It’s that out of control feeling when your cravings take over and you eat, eat and eat. It can be triggered by any number of different things…anger, boredom, stress, depression, frustration, or simply because you’re at a party hanging out with friends or the kids have gone to bed and now you’re left with just you and the refrigerator. The point is that we many times eat not just to survive (as humans once did), but we eat because of the emotions we’re feeling. Emotions combined with easily accessible food (we can get just about any type of food we want any time of the day or night) make overeating (eating based on things other than actual hunger) a sometimes daily occurrence.
Emotional eating can often lead to a spiral of other emotions such as guilt and shame that eventually lead to those same feelings (depression, anger, hurt, etc.) that caused us to eat emotionally in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle and if you’ve ever experienced it, you know how devastating it can be.
First, let’s learn the biological basis of the cause. Emotions are controlled by the brain. Chemicals in the body (leptin and gherlin) contribute to hunger and satiety cues. Leptin is a protein secreted by at stored in our bodies that shuts down hunger cues and stimulates you to burn more calories. Some studies indicate that our bodies can become resistant to leptin (ignoring its signals). In fact a study in significantly overweight people showed high circulating levels of leptin, but no ability to receive it and respond to leptin signals to stop feeling hungry and to burn more calories.
Studies have shown that it only takes about 30 minutes of walking (brisk) each day to help the body become more receptive to leptin. When you add resistance training (exercise that builds muscle) the body becomes even more receptive.
The hormone gherlin (one of the other chemicals in the body that controls hunger) stimulates other hormones that switch on your hunger cues. The cells in the stomach secret gherlin about every 30 minutes, cueing us to eat. So have you ever wondered why when you’re dieting or if you skip a meal, you get ravenous? It’s your body being smart, so to speak, by increasing gherlin levels which tells you to send food down the hatch! When you fill your stomach, gherlin levels drop and your appetite controls are turned off for a while.
It’s important to note that not just any food will do when it comes to equalizing your appetite hormones. Certain foods that are processed and not recognized by the body do not send the right signals to shut off the hunger mechanism. High-fructose corn syrup is one such sweetener (that is not naturally occurring) which is not recognized as a real food and has been shown to have the “wrong” effects on the hormones that allow us to feel full after we’ve eaten. It’s also interesting to know that high-fructose corn syrup consumption increased more than 1000% (yep you read right) between 1970 and 1990. So not only does it inflict havoc on our bodies’ appetite controls, but it’s high in calories (and in foods that tend to be high in calories) and we eat a lot of it!
Foods that are minimally processed and as natural as possible are best. For instance, a bowl of fresh strawberries is infinitely better than a “strawberry-flavored” food. An easy snack of a small handful (about one-quarter cup) of whole, raw almonds is infinitely better than almonds coated in high-fructose corn syrup and other additives. Also, eating lots of processed carbohydrate (sodas, cakes, cookies, doughnuts, hamburger buns, candy, etc.) increases the amounts of hormones in your body that make you hungry. Vegetables, whole fruits and whole grains are all carbohydrate-rich foods that our body knows how to handle.
Now that we’ve explored a little bit of the biological appetite and food intake regulators, let’s explore the emotional factors that influence our dietary patterns.
“We need to eat to live. This fact makes food a very powerful force and symbol in life. Along with care, warmth, containment, and appropriate stimulation, food is a central aspect of the holding environment that facilitates a baby’s growth and development. Hunger, being fed, and satiation are everyone’s earliest and most basic experiences of desires, needs, soothing, and satisfaction and occur in the first intimate relationships.” Carol Bloom et al., Eating Problems (1994).
Disconnected eating happens when we eat when we’re not hungry, when we restrict food when we are hungry (dieting) or when we keep eating after we’re full.
When we are hungry for physical, emotional, spiritual, social and mental nourishment, we may use food (and become disconnected eaters) to find satisfaction. In order to begin to heal ourselves and reconnect with our food in a healthy way, it’s important to address the causes of the emotional or disconnected eating. When you’re ready, a therapist (search until you find one you like to work with) can help you deal with the primary issues and a dietitian or other healthcare practitioner experienced in “HungerWork” also called the “Health at Every Size” approach or the “non-Diet Approach” will help you put the pieces together so you will be able to neutralize food, reconnect with and eat in response to hunger cues, lift deprivation, understand emotional versus physical needs for food and rediscover the joy and nourishment of eating.
If you would like to schedule a consult (in-person, via phone or video) with Julie to begin “Health at Every Size” call 541-301-8272 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule.