Category Archives: Emotional Eating, Stress, Triggers

Did you say “Perfect Body”?

What would you consider to be the “perfect” female or male body? Instead of embracing diversity in all body types, shapes and sizes, we are often far more preoccupied with appearance. That is, how dissatisfied we’ve become with ourselves rather than appreciating our individual uniqueness. Far more emphasis is placed on how we appear to others, placing us at a much greater risk for engaging in dangerous behaviors to control weight and size.

We are constantly being bombarded with messages pertaining to body image and what the “perfect body” should be. Advertising and mass media have had such a great influence and are definitely amongst the biggest culprits. It should come as no big surprise then, that instead of our focus being placed on a healthy self, we worry about how we will appear to others. Our body image is often based on others looks, we examine how that relates to our own personal goals and aspirations for our bodies. These images become incorporated into our self-perception. Airbrush anyone?

Body image is not a concept that is static as there is constant change. It is not based on facts, but rather influenced by our self-esteem and psychological nature. Our body image is sensitive to our emotions and our moods. We learn how to perceive our body image to the interaction we have with our own families, friends, peers and coaches, but it is only a reinforcement of what is learned from the culture.

Receiving negative feedback as we age can give us a distorted perception of our body shape. One can perceive parts of their body to be unlike they really are. They are convinced that other people are attractive and that body size or shape is a sign of personal failure, which can lead to behaviors such as extreme dieting, exercise compulsion, laxative abuse, vomiting, smoking and use of anabolic steroids – These practices are associated with negative body image.

Many people can become so conscious of their body image they will go the extra mile to achieve the same sculptured body like those that are splashed in the pages of the magazines, billboards, TV, and movie screens. Others try to find sensible and sustainable ways to achieve and maintain a physically fit body, yet overlook another important aspect of their well-being: their emotional health.

If you’ve ever lost weight and managed to reach your dream goal, do you recall what your emotions were like? Were you as happy as you initially anticipated you would be? Although dieting in a manner which uses unhealthy practices such as starvation dieting may result in substantial weight loss, it will certainly affect your overall emotional well-being.

Not all experts agree that human beings are born with a full range of emotions. Instead, some theorize that people were born with instincts and urges, along with an innate capacity for feeling. As people grow older, they develop personalities and nurture relationships with others, which are valuable experiences that help them expand their feelings into full-fledged emotions. Having a complete range of emotion is important for overall health and well-being. We must be aware of our emotions.

Emotionally healthy people are in tune with their emotions and can identify and acknowledge them as experience. After connecting with your emotions, emotionally healthy people will typically develop appropriate ways of expressing them – we must be able to process our emotions. The ability to identify with one’s own emotions enables emotionally healthy people to identify emotions in others and to have an intuitive sense of what it feels like to experience them – showing sensitivity to others and to their emotional state while having the ability to empathize.

Emotionally healthy people honor their emotions which in return empower them to fulfill their goals. As the saying goes, a healthy body cannot be divorced from a healthy mind or a healthy spirit. Emotional health is considered an integral part of an individual’s overall wellness, if neglected, it can certainly cause damage to your physical health in the process. Research has shown that one of the leading contributing factors to illness is stress caused by unresolved emotional issues.

Emotions course through our conscious and unconscious mind at critical junctures or during seemingly inconsequential moments of our lives. Emotions such as grief and anger can be far more difficult to control or reason with. The interplay of various emotions makes that form of “reasoning” not an easy one. Just as emotional health can affect a person’s physical health, the same is true with one’s lifestyle making a direct impact on emotional health. It is important to take vitamins and minerals as they stimulate the production of chemicals in the brain. These are known as neurotransmitters that regulate our physical and mental health functions, including the way we process emotions. Minor deficiencies of these nutrients can lead to depression and irritability, as well as hamper our ability to concentrate and stay motivated.

Unhealthy foods can adversely affect emotional health. An excess amount of caffeine intake can demonstrate many of the same physiological and psychological symptoms as people suffering from anxiety, while a diet with high sugar content has been linked to depression, aggression, and impaired judgment. The real goal in altering your body image must always be health related. Whether an individual is trying to attempt to achieve a healthy weight or a healthy, toned body, the goal must be to achieve good health.

Individuals who desire to change their body image and self-perceptions do not need to change the way they look, feel, act, or live. Instead they must change the way they think about themselves and how attractive they believe themselves to be. Each of us are individuals. We cannot duplicate the current top model and they cannot duplicate us.

The first step for individuals who want to change their body image is to be sure that the weight is within healthy limits by checking with their primary care physician. We must learn to appreciate the diversity that we bring to the human race with our own individual interpretation of our bodies.

When you hear yourself, saying negative things – STOP!  You can be your own worst enemy or your own biggest fan. You need to be realistic about the size you are likely to be based on your genetic and environmental history. By staying active (biking, walking, dancing, yoga, etc.), regardless of your size, you can expect normal weekly and monthly changes in weight and shape. Work towards self-acceptance and self-forgiveness; be kind to yourself.

Make no mistake my friends, children are watching their parents or people dear to them very closely to learn what body image is and how to integrate it into their own lives. When children are learning from parents whose body image is tied to what they see as perfection, it results in raising a generation of children who aspire to perfection to the point that they become anorexic, starve themselves, are constantly dieting and never eat a nutritious well-balanced meal.

Do NOT be afraid to ask for support and encouragement from friends and family or a professional – especially when life is stressful. Most importantly, decide how you wish to spend your energy – do you spend it on making positive changes to yourself? Or, is it spent on focusing on a negative body image? Would you rather spend your valuable time pursuing the “perfect body” or enjoying family, friends, school and life? Clearly, the latter is the healthier choice that can and will lead to a happier and healthier you.


An Emotional Eater? Me?

Have you ever lost complete control and downed half the chocolate cake in the fridge? It was staring you in the face after all, what else could you do? Do you recall what was going through your mind when you reached out and grabbed that cake?  Were you hungry because it was actually dinner time, or was there a deeper issue troubling you?  That pink elephant in the room is what we call emotional eating.

There are many contributing factors that precipitate emotional eating; happiness, sadness,  celebrations, depression, anger, fear or shear frustration.  After all, what could be better than that candy bar?  Unfortunately, the problem is all too common amongst us, yet rarely spoken about.

For addictive habits like binge eating or emotional eating, I would have to agree that triggers are typically stress-induced.  Through years of subconscious conditioning by our families, friends and advertising exposure we have learned that food is used repeatedly for comfort.  I’m sure we’ve all heard “sit down dear, I’ll make you some hot chocolate and you’ll be all better”.  Although these triggers fill a real biological need so that the body has energy to burn, we often use food as a means to fulfill an emotional void.

Many individuals aren’t conscious of hidden or accumulated stress, and if they are, they find it difficult to resolve or let it go.  It isn’t unusual to recognize the various factors that impact whether or not we pick up a piece of food in response to our emotions.  In fact, you may also not have known that most of our decisions have an emotional component attached to it signaling our bodies well before we have had the chance to make a rational decision.

Interestingly, there is a fine line between emotional eating and a full-blown eating disorder.  There are specific characteristics evident in people who have a full-blown eating disorders that may not be as apparent to the emotional eater. Emotional eating will typically fill a void that isn’t related to eating for fuel, (you crave a specific food, such as pizza or ice cream, and only that food will meet your needs at that time).  Emotional hunger needs instant gratification whereas physical hunger can wait.

There are various degrees of severity for all eating disorders. Many people, especially women are concerned about their eating habits and it is hard to depict what behaviors are associated with real eating disorders.  Starving to the point of emaciation, binge eating, vomiting or taking laxatives for weight control (purging), excessive exercising, chewing food and spitting it out, and obsessive dieting are some examples.

There are people who have both an eating disorder and who are avid emotional eaters.  Unfortunately, these individuals may have experienced some form of trauma in their lives, (physical or sexual abuse) which can often lead to eating disorders.  An individual who has experienced this type of abuse has a greater percentage of having an eating disorder vs. the emotional eater. While people who have significant emotional eating habits are not in any immediate medical or psychological danger, they do not suffer any less.

Controlling eating habits can only begin with self-awareness which will ultimately lead to self-management.  Self-awareness is the most difficult part since it involves accepting that you have all the signs of an emotional eater.

  • Do you often feel guilty or ashamed after eating?
  • Does eating make you feel better when you’re feeling down?
  • Does eating help you lessen your focus on problems when you’re worried about something?
  • Do you often eat alone or at odd locations, such as being parked outside a fast food joint?
  • Do you ever eat without realizing you’re even doing it?
  • Do you feel the urge to eat in response to outside cues like seeing food advertised on television?
  • Do you eat because you feel there’s nothing else to do?
  • Do you crave specific foods when you’re upset, such as always desiring chocolate when you feel depressed?

If you answered yes to any of these questions it is possible that you have emotional eating issues.  Make the necessary changes by keeping a short diary.  Write down each time you consume food, what food you consumed, what time was it?  Elaborate on how you were feeling each time you reached for another morsel of food.

You must first acknowledge there is a feeling, something that is causing you to trigger the emotional eating before you can actually discover what causes that response in you.

Through acknowledgment, self-discovery and persistence identifying those emotions will become easier each day. It is time to find what works for you to remedy the problem.  At the end of the day, record the number of times you ate, include the time of day, record any pertinent information and any  emotion that seemed to be involved in the automatic reach for food.  Be extremely honest because you are not hurting or helping anyone else but yourself.

The next step is self-management.  Like all other things in life, the longer you do something the easier it gets.  Practice really does make perfect and it becomes habitual.  Get some help, you will be far more successful if you enlist the assistance of a partner.   As you are forced to document this journey, you will be encouraged to put that food down when you’re angry, depressed or on an emotional high.  The act of emotional eating itself will dissipate in time and you can eat for the right reasons .

Aside from emotional eating to feel that hormonal high, some of us also eat to cope — that is, to reduce emotional distress.  Eating for pleasure or eating to reduce daily stresses are two sides of the coin and our minds divides this coin in half.  On one hand, we are encouraged to slow down and enjoy the food we eat.  On the other hand, we are told by popular culture to never eat for emotional reasons.  If this sounds a bit like hypocrisy, it’s because it is.  What do you think?




RESOURCES Emotional Eating Eating Disorders: Psychological Determinants of Emotional Eating in Adolescents University: Study Identifies Triggers for Emotional Eating Weight loss help: Gain Control of Emotional Eating