Conquering Emotional Eating – Part 1

It’s time to get emotional.  Please pass the ice cream!

As I am writing this, about 12 hours have passed since my ice cream eating frenzy.

“Are we going to finish all of this?”  – Antoine
“Yes.”  – Me
“Papa, you don’t have to!”  -Alex
“He can if he wants to.  Papa loves ice cream.  But can we save some for tomorrow?”  -Antoine

It was Creamsicle ice cream and it wasn’t even that good.  I was not stressed; on the contrary, I was happy! It was Thursday night (my Friday) and I was hanging out with the boys.  Dr. Marie was at a nutrition seminar (yes, I realize the irony) and my emotional brain advised me “You can go ahead and cheat.  She’ll never find out!  Plus, you workout so hard and eat so well…you deserve this.”  FYI – The word “deserve” is very powerful, so be mindful of how often your brain trips you up with it…

Many years ago, I attended a nutrition weekend workshop and the lecturer asked, “If you owned a ten million dollar race horse, would you feed it junk food?  No?  So why do you feed yourself and your family junk?  Is the horse more valuable than you and your family?”  In that moment, I hated that man and indeed that emotion (hate) should have given me a clue.  When confronted with logic, the emotional brain sends a flood of chemicals and electricity which, in effect, save our humanity.  We are not horses and we are not Mr. Spock.  We are not just logical beings and we do not just eat for sustenance.  Emotional eating is real, it is important and it is necessary.  There, I stated it.  Sorry, Antoine, Papa is about to finish the ice cream.  Right now!

Let’s examine this phenomenon of emotional eating and figure what can be done about it…

We Are Doomed From Birth
I remember the day when I witnessed Dr. Marie feed our kids not because they were hungry, but because they were fussy and needed soothing.  It was on Day 1 of their lives!  Thus we see that from very early on, we learn to associate food with comfort, especially if the food is warm, fatty and sweet (think Apple Pie).  And this learning is reinforced almost daily – treats, desserts, Halloween, Christmas, Birthdays – we cannot escape the social and cultural lessons that associate food with happiness and celebration.  It follows that when we encounter bad times or rough patches in our lives, the knowledge of “If I eat this I will feel better,” is an often-used strategy. Notice how we do not crave broccoli when stressed!  Furthermore, when we are in a good mood and wish to celebrate, again, one does not consider a nice salad to mark the occasion.

Poisonous Cortisol
When we are stressed, the body produces a hormone called cortisol.  This hormone works to elevate our heart rates and blood pressure, dilates our pupils and moves the blood away from the digestive system into the muscles.  This is a great mechanism for fight-or-flight, which is how our bodies react to stress, regardless of the cause.  The problem is that over time, cortisol is quite damaging to the body, suppressing our immune systems and affecting the stomach, heart and many other areas.  Excess cortisol is poisonous and must be quickly reduced.  Eating junk food is a very effective way to do this and help deal with a stressful situation by producing joy and decreasing cortisol.  In other words, chips and chocolate help to bring down our cortisol and, in effect, save our bodies.  And how much stress is too much?  Our bodies can handle about 20 minutes of stress.  Yes, you read it correctly – 20 Minutes!

Prepare & Mitigate
Well then, what to do?  It seems that were doomed to eat emotionally and yes, we are, however, knowing this, we can prepare and lessen the damage.  Ask yourself, “Are there healthier versions of comfort food that I can eat that will satisfy my emotions and not kill my body?”  For example, I often turn to an apple & nut butter or a banana & protein powder.  Fruit is a better alternative to cake and other better choices include dark chocolate, nuts, homemade popcorn and kale chips.  Once you have found your substitutes, then keep them in the house. Maybe you buy some better-quality potato chips and divide them into Ziplock bags, having them ready when needed.  So don’t fight a fight you cannot win – just prepare and escape relatively unharmed.

Outsmart and Use Advantage
Human beings are emotional and this is not a bad thing.  Emotions make our lives exciting and colourful. Often, when we say that someone is “emotional” we are focusing on certain “negative” emotions.  Instead I suggest that we begin to focus more on our “positive” emotions and discover ways to cultivate them.  In the context of eating (and exercise) how can design a program, a lifestyle, that is designed to create these positive emotions?  We need to focus on what we want more of, the emotions that we want to experience more often, the thoughts we wish to have, how we would like to feel.  For example, if I want to feel successful, proud and accomplished, one of the quickest and best ways to do this is to eat well and exercise.  How quickly does this work?  As quick as the first decision, the first meal, the first workout, the first day.  I have felt this on many occasions; when I make the “better” choice, I am immediately flooded with a cascade of positive emotions, even before I take any actions!

No wagons, ruts or gutters!
Finally, we need to do less self-sabotage.  When we say that we fell off the wagon, are in a rut or trapped in a gutter, these are phrases that produce feelings of discomfort, pain and helplessness.  Of course it would be very difficult to get back on a moving wagon and as long as we say these things, then getting “off track” will hurt and getting back “on track” will be difficult.  Instead I say that there are no ruts, just choices, with each choice having it’s own set of consequences.  If we eat junk food, then that is simply a choice we made.  Our next choice is separate from that first one and we can then choose to eat a salad. No big deal, no guilt, no difficulty, no emotional, self-defeating upheavals.  If we choose to skip a workout and sleep in or go home from work instead of the gym, then these too are choices.  The next day we have the opportunity to make another choice.  Again, no big deal, no demeaning self-talk, no guilt.

OK, that was a lot…and there is a whole bunch more!  In November our Wellness 3.0 group will be going deeper into the exercise part of a wellness lifestyle.  If you care to join us on November 12th you are still entitled to a personalized eating and exercise plan.  Please talk to us of you have any questions.  The cost of this program is $100 / month.  In the meantime, this week we will be having a very special workshop with Dr. Marie.  She has just returned from a 3-day Nutrition seminar put on by Metagenics, one of the leading nutritional companies in the world.  They are a company whose mandate is to manage medical conditions such as Diabetes, Arthritis and Heart Disease via lifestyle changes such as food, exercise and stress management. The research performed by this company is unparalleled and their head clinician-researchers have published hundreds of papers and textbooks on nutrition, disease, aging and were the pioneers in the field of Functional Nutritional Medicine.  Dr. Marie has a ton of stuff to share with us, and as always, after we go to a seminar, we wish to share it with you, at no charge.  You are invited to join us on Thursday October 29th at 7:00 PM for this special workshop – friends are invited to attend as well.

Need more incentive?  This question had me stumped:  Which factor is the greatest predictor of one’s current and future health?
A. Their genes and family history
B.  Their environment
C.  The people that they most closely associate with

What is the answer?  Find out on Thursday evening!  Please RSVP

Dr. Nick

Health Links
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