by Sreeram Sreenivasan: Today, the purpose of eating is not just to help us survive but also to give us pleasure. We eat food for so many reasons
– during celebrations, out of boredom, during stress, depression, or simply because it’s time to eat.
It’s become easier than ever to get food. However, as technology advances, the food that we eat is becoming more processed and unhealthy for us. Over time, our taste buds get rewired and most often we get addicted to high-fat and high-sugar foods.
To make things worse, our modern lifestyle and long work hours mean more stress. It only gives rise to emotional eating – eating comfort foods when things get tough. It doesn’t help you deal with the challenges in your life but only leads to long-term distress.
Emotional eating is a problem we have to fix together, if we have to stop rising epidemics like obesity, diabetes, metabolic disorders and more.
It’s not wrong to enjoy what you eat. The problem arises when you depend on unhealthy foods to deal with your emotions. Hyperpalatable foods are designed to give us immense pleasure with their smell, taste, texture & flavor, that our brain ignores the ‘stop’ signal by our body and we continue eating.
Leptin is the hormone that instructs our brain to stop eating. As we keep eating too many hyperpalatable foods over time, it injures our brain neurons in the hypothalamus and we develop ‘Leptin resistance’, a condition when it’s harder for our brain to hear the ‘stop eating’ signal.
How to Stop Emotional Eating?
- Minimize consumption of processed foods
The most effective way to tackle the problem of emotional eating is to eat real, whole foods, and avoid processed foods. It’s easier said than done. To begin with, make a list of all the times of your day, when you eat processed food – at your desk, during meetings, after lunch, at night, etc. The trick is to replace each of those food items, one by one, with a healthier alternative. For example, if you munch a Snicker at 10.a.m in your office, why not replace it with an Apple? Do it for a couple of weeks, and move on to the next item on your list. Don’t replace everything at once, you’ll only give up and come back to your old habit.
- Practice slow & mindful eating
When you eat quickly, you don’t get enough time to pay attention to what you’re eating. That’s why companies like McDonalds employ subtle approaches like asking “Do you want some fries with that?” every time you order a burger. When you’re hungry, you’re very likely to say ‘Yes’.
Instead, take the time to decide what you want to eat, chew your food properly, think about how it has been made and how it will affect your health.
Avoid distractions such as watching TV, working, playing mobile games, talking or listening to music, when you’re eating. Otherwise, you won’t realize when you’re full and you’ll unconsciously end up eating more than you should. When you’re eating, just focus on one thing – the food in front of you.
Feeling full is the result of chemicals released when we put food in our stomach. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to register these chemicals. In other words, it takes 20 minutes for us to feel full. So, eat your food slowly.
- Rely on other activities
Instead of turning to your refrigerator every time you feel stressed, use other activities like going out for a walk, laughing, playing, listening to music, journaling, working out, sleeping, etc to calm yourself down and get away. You can also take up a hobby such as drawing, painting, singing, or start side projects like gardening, home improvement. The key is to fill your free time with physical activities that keep you busy productively. Once you’re in the right mood, revisit your problem and face it head on. You’ll find yourself coming up with creative ideas to solve it.
- Make sure your food is not hyperpalatable
Ensure that your food is palatable but not hyperpalatable. It’s good to gain pleasure from food but not to the point that it spoils our health. An easy way to identify hyperpalatable foods is to simply ask yourself if they are high-sugar or high-fat foods.
Healthy foods can be tasty if you learn the recipe to make them well and give your taste buds some time to adapt to their natural tastes. Also, don’t cheat yourself by trying to make your food more palatable using processed ingredients.
Remember that it will take 1-2 months for your body to fix the internal damage caused so far, and rewire your brain to like healthy foods. However, it’s essential to understand as you develop healthy habits, it will inevitably lead to a happier life. Once you’ve developed a healthy daily routine, it’s just a matter of maintaining it.
Sreeram Sreenivasan is the Founder of Ubiq BI, a BI Platform for SMBs & Enterprises. He also runs the Fedingo blog that covers a wide range of marketing topics. He’s passionate about yoga, fitness and healthy living.