Do most of us acknowledge that there is an emotional eating link to weight gain? Probably. When it’s Friday at 3:00 pm and the boss places an ASAP report due on your desk, or daycare calls to say Johnny has just vomited all over his playmates and you need to take him home this very minute, or your elderly parent just paid $5,000 upfront for window replacements with credit card information to a phone solicitor, sight unseen … yes, the stress mounts, and the Snickers bar in the vending machine down the hall or the half gallon of ice cream in the freezer screams your name!
But do you know what is interesting? The results of a national survey released by Orlando Health in December 2015 found that only 10 percent of the participants considered the psychological link to food as a main obstacle to weight loss.
“90 percent of respondents discounted one of the most important factors — your mind. A neuropsychologist says the most crucial factor is your psychological relationship with food and exercise, yet the majority (60 percent) listed diet and exercise to be the biggest barriers of weight loss, and only 10 percent of people thought psychological well being was the biggest barrier to weight loss.”
Wow! That’s a significant oversight! In this survey release, Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health, states that most people who strive for weight loss address diet and exercise only. But she states all those efforts can be sabotaged by overlooking this critical emotional connection they have with food.
She goes on to state that “In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating” (italics mine).
It’s no surprise that food is more than just nourishment to us. It’s also comfort. My mother was the master of comforting us through her cooking. Don’t get me wrong, we LOVED it … and she was the epitome of making her home open and welcome to all who entered! But. We had fresh baked desserts after school, or homemade apple butter slathered over homemade biscuits, or homemade hot chocolate towering with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. It’s what we came to rely on after a stressful day of grades, studying, bullies, sports, friend conflicts. It was our haven.
Robinson has encouraging insight. “If we focus on being emotionally healthy first, everything else can fall into place” (italics mine).
So, don’t put your head in the sand. YOU DO HAVE EMOTIONS. Yes, you’re human! And you’ve learned coping mechanisms over time. It’s time to start journaling the emotions you are feeling when you’re making poor choices. Spend a week writing down everything you eat. But in the column next to what you eat, write your emotion as well. Happy, sad, frustrated, angry, blue, lonely, betrayed, lost …. you get the idea.
After a week, analyze it. Really analyze it. Find the links. Find the patterns. We all have them. Once you can identify your emotional triggers, you can begin to substitute a healthier choice when you feel those emotions.
When I was going through my divorce, I was suddenly a single mom, going back to school part time to get my MBA, working full time, and the world was a bleak place. I made a conscious decision to not use food as my escape. Because that’s what food did. It numbed the pain, made me feel immediate pleasure, then plunge deeper into pain when the sugar wore off. I turned to exercise as my go-to. When I felt the pressure mount, or the feelings of inadequacy, or loneliness, I went for a power walk or a run. I called friends to join me. I put headphones on and listened to encouraging music or sermons or podcasts. Or I ran my basement stairs for 5 minutes of burst exercise to get my frustration out. For you, it might mean when stress has you wanting to dive into a bag of sour cream n onion potato chips, you learn a new response via a healthier alternative food go-to (how about a half baked sweet potato, or an orange, or a handful of almonds…) or a physical outlet that clears your mind AND benefits your body.
Don’t underestimate the emotional influence upon your food choices and weight loss goals!
Nugget: “In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating.” Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health