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  • Dr. Susan

Mood and Food: 7 Powerful Tips to Conquer Emotional Eating

Updated: Jul 27, 2022

A blog about feelings of anger, anxiety and depression triggering emotional eating and how you can take back control.

We all live with stress, negative thoughts and the occasional comfort food — but if any of these gets too intense, they'll rob you of joy, leave you feeling defeated about your health and wear you out. No matter your age or gender, it's time to take a deep dive into your stress, negative thoughts and feeling.

We often give ourselves a hard time when things aren't going our way. We drag out past mistakes, dwell on past failures and replay them over and over again in our minds. Similarly, we rehash our insecurities, putting ourselves down and placing unrealistic expectations on ourselves.

I frequently see this with weight issues, someone's past failures holding them back from moving forward. Do you ever find yourself doing any of the above? If so, then it's time you checked-in with your thoughts and feelings.

1. Challenge Your Thoughts

How to change how you think about something.

The first step is to identify what is making you angry, sad or anxious. For example, if you're feeling angry, write down what happened that made you feel this way. Was it someone's words or actions?

The next step is to challenge your thoughts about this situation. By asking yourself the following questions you can find out more about a potential trigger:

· Is there another way of looking at this situation?

· What are the facts?

· What are the feelings?

· What are my motivations?

For example, we might think "I'm so angry because he/she said such awful things." We can challenge this thought by asking ourselves:

· "What were they really saying?"

· “Is it actually true?” and

· "Do I have proof that they meant it?"

2. What It Means to You

It's not what happens to us that determines how anxious or depressed we feel, it's the meaning we give to the event.

This is a gold nugget, so, let me say that again...It's not what happens to us that determines how anxious or depressed we feel, it's the meaning we give to the event.

When we attach a negative meaning to something, it can lead to stress, depression and anxiety. This is because we aren't separating our thoughts and feelings. Our interpretation of an event, a trigger, affects our feelings, which in turn affects our thoughts.

For example: A woman who has just lost her job might think "I'm useless at everything" and feel upset by this thought. The more she focuses on this thought, the more upset she becomes and the harder she finds it to concentrate on new job opportunities or even to sleep at night because of her worrying thoughts. The more upset she feels, the more likely she will be to think "I'm useless at everything" again - creating a vicious cycle that leads to stress, depression and anxiety.

3. Have You Always Believed This to Be True?

Ask yourself if this thought is something you've always believed.

Stress, depression and anxiety aren't something you just get over. They are real and serious conditions that need to be addressed. But what happens when you feel like you're not getting better?

Or maybe you do feel better with medication like anti-depressants, but you find yourself gaining weight and that makes you feel badly about yourself.

So, while I think it's very important to be able to challenge your thoughts, your triggers and stressors might still be there which creates cravings for comfort. Being aware of your need for comfort whether from food, sweets, nicotine or alcohol. All of these are avenues to handle stress and our pent-up emotions in an unhealthy way.

This is where our mental health and physical health converge through our triggers, feelings and thoughts. And when we reach for comforting foods, we want comfort in the moment but we're actually self-sabotaging our mental and physical health.

I want to share with you some ways to challenge your self-thoughts, but I want to make you aware of the adrenal stress hormone cortisol and how it’s coming into play and making you feel worse.

Cortisol is a hormone produced by your body in response to stress. It helps to regulate blood sugar and metabolism. When cortisol levels are high for prolonged periods of time, it can increase feelings of anxiety and depression, especially if you are prone to these conditions.

Cortisol will keep you craving comfort foods but keeps you from losing weight too. This is why I always do four cortisol levels throughout the day on my clients. Are they under stress and when?

Is it during work, after work, late at night? You see each of these mean a different thing, at least that's how I interpret them.

Testing cortisol is easy because it's done on saliva. It gives us valuable information about actual stress levels and when the stress is highest.

Testing cortisol and implementing stress reduction is easier than challenging your thought patterns but in reality, they should both be done.

If your stress hormones are depleted from long standing, chronic stress it will be very difficult to slow your thoughts for you to be able to challenge them. These thoughts are often engrained, little zips of neurotransmitters firing so quickly before you have a chance to challenge your thought - you've sometimes already reacted, said something mean, been unkind and have a regret.

I wish I could say that it's easy to do this but it's not. It takes work, dedication and time. But here are some steps that might help:

· Recognize your thought patterns –

· When you feel anxious or depressed, ask yourself what kind of thoughts are going through your head at the moment?

· Are they about how hopeless everything is, how nothing can make you happy or how people never understand how much pain you are in?

If so, these thoughts are probably part of a negative self-narrative that has been running for a long time. These narratives are often based on experiences from childhood or adolescence where people weren't helpful or understanding when we needed them most. They can also be based on experiences with friends, family members or partners who weren't there for us when we needed them most. - Challenge those thoughts!

4. Ask yourself if thinking these thoughts is helpful.

All of us have negative thoughts from time to time. Negative self-talk is one way we can challenge our thoughts, problem solve and develop a plan to move forward. When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, it can be difficult to think clearly and moving forward becomes difficult.

Negative self-talk happens when we have a thought that makes us feel bad about ourselves. It might be something like, “I am not good enough” or “I will never succeed”. Negative self-talk is usually based on an inaccurate belief that causes us to feel bad about ourselves.

When these thoughts happen, they can lead to more negative feelings and emotions — like stress and anxiety.

When you can slow these negative thoughts and really listen then you can start to identify if your negative thoughts and associated self-talk are helpful. This is not an easy process and does take some time but what you’ll most likely find is…

No! They are not helpful at all because they make you feel badly about yourself and they don’t help us deal with the situation in front of us. We need to challenge these thoughts so that we can change how we feel about ourselves and how we react to situations around us.

The problem with negative self-talk is that it keeps you often focused in the past; beating yourself up or laying blame. Sometimes it can cloud your future by generalizing and thinking, “it’ll always be this way.” But what you really need is to slow your thoughts and focus instead on what’s happening right now; don’t miss out on the present moment by living in your head rather than in our bodies.

5. Are You Thinking in Black and White?

Identify your automatic thoughts and ask yourself if you're thinking in shades of black and white, meaning all or nothing. When X happens, it means Y. When the laundry needs to be done it means I’m lazy or a bad mom, or a bad wife.

Here are some tips for dealing with stress, anxiety and depression:

· Identify your automatic thoughts — these are the things that go through your head when something upsets you or makes you anxious. They're like scripts that play over and over again in your mind. For example: "I'm going to fail my test on Monday."

· Ask yourself if your thoughts are realistic — realistic thoughts are based on facts, while unrealistic thoughts aren't based on facts at all (for example: "My parents hate me.")

· Challenge your thoughts.

6. Are Your Thoughts Based on Fact or Feeling?

Ask yourself if your thoughts are based on facts or feelings.

Change Your Perspective: Ask yourself if your thoughts are based on facts or feelings. If they are based on feelings, then these thoughts tend to spiral out of control because we feel overwhelmed by them and feeling can take off unless there’s logic and objectiveness to evaluate them. So, if you find yourself saying "I can't do this" ask what evidence supports that thought? Is there any at all? If there isn't any evidence supporting the thought then chances are good that it is just a feeling.

Get Clear on What You Want: Setting goals is an important part of taking charge of our lives because it helps us clarify what we want and need from life (not just what others want for or from us). Once we know what we want and need from life it becomes easier to focus.

7. Are You Making Assumptions?

Ask yourself if your mind is overgeneralizing or making assumptions.

These questions can help you challenge your thoughts and break the cycle of negative thinking.

People with anxiety often make assumptions about situations that aren’t true and then don’t take action because of false beliefs. For example, someone might assume that everyone at a party is judging them based on their outfit when this isn’t necessarily true (many people at parties are too busy talking to each other to notice what others are wearing). Or they might assume that they will never find love because they haven’t yet (it may just be that they haven’t found the right person yet).

Ask yourself if there is any evidence for your negative thought pattern. If you think about not having enough money for retirement, ask yourself if there is any evidence for this thought — does anyone know that this will happen?

Additional Powerful Tip Takeaways:

  1. Don’t drink alcohol. Cut your caffeine intake too. Stay well hydrated and drink plenty of water throughout the day.

  2. Limit sugar to under 50/g a day. Don’t overdo fruit and other starches because they turn into sugar.

  3. Don't act impulsively if you're feeling depressed, anxious or stressed. It's easy to make a rash decision while feeling down — like getting into a fight or yelling at someone — but it's important not to do anything drastic until you've had time to calm down. Learn to walk away.

  4. Get plenty of sleep and exercise or go for a walk regularly. Sleep helps your brain recover from the day's stresses and releases hormones that will boost your mood and energy levels. Exercise helps boost serotonin levels in the brain and reduces stress hormones like cortisol that contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

  5. Eat well-balanced meals every day so your brain gets all the nutrients it needs to function properly. It also helps keep your mood stable by keeping blood sugar levels even throughout the day so your energy level doesn't drop off at any point during the day (which can make you feel irritable).

  6. Get a complete set of labs by a Functional Nutritionist. Evaluating your thyroid, stress hormones, iron, ferritin, insulin and blood sugar will go a long way into finding any potential overlooked causes of stress, anxiety and emotional eating.

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