Stress Management Monday – 5th Edition – Emotional Eating

Well, it looks like it has been awhile since my last Stress Management Monday post! I have a few new post ideas brewing and both this post and the next came about with some of the work I do over at the Newtown Athletic Club. My trainer sends out a “Motivation Monday” email each week and had a client asking her about addressing emotional eating. Krista knows her scope of practice like a great trainer should and deferred the question to me. So, here I am going to share part one of the emotional eating emails I wrote for her and her clients.

Even if you don’t think you eat emotionally, there is a good chance that you do. This is a complicated topic, so in order to make sure that each of you is getting something out of it, I am going to take a couple of Monday’s to address topics related to emotional eating.
Emotional Eating

Today, I’ll address the less obvious because it’s something that affects most of you even when you don’t think you’re emotionally eating. You may be like some of my clients and students who often start out their nutrition journey by telling me that they can’t lose weight and they don’t know why – they think they are be doing everything perfectly or working so hard at eating less most of the time. I often find that people who are active, busy, and/or trying to lose weight, do not eat enough calories most days or don’t eat enough earlier in the day. Therefore, if you’re one of those people, you may eat way too much in other instances. Maybe this happens to you each night before, during, or after dinner. Maybe this only happens to you once per week or month.

Why does this happen? In short, it’s low blood sugar and your hormones. Hormones are messengers in your body that send signals so that certain reactions may occur related to metabolism, mood and more. Low blood sugar, whether from not eating for too long, not eating enough, or trying to cut out carbohydrates, results in cravings for not only sugar but processed flowers (bread, pasta, pretzels, pita chips etc.) to get blood sugar up as quickly as possible. Why do our bodies want to increase our blood sugar? Because carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Not having enough glucose present in the blood stream stresses us out since our bodies think we are going to run out of fuel. It literally results in the release of cortisol, the stress hormone also known for fat storage, as well as the release of epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The former makes you feel even more stressed and the latter makes you feel anxious (a more serious issue if you already are prone to depression or anxiety).
We all have stressful lives already so, you’re going to be releasing some of that cortisol due to life. Why then, would you want to skip a meal, not eat enough at your meals, or go low-carb and make that stress even higher? If you think that losing weight and eating healthy is all about willpower to have less of everything, think again. The more willpower you try to muster up or the more you restrict, the worse your responses and cravings for processed carbohydrates and sugar. These processed carbs are often also high in sodium and sometimes fat (like pita chips, bars, or ice cream). In the blink of an eye you’ve now had more energy than you needed to have for breakfast and lunch combined, and are promoting more stress and inflammation (and often weight gain). It happens so quickly though, that you don’t recognize how much you’ve eaten (and of course these are the times you choose not to log in fitness pal – a prime reason why those trackers don’t work for many most people).
You think you aren’t the type to restrict because you’re eating all day? You think that grazing is better for you? Picking at small bits of food (or candy, or “just one” of the chips) all day long instead of having more substantial and balanced meals and snacks messes with your blood sugar and hormones, too.
What happens first after you eat these overly-refined carbohydrates that lack protein and fiber in small or large quantities? You release dopamine, which makes you feel good temporarily, so when your blood sugar is low it keeps you going back for more… and then you crash again physically, mentally, metabolically.
Takeaway message? Make time for yourself to sit down and have a balanced meal. I don’t care if you’ve got lots of work to do or your kids are screaming at you to do something for them. You’ll be less stressed later, make better dietary decisions, and be nicer to your family and co-workers if you just prioritize yourself in the moment and eat what you should when you should.
Next week I will talk a little bit more about that dopamine and why you might crave certain foods in certain quantities when you’re sad, on vacation, stressed out, haven’t slept, or it’s that time of the month (ladies). I also have a previous blog post on sugar and stress, too!
Eat well, move a little more, and have a Happy Monday 🙂

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3 thoughts on “Stress Management Monday – 5th Edition – Emotional Eating

  1. Pingback: Stress Management Monday – 6th Edition – Emotional Eating Part 2 | Eat Real Live Well

  2. Such a great post here Kelly! I think even as an RDN myself I get caught up with emotions and stress and just let my emotional cravings get the best of me! This is not right but so easy to fall into for sure. I love the concept of mindful eating and using an alternative coping mechanism to get out and let the emotions ride, it’s truly been a life saver for me sometimes lol!

    • Thanks, Liz! I have trouble sometimes, too. We’re all human and need some grounding and reminders every once in awhile. Mindful eating really is a skill to build though. Happy it’s been so helpful for you! It is for me too 🙂

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