A burger, a slice of pizza, a bar of chocolate, a packet of chips or a choco lava cake? Think about why you eat what you eat... do you eat to elevate your mood or to relieve your stress?
If so, you are eating "comfort foods". These are foods that we associate with good thoughts, warm and happy feelings. We may connect them with people or events from our past. Eating these foods not only creates a sense of well-being but some studies have shown that it can even decrease loneliness.
Unfortunately, since they are calorifically dense, comfort foods may not be very good for us! Comfort foods are usually high in simple carbohydrates, sugar, saturated fats and low in dietary fiber. Stephanie Urrutia, registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, says that eating such foods can often cause inflammation in the gastro-intestinal lining. As a result, the tight junctions of the digestive tract begin to loosen, leaving holes in the intestine. "These gaps can allow partially digested food, toxins, and bugs to get through the junctions and outside of the digestive tract which can create a variety of issues," she says.
When we eat not just to satisfy physical hunger but for comfort, stress relief, or to reward ourselves, we are doing what is called emotional eating. Unfortunately, emotional eating doesn’t fix emotional problems. It is true that your mood will probably improve shortly after you eat your favorite high-carb food. But in the long run, it might make you feel worse because of the guilt of overeating and putting on weight.
The chemical structure of what you eat communicates with your body, which can affect cognition, influence mood and physical body states. Dr. Fernando Gómez-Pinilla, professor of neuropsychology at the University of Southern California, says "Food is like a pharmaceutical compound that affects the brain. The more balanced you make your meals, the more balanced will be your brain functioning."
To stop emotional eating here are a few things you can start with:
- First identify your personal triggers. What is the situation, place or feeling that is making you reach out to comfort foods?
- Pause when your cravings hit, and check for yourself.
- Choose a healthy snack and savour what you eat, rather than overeating.
- Be good to yourself with a healthy lifestyle.
Do reach out to our diet counsellor if you would like to work on yourself!