The Kitchen of Life Program and Emotional EatingIn working with clients I often ask, “Do you live to eat or eat to live?”. The most common answer is “live to eat” but our health depends on a steadfast commitment to “eat to live”. Our program empowers individuals and families to understand the importance of, “it’s not the food in our life, but the life in our food!”, as so eloquently stated by the Hippocrates Health Institute of West Palm Beach, FL.
What we choose to put in our mouths for breakfast, lunch and dinner not only comes from a combination of our knowledge about nutrition but also from emotional choices. This month’s article focuses on the one we feel powerless over, and that’s emotional eating.
What is emotional eating?Emotional eating is eating for various reasons other than hunger. The difference between emotional eating and hunger is that emotional hunger comes on unexpectedly with a sudden urge to satisfy while physical hunger occurs gradually over time giving us the option to make choices. Everyone has, at one time or another, been an emotional eater. An emotional eater usually consumes “comfort” or junk foods in response to feelings instead of hunger. Emotional eating can also be triggered by social events and situations (such as holiday parties), erratic thoughts, and physiological symptoms (caffeine will make my headache go away).
Why might one become an emotional eater?Feelings of depression, boredom, loneliness, anger, anxiety, frustration, stress, interpersonal problems or low self-worth contribute to the desire to self-soothe (medicate) with food. Although an emotional eater eats unwanted calories, an emotional eater may not necessarily be an overeater nor be overweight. Sometimes emotional eating can lead to overeating and unwanted weight gain due to unnecessary intake of calories to fill a void. The common denominator in emotional eating is that emotional eaters make unhealthy food choices to satisfy an emotion. But why can’t we just turn this bad behavior off? Well, there’s more to it than just emotions…it’s also physiological.
When we eat satisfying foods, we are rewarded with a chemical in the brain called dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter responsible for telling the body it has done something good…real good… and embeds that memory in the brain. If we repeat the behavior that releases dopamine, we get the reward again. This cyclical pattern or “learned behavior” becomes increasingly difficult to undo. Even if we don’t like the behavior, the dopamine release causes us to crave the ‘emotional feeling’ hence perpetuating a vicious cycle.
Sugar and sweets release more dopamine than healthy foods because dopamine is calorie dependent, which is why many of our “comfort” foods are actually unhealthy. These comfort foods provide fleeting moments of happiness, contentment or satisfaction…much like an emotional high. The food, which behaves like a drug, allows us to escape from negative thoughts while simultaneously allowing us to obtain a “high” through the release of dopamine. Chances are if you eat when you are not hungry, the calorie consumption becomes more than the body needs. The extra calories are stored as fat, possibly causing unwanted weight gain.
How to stop the cycle.When individuals embark on a lifestyle change, many people find it hard to leave their comfort foods behind. Recognizing our emotional eating is the first step in overcoming poor eating habits. Understanding what your trigger is is the first step in eliminating it. Could it be stress, anger, loneliness? Are you rewarding yourself, or self-soothing with food?
The second step to developing healthier eating habits is to begin to distract yourself from emotional eating. Try rewarding yourself with a healthy behavior like going for a walk, deep breathing, avoidance activities that distract you from the urge to eat or binge; do a chore or even lay down to nap until the urge to eat passes.
Another step in avoiding emotional eating is to keep blood sugar levels stable by eating low- to no-sugar foods, a plethora of green vegetables, sprouts, and even green juicing. Taking chlorella tablets between meals is a great way to stabilize blood sugar levels. Eating foods that maintain healthy dopamine levels such as iron, B-6, Folate, Vitamin E rich foods are all excellent choices.
All of the foods listed here are found in the recipes which are part of the Kitchen of Life Program and prepared in their raw, or natural, state. The health benefits of many of these foods can be diminished with cooking so the best advice is to eat them as fresh as possible.
Here is a partial list of foods which contain the vitamins listed above and not found in any particular order or amount.
Vitamin E: mustard greens, swiss chard, spinach, kale and collards, almonds, papaya and kiwi, red peppers, broccoli, olive oil, wheatgrass, organic wheat germ oil
Iron: lentils, beets, mung bean sprouts, parsley, sesame and sunflower seeds, almonds
Folate (B-9): green leafy vegetables, beans and legumes, endive
B-6: beans, whole grains (sprouted), pistachios, garlic, sunflower and sesame seeds, hazelnuts, basil, chives, turmeric
In summary, one question to ask yourself when you are eating an unhealthy snack or meal; am I eating this food to live or am I living to eat this food?
ALL INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES. THE INFORMATION IS NOT INTENDED TO REPLACE MEDICAL CARE, DIAGNOSE, TREAT, PREVENT, MITIGATE OR CURE DISEASE. WE BELIEVE IN THE INDIVIDUAL’S INFORMED RIGHT TO CHOOSE THEIR OWN HEALTH CARE METHODS. AS ALWAYS, CONSULT WITH A HEALTH PROFESSIONAL BEFORE ATTEMPTING ANY SELF HEALTH PROGRAM.
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