Food, with all its complexities, can be one of the most emotionally charged, indulgent and most secretive of all our relationships.
People don't just eat simply to nourish their bodies and banish hunger- if they did we wouldn't be in the midst of an obesity epidemic. Our relationship with food is so complex that it is one of the most difficult 'addictions' to manage, whether it's under-eating, yoyo dieting or binge eating. However, unlike many of the other 'substances' that addicts are addicted to, abstinence from food isn't an option!
What is emotional eating, and why can't we quit it?
Our learnt behaviour from childhood plays into a dangerous game of holding chocolate or sweets up as the ultimate treat. When parents reward children with unhealthy food for being good, or achieving something, it's no wonder that in adulthood, we automatically fall into the same patterns. Unhealthy beliefs about eating are established at an early age, and become ingrained, and so when we feel bad about ourselves, we reach for a bar of chocolate. If you're an emotional eater, you may find yourself eating to deal with uncomfortable emotions, using food as a reward when you're happy, and craving sweets or unhealthy snacks when stressed.
When you team this with poor self-esteem and a negative dialogue from which so many of us suffer, unpicking these habits take time. We need to relearn normal and naturally intuitive eating behaviours.
So what can we do?
Follow my simple steps to help you understand your learned behaviours and re-establish healthier eating habits.
When you are under stress, your body is likely to be producing higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that tends to make people crave sweet and salty food--the stuff that's generally not good for us. If you are experiencing stress on a regular basis and not finding ways to relax, cortisol could be creating these cravings, as well as contributing to other health problems.
It's good to talk
Talking things through and dealing with the underlying emotions you're experiencing is the key to recovering from emotional eating. Talking to a friend, relative or professional can go a long way toward helping you process your feelings, gain support if needed, and move on.
Journaling - off mind, on to paper
Writing down your feelings in a journal is the first step to processing them. Research has shown that this form of help is found to have huge health benefits. So when you feel like reaching for unhealthy food, grab a pen instead!
Move your body
Getting your body moving is a great way to blow off steam and get your endorphins going. And that doesn't have to mean the gym or treadmill! Wrapping up and getting out into the crisp fresh air can do wonders to boost both your mood and digestive system. Failing that dancing is an amazing way to de-stress and boost metabolism.
Face Your Fears
If you're using food to stifle your feelings and emotions in a difficult relationship or job, try tackling the issue face on. Address the issues, deal with them, and if it still isn't working, it might be time to look for professional help.
If you look after yourself and reduce the stress in your life, you won't need food as a buffer to cope- I promise!
Damage Limitation 'Just Eat it...'
If you want it, just have it. Make sure you really enjoy it, savour the flavour and DON'T beat yourself up about it afterwards! There's nothing worse for mind and body than stopping yourself from eating something and then binging on it. Instead, have a small portion of what you fancy, and enjoy.
Make sure you have the following in your fridge and cupboards
Drink ice cold sparkling mineral water, with a slice of lime and instead of fizzy drinks
Keep crunchy mixed vegetables with a healthy dip such as salsa or low fat Houmous (just go easy on how much you have). Keep these on standby instead of crisps or salted nuts
Want ice cream? Cut a banana into thick chunks and freeze for a delicious snack with none of the guilt
Sugar free jelly - throw some fruit into here and you're getting some of your 5 a day with no extra calories AND a whole load of fluid too!
Dip some strawberries in melted dark chocolate instead of eating the whole -you'll feel indulgent without having tipped the balance ...
Try some chunky wedge sweet potatoes. These are hot and filling and because they're so chunky and will leave you satisfied so you won't need too many to get the kick you need. Try them with some Greek yoghurt and dips!
Awareness, honesty and compassion for yourself are major moves in the right direction in helping take back control in the fight against emotional eating, whilst empowering you to come out ahead without feeling completely deprived.
A three part programme, How to Lose Weight Well starts on Channel 4 at 8.00 pm on Monday 11 January 2016
If you want more information please visit halael-shafie.co.uk or @HalaElShafie