As humans we are quite hedonistic. Our brain is always seeking pleasure. An immediate source of pleasure results from food. Foods high in calories, fat, and sugar provide our bodies with immediate energy, which we are designed to crave, and store for times when the food supply is running low. The problem is that in today’s society food supply, especially nutrient dense foods, is extremely accessible and affordable. For less than $5 you can get over 900 calories, high in fat, low in vitamins and minerals. The other problem is that energy is not being utilized due to less active lifestyles.
Before you get angry and blame evolution and technology for ganging up against your weight loss efforts it’s important to identify your weaknesses when it comes to food. Only then will you be able to gain strength to win the battle against unwanted pounds.
Certain foods may make you feel and act a certain way. Lots of sugar may make your face feel tingly, and cause you to become very hyper, foods high in fat that are slow to digest may make you feel sluggish, while foods rich in nutrients may make you feel energized. It’s important to tune into how food affects your body and mood, but also to recognize what emotional state you are in when you desire particular foods.
A study in the Journal of Psychology found that your mood may dictate what type of food you crave. Participants in the study craved junk food when they were amused, bored, joyous, or depressed.
This is no surprise since our culture naturally connects these emotions with food choices. When you go to the movies or theme park for amusement you may connect that experience with popcorn and candy. Joyous occasions like birthdays and holidays consist of desserts and rich snacks, while comfort foods are desired during low emotional states. Healthy food options were chosen most when participants experienced feelings of self-confidence.
It can be difficult to experience feelings of self-confidence when it comes to food selection. You may have tried various diets, didn’t lose weight, or may have gained the weight lost right back. Don’t give up!
Start by incorporating small changes and utilize strategies to overcome temptation. Health and fitness is a lifestyle, not a fad diet. Change one or two variables at a time, and feel confident about accomplishments and future progress. Here are some tips to increase your nutrition confidence level and gain control over emotional eating.
1. Keep a log
Keeping a nutrition log is a great way to identify habits and triggers- sights, smells, actions that lead to another behavior. Do you always eat dessert after dinner? Are you starving at 3PM? Do you overeat at dinner? Do you feel hungry when you’re watching television? Keep track of all of your meals for 3-5 days. Include what you ate, portion and/or calories, time, and how you felt before and after. Rate your hunger- were you really hungry before your meal, were you still hungry after? This way you will be able to make adjustments. For example eating small nutritious meals throughout the day and never skipping breakfast may help you overcome overeating in the evening.
2. Find Distraction
When you feel a certain way- really excited, stressed, or depressed, and you know you normally turn to comfort food during these times, find distraction. Go for a walk, get some exercise, as exercise can be calming, reduce tension, cortisol levels, and provide time for the craving to cease.
3. Don’t Keep it Around
See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. If you try to ignore it, you will be less tempted. Don’t keep your favorite treat in your house. I tell my clients, “if you really crave it bad enough and feel like you have to have it, you will be willing to get ready, get in your car, make the drive, and spend the money on it.” Normally, this isn’t the case. Go for a walk, pop in a piece of gum, check your email, and wait for the craving to fade.
4. Try to set one goal each week. For example, week 1: I will keep a nutrition log for the entire week. Evaluate your habits then set one goal from there each week, like Week 2: I will eat a healthy breakfast everyday Week 3: I will drink only 1 soda/day and drink more water.
5. Get Support
Find a friend or family member that can help motivate you, and even join in on your quest to better health. Share your weekly objectives, and help one another stick to that goal. Offer praise for achievement and commitment.
The body’s search for quick energy and pleasure from food is not meant to sabotage your fitness goals. By becoming more in tune to your emotions and cravings you can overcome temptation!