Is there anyone out there who doesn’t recognize emotional eating? What are your “comfort foods”, the ones you turn to when you’ve had a bad day or week? A bit of internet surfing tells me that favorites include mac and cheese, chicken soup, meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Hmmm, I don’t see any vegetables or fruits, unless you count apple pie with ice cream. The Brain Warrior’s Way* and the Omni Diet* will teach you healthy eating that will help you lose weight and improve your health without sacrificing taste or the pleasure you get from food, but the topic of emotional eating deserves some attention because that may be what led to the excess weight you want to lose.
I bring this up because I came across a study that sheds some surprising light on emotional eating. The researchers at the University of Delaware note that the choice of foods we turn to when we’re down is significantly different than the ones we opt for when we’re in a good mood. The example they gave was the choice of grapes when you’re in a good mood vs. chocolate candies when you’re blue. This suggests that emotional eating isn’t just what you do when you’re stressed out and need comfort but includes the healthy choices you make when you’re happy.
To find out if they were right about this, they recruited volunteers for two studies. For the first one, they had 211 participants from a local PTA read uplifting articles about someone who had a great life and achieved lots of goals. Afterward, when given food choices, the volunteers opted for the healthy foods available instead of the comfort foods.
For a second study, they worked with 315 undergraduates from a large Midwestern university. The students were asked to read negative articles about someone who had a sad life and did not achieve goals. Predictably, when given food choices, they opted for the comfort foods over the healthy ones.
Thinking Ahead to Overcome Emotional Eating
The upshot of all this is that individuals who are in good moods make healthier food choices. In the back of their minds they’re often thinking about the future health benefits of the decisions they make. The opposite is true of choices made while in negative moods. That’s when we focus most on the immediate taste and sensory experience of eating comfort foods, according to the study’s findings.
But the researchers also found that people in negative moods can still make healthy food choices because they’re not locked in to making bad choices. They can focus beyond the present. And that may be one of the secrets to overcoming the impulsive, emotional eating that sabotages weight loss efforts and, worse, your future health.
The other secret to overcoming emotional eating (the negative kind – keep doing what you’re doing when you’re in a positive mood) is to keep a food journal. Study after study has demonstrated that this is what works for weight loss, no matter what approach you try. And it is particularly important when you’re faced with cravings for that mac and cheese or whatever else you turn to when you’re stressed. Jot down what you’ve eaten, the portion size, the time of day and the situations that preceded the meal or snack. Were you stressed? Have PMS? Ambushed by a craving? After a week, you’ll see a pattern emerge and you’ll be able to devise workable solutions. I promise.
If you need a food journal, we have some for you at the BrainMD store. Click HERE* for more details.
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For more information on cravings, check out my blog here.