In the Mood for Food
By Kathy Smith
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7 tips on what to do when food means more
than energy to you
Sometimes eating is not about
hunger. Mood eating is one of the most overwhelming issues for any
weight-conscious person to deal with. Recently, while my daughters were away at
camp and I was alone in the house, I found myself out of sheer boredom
devouring chips with salsa, handfuls of fresh blueberries, Ben & Jerry's
Chunky Monkey ice cream . . . and I even topped it off with some Fig Newtons!
All in one sitting! I realized shortly afterwards unfortunately, when my
stomach ache kicked in that I had obviously eaten for reasons other than
hunger. I didn't need the food for energy. I was simply lonely and missed my
It's difficult to avoid
giving in to food cravings or embarking on some serious mood related eating
when we we're not thinking about what we're doing or why. We often turn to
comfort foods for reasons other than fuel. And distinguishing the physical need
for foods from the emotional need, especially in the heat of the moment, can be
one of the hardest things to do. We know how good we'll feel once we satisfy
that craving. It's like our secret drug to temporary happiness, or in my case,
filing the void of not having my daughters around. Boredom and loneliness, as
well as anger, sadness, anxiety, frustration, and fatigue are extremely
powerful emotions. Similarly, our body's own internal chemistry can emit
extremely strong signals both before we eat, and then as a reaction to
what we eat. They key is to strike a balance between knowing what
you're eating and understanding how you're feeling.
How can you find this
balance? Try keeping a food journal. You can take this to any level you
wish and record as much information about how you feel both before and after a
meal, and come to a clear understanding of the connection between food and
mood. Try and see if, through the journaling, you can reach a point where
you're no longer eating in response to negative feelings.
Other tips to controlling
the food-mood connection:
Get your Z's.
Inadequate sleep translates to less serotonin getting released in your brain,
and to compensate, you'll easily gravitate to high-calorie, low-nutrient foods
with sugar without even knowing it.
triggers. If eating a bag of chips or bowl of cereal at 3:30 PM every day
has become a ritual (including going for that creamy ice-blended designer
coffee), you're not alone. Mood eating to a particular and regular pattern that
is, eating the same thing at the same time of day, in the same place, and with
the same emotions running through your head is very common. It can be the
stress of the day that triggers your need to sit and pop M&Ms slowly, or it
can be the sheer afternoon boredom that gives you the false reason to snack
unnecessarily. Think about your daily eating rituals that are less related to
hunger and more related to stress or boredom. See if you can become more
conscious of what triggers this kind of eating and avoid it. Remove the
ritualistic foods from your kitchen. Do something else, such as going for a
walk, during the time when you're likely to respond to these triggers.
your cravings and triggers in the grocery store. Think about your
temptations while shopping for food, and never shop when you're feeling hungry
or blue. You're more likely to pick up the wrong foods and wind up with a
danger zone in your kitchen. If you simply don't buy them, they won't be
lurking around at your next craving or ritualistic eating session. Avoid having
an abundance of starchy, high-fat, high-calorie comfort foods in the house.
Drink a glass of water.
Sometimes your body mistakes the feeling of dehydration for hunger.
deprive yourself. Find healthier substitutes for what you're craving. Or
allow yourself a small portion of the dessert that you are coveting so much. No
food is totally bad. It's all in how much of it you eat.
Any here's my biggest piece
of advice: When you're moody and looking for a distraction or pick-me-up in the
kitchen, consider an exercise routine instead. A better, longer-lasting,
and healthier way to feel better is by moving your body and getting that
circulation going. Exercise stimulates the feel-better chemicals called
endorphins and improves your mood naturally. And don't forget to record that
activity once you're done, so you don't forget how great the exercise made you