy. How much and how often are also unknown at this time. Try to avoid powders that have added preservatives, sweeteners, or artificial flavorings. Consider whether an organic powder is worth the extra money to you. I would avoid powders that have added silica to avoid clumping. Some supplements now use 3rd party companies to verify the contents.

There isn’t an agreed dose of nitrate or beetroot powder, so while some powders do contain nitrate content, it is difficult to know exactly what this means in practice. The higher the nitrate content, the more likely it is to have a beneficial effect on raised blood pressure. But if you don’t have high blood pressure, it’s difficult to know if more nitrate is beneficial.

In summary, look for:

  • organic beetroot powder
  • tested for quality by a 3rd party company
  • is free from preservatives, sweeteners, and artificial flavorings
  • avoid powders containing silica
  • buy from a reputable company
  • look at the nitrate content

How to Make Your Own Beetroot Powder

First, wash, peel, and grate your beetroots by hand or using a food processor. Then, place them on a tray, spread them out, and cover them with parchment or grease-proof paper to protect them from direct sunlight.

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Leave to dry until there is no moisture left and shake intermittently so that it dries evenly. When it snaps instead of bending and feels dry, it is ready for the next stage.

The drying stage can take up to four days depending on the air temperature. To speed up the drying process, you can do this on low heat in a saucepan for 15 to 25 minutes or in the oven at no higher than 180 degrees Celsius or in a dehydrator. If you use the oven or on the hob, just be careful not to burn the beetroot.

The final step is to grind the dried beetroot using a grinder. It can then be stored in an airtight container, avoiding sun-light for up to one year.

Should You Try Beetroot Powder?

Beetroot is a great vegetable that contains vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, nitrates, and fiber. The nitrates present in beets may lower your blood pressure in the short-term, but the long-term effects are not yet known. More research is needed to know about other potential benefits such as the effect on cancer.

So, while beetroot powder may have health benefits unless taken in excess, it is unlikely to have significant side effects. Large doses of beetroot, however, are associated with an increased risk of kidney stones.

If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, taking beetroot supplements is best avoided as there isn’t sufficient safety information. Beetroots do also contain fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols or FODMAPS for short. These are types of carbohydrates that are hard to digest and can cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome in some people. FODMAPS are thought to act as prebiotics, feeding the friendly micro-organisms that live in your gut (microbiota). So, for those people who can tolerate them, they are beneficial for a healthy gut.

More Resources About Beetroot

Featured photo credit: FOODISM360 via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] NCBI: Vascular effects of dietary nitrate (as found in green leafy vegetables and beetroot) via the nitrate‐nitrite‐nitric oxide pathway
[2] SpringerLink: Comparison of total antioxidant potential, and total phenolic, nitrate, sugar, and organic acid contents in beetroot juice, chips, powder, and cooked beetroot
[3] Maastricht University: Effects of Beetroot Powder with or without L-Arginine on Postprandial Vascular Endothelial Function: Results of a Randomized Controlled Trial with Abdominally Obese Men
[4] PubMed.gov: Effects of Beetroot Juice Supplementation on Cardiorespiratory Endurance in Athletes. A Systematic Review
[5] PubMed.gov: Nutraceuticals with a clinically detectable blood pressure-lowering effect: a review of available randomized clinical trials and their meta-analyses
[6] PubMed.gov: The Nitrate-Independent Blood Pressure-Lowering Effect of Beetroot Juice: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
[7] PubMed.gov: Medium-term effects of dietary nitrate supplementation on systolic and diastolic blood pressure in adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis
[8] NCCIH: Antioxidants: In-Depth
[9] NCBI: Red Beetroot and Betalains as Cancer Chemopreventative Agents
[10] Healthline: Beetroot 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits
[11] NCBI: The impact of maternal iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia on child’s health
[12] Cancer Research UK: Does a high fibre diet reduce my risk of cancer?
[13] PubMed.gov: The potential benefits of red beetroot supplementation in health and disease

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