Everyone is aware of eating to fill a difficult feeling, whether heartbreak, boredom or unease; nutritionist and weight loss coach Hanro Roos explains the reasons why and how to break an emotional eating cycle.
DID YOU KNOW? Your brain is 75% water and dehydration can actually shrink your brain. Staying hydrated improves your mental performance and mood. Even mild dehydration causes sleepiness, fatigue, confusion and low alertness. Drinking water can alleviate these symptoms within 5 - 15 minutes. Wouldn't it be nice if we could be emotional exercisers instead of emotional eaters? Do you eat when stressed, already full, sad, mad, bored, not hungry or anxious? If you feel powerless around food you might be labeled an emotional eater. Meaning that you eat to fill an emotional void, or there's an underlying trauma you are trying to repress with food. That might be true, but let's entertain a different perspective...   As humans, our DNA seeks out three main goals: pursuit of pleasure, avoidance of pain and conservation of energy. In nature, the more energy we conserve, the better our chances of survival. For example, a rural tribe foraging for food would look for the foodstuff with the best energy value. Eating iceberg lettuce would not make sense. The energy used to harvest would exceed the energy gained from eating the food. That's why your DNA wants the most energy dense foods. That's why fruit roll-ups taste better than whole fruit. It's more calorie dense because it's processed that way and has added sugar. This concept may be perfect for our natural environment where food is harder to come by but not our current environment where unhealthy and processed food has never been so cheap, tasty, readily available and accessible as it is today.   We have access to junk food 24/7 without having to pick, dig, or catch it. Sugar, salt and fat is the junk-food holy trinity. Where fat consists of 9 calories per gram, protein and carbohydrates are only 4 calories per gram. Food that is the most tempting has these in combination. For example:   Fat and sugar combinations: doughnuts, ice cream, cookies, chocolate, cake, candy bars and other sweet pastries.   Fat and salt combinations: pizza, french fries, chips, burgers, bread, hot dogs, savoury pastries and pies.   A 2012 study conducted by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found through brain scans that junk food can be as addictive as tobacco and cocaine. These foods activate the same dopamine receptors as recreational drugs do. That's why we feel so good eating concentrated sugar, salt and fat.   Look at the last time you overate. Was it on carrots or carrot cake? Salad is not usually our go-to food when we're bored ' we're much more likely to choose chocolate, ice-cream or cookies. When in a negative eating cycle we aren't likely to reward ourselves with green smoothies after a tough day. In short, having loads of calorie dense sweet and salty foods available to us, and having a natural proclivity to seek these out makes us vulnerable to bad eating habits.   Making the right food choices can be stressful. Your brain is a calorie consuming machine and feeds primarily on glucose. The brain takes up 2% of your bodyweight, yet uses 20% of available energy. It's the largest energy-consuming organ in the body. Negative emotions like worry or stress boost brain activity (neurotransmission). In turn, your brain burns through glucose storage quicker. A 2007 study found that if your blood sugar levels drop it leads to poor self-control and bad decision-making. Hunger and low willpower is a disastrous combination. Yet using your power to choose sometimes just takes a little awareness. Keeping your blood sugar levels balanced means minimizing the temptation to choose foods that put them out of balance in the first place.    If we know that our environment is not conducive to health and that every waking moment artificial calorie dense foods are available to us it is in our best interests to be aware and to monitor our environment. Our best chance for success is to reduce the temptation and maintain willpower. 7 Tips to Minimise Emotional Eating
  • Temptation: Remove tough choices by minimising temptation. Remove unhealthy junk foods from your home and work environment. Even better, replace them with healthy options. Fruit is a great healthy snack. Don't let yourself get too hungry.
  • Boost your nutrition: If you eat natural food with high levels of nutrition your body will register that it has been nourished and your brain won't send out hunger signals. Having quality nutrition is the best way to get rid of food cravings. 
  • Willpower: Include low GI and high fibre foods in your meals. Examples include sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, beans and legumes. These foods will maintain your blood sugar level without spiking it.
  • Mistakes: Don't beat yourself up. Sometimes we win, sometimes we learn. Analyse your mistakes. Think how you can approach the situation differently next time it occurs. Then plan and have ready alternatives.
  • Exercise: Move your body, it releases endorphins. Even if just a few minutes of walking, it's better than sitting continuously. Choose something enjoyable like dancing, swimming, rollerblading, climbing, yoga or boxing.
  • Consistency Trumps Intensity: Aim for improvement, not perfection. If you're trying to be perfect, you will struggle. It is your persistence that will make you achieve your goal.
  • Environment: Surround yourself with other healthy people and note their habits and behaviours. Certain areas of the world are known to sustain more centenarians and healthy people. Studies show their environment was conducive to their health. Salty, sugary and oily fast food options were generally absent from these environments. Work harder on your environment than on yourself.
  • Exercise Your Brain: Research studies have found that you can strengthen your will through mental exercises. Meditation and mindfulness show particualrly favourable results. Start with 5 minutes a day. After a week of consistency, you will find it's easy to increase the duration.
  • Don't blame yourself. There's nothing wrong with you or your brain. Your body is just trying to keep you alive and unfortunately junk food manufacturers know this. Now you have a better understanding of the process and you will be able to better navigate these situations in the future.
Bio Hanro Roos is a top weight loss nutritionist in South Africa. He helps working Moms transform their eating habits through a fail-proof, easy to follow, natural eating approach. For information on consultations and coaching packages contact [email protected] Website: http://thehanrodiet.com"

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