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BULNES: Emotional eating is a habit many need to shake

Opinions Column: Mind Body Scarlet

Within our society, like many others, food is tied to our emotional experiences. Certain dishes remind us of our childhood, other foods are known as “comfort foods” and holidays or events would be nothing without the meals that go with them. For as long as we can remember, we have associated emotions with what we eat. Our experiences with food start off as fond memories and happy moments. That Mickey Mouse-shaped ice cream you had when you were young in Disney World and summer nights with s’mores let you associate sweet treats with being carefree and happy. Finishing off your plate as a child meant satisfying your parents and being rewarded with extra play time. But, these little memories become bad habits as we age and can lead to difficulties with proper eating. 

At the end of the day, we eat in order to support the daily functions of our bodies. Eating may provide a temporary sense of comfort, but it will never relieve negative feelings or solve your problems. You will still be sad when you hit the bottom of the ice cream tub just as you were when you first dug your spoon in. You will still be stressed when you finish a four-serving dish at a restaurant as you were when you walked in. After all that, you still will not improve your mental state or find the solution to your problem, not even at the bottom of a bag of chips. 

Separating your meals from your emotions is one of the secrets to losing and maintaining your ideal weight. Many people confuse emotional eating with intuitive eating — this will cause an everlasting struggle to find balance and harmony within your diet. Emotional eating occurs as a result of being overwhelmed with a certain feeling and trying to negate that feeling with food. Intuitive eating is what you want to achieve — treating your body as its own entity and channeling into the signals of what your body needs in order to function properly, despite all emotions. This may be easier said than done in the beginning, but once you become aware of the pitfalls of emotional eating, you can ensure that your food choices are being made with your mind, not with your feelings. 

Imagine that it is lunch time and you just had an especially stressful morning. You skipped breakfast, so by noon you are absolutely starving. Your first instinct is to sink your teeth into a juicy burger with fries. This may seem like a good idea because it will fill you up, relieve some tension and satisfy your cravings. This is where those emotions create a false image in the mind that guide many people to make the wrong dietary choices. That burger will provide instant gratification — it will be extremely satisfying and seem like just what you need while you are eating it. But once you get back to work, you will slip into a food coma. 

According to the National Sleep Foundation, our bodies tend to feel most tired at 2 a.m. and 2 p.m. due to our circadian rhythms. Loading up on carbs during lunch causes fatigue due to an amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan becomes more available to the brain when we consume carbohydrates, hence the sluggish and drowsy feeling you would experience after that burger. Instead of choosing a comfort food in hopes of destressing only to feel worse than before, recognize that you are falling into a trap of emotional eating because you are overly hungry and anxious. Understand that you need foods that will boost your energy levels in order to function at your peak for the rest of the day, such as whole grains, protein and fiber. If your body is feeling deprived and begging for nourishment, loading up on heavy, greasy foods will be counterintuitive. You need to make sure that your mind does not subconsciously trick you into making the wrong choices.  

In the same way that you experience emotions on a daily basis, you will have to choose what to eat every day, multiple times a day, for the rest of your life. Practicing how to refrain from emotional eating should be a daily practice until it becomes intuitive. Focus on how to enrich your body through your diet instead of trying to temporarily satisfy your mind, and you will reap the rewards. You will gain control over your health choices, which creates a sense of control over your life, therefore inadvertently leading to controlled emotions in the end. 

Monica Bulnes is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in economics and minoring in business administration. Her column, "Mind Body Scarlet," runs on alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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