How To Avoid Comfort Eating And Beat Food Cravings
A sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary habits are only partly to blame for the fight against flab. Often the reasons for weight gain are more complex. Many people have underlying psychological and physiological factors that make them the size they are, in which case, exercise and trying to persevere with a low-fat diet are not enough to win the battle for a better figure and a healthy lifestyle. Comfort eating, frequent cravings for sweet foods, or even just the occasional binging, is not an uncommon cause of weight gain.
If you’ve ever mindlessly worked your way through the entire biscuit tin, the chances are you weren’t really that hungry, but simply looking for instant gratification. And as you’ve had a couple, why not have the rest? The mushy, soft texture of sweet, stodgy foods can feel enormously satisfying in the mouth and on the taste buds. Carbohydrates such as bread and pasta also have a naturally calming effect, while chocolate has the bonus of containing a substance called phenylethylamine, which promotes a similar chemical sensation to feeling in love. It’s no wonder so many of us turn to food as an occasional mood-booster.
“The right food at the right time in the right amount is as effective as a tranquillizer,” says Judith J. Wurtman, a nutritionist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Just 25 to 50 g of carbohydrates can trigger the production of the mood-altering chemical serotonin, which eases anxiety within about 20 minutes.” Sounds good in theory, but what if you reach for the bread bin every time you feel stressed? “There’s a real danger with these types of foods,” says Professor David Booth, head of nutritional research at Birmingham University, “that because of the inherent feelgood factor, it’s easy to turn to them as comfort foods. This in turn can lead to lethargy and weight problems – which will only make you feel worse in the long run.”
Using food as an instant fix is a major indication that all is not well on the emotional front. “One of the most common reasons for overeating is to try to satisfy an emotional need,” says David Brooks, a psychotherapist specializing in weight control. “You might not even be aware of this, because often it’s totally subconscious – so you re-route what it is you think you’re feeling and turn it into hunger. Or if you do know, you ignore it and carry on eating. Often we’re not exactly sure of what it is we’re feeling, and that can be very confusing. For instance, you may be suppressing a lot of anger, sadness or frustration. Or perhaps you’re suppressing what it is that you’re really trying to say. This can leave you feeling stressed, edgy, irritable or restless, and comfort eating is a way of trying to make that feeling go away. But you cant expect food to make you feel less lonely, to take away depression or boredom, to heal the pain of a relationship, to relax or stimulate you. That’s totally unrealistic. While food can be soothing and help you to feel better in the short-term, it wont change your state of mind – it will just make you fatter.”
How To Break The Habit
If you are using food as an emotional crutch, the aftermath – a rapidly expanding waistline and flab everywhere – can be a bit of a shock. Also, because you haven’t properly addressed your emotional needs, you’re trapped in a vicious circle that makes it impossible to lose weight. Here’s how to break the habit:
- Whenever you’re just about to eat, pause. Stop and think about what it is you’re really feeling at that moment. Is it anger, boredom, loneliness? If it helps, keep a diary and note the feelings and emotions that prompt you to reach for the biscuit tin.
- Recognize and acknowledge what it is you’re feeling. Work out what it is you’re using food for. Is it a substitute for company, love, a relationship? Is it to calm you down, to make you feel less anxious? Once you have traced the root cause, then you will recognize what it is you need to do.
- What steps can you take to resolve these emotions? There’s not always an easy answer, but there always is an answer. It is always possible to do something about whatever is bothering you. Even the smallest action is a step in the right direction. For instance, if you are angry, you will be producing a lot of excess adrenaline and stress hormones. Something very simple like going for a run can help to dissipate these stress chemicals coursing through your body. If you are feeling anxious, then calming music, a relaxing aromatherapy bath, a massage or a haircut can help. Instead of bottling up your feelings, try to talk to someone: your family, a friend, even your doctor.Talking about a problem can be a really important first step.
- Slowly try to wean yourself off your dependence on food by making yourself wait 10 minutes before you eat. Each day add on another five minutes. Meanwhile implement your substitute activities: go for a walk, listen to a relaxation tape, watch a favorite TV program.
- Once you have established what changes are necessary in your life -expanding your social life, making new friends, acknowledging you would like a relationship – the emotion will not leave you so overpowered.You are now able to isolate what it is you feel, and in doing so you can decide what action it is you need to take. Gradually, you will no longer need to turn to food for comfort – there are lots of other things you can do that are much more beneficial.
Balancing The Emotions With Alternative Therapies
Alternative therapies such as acupuncture, ayurvedic medicine (an ancient Indian healing system), shiatsu,Thai massage and reflexology are believed to rebalance your body, which has a therapeutic effect on your emotions. Both ayurvedic and Chinese medical theory states that each organ is linked to an emotion. So, if there is an imbalance in any area in your body, you are not just susceptible to physical symptoms but also to emotional ones. Emotion is considered in terms of energy and, if you are in balance, your emotions flow freely. But if you’re constantly suppressing a feeling or expressing emotions inappropriately, this disrupts your energy flow. Once you’re aware of these factors, it’s much easier to do something about it – either through good nutrition, regular therapeutic massage, acupuncture or another therapy aiming to balance and stimulate a depleted energy flow.
Chinese medicine recognizes seven emotions: joy, anger, anxiety, concentration, sadness, fear and panic. Each is said to be associated with a certain organ. For example, anger is linked to the liver. So if your liver function is below par (e.g from too many rich, fatty foods or alcohol), this will make you irritable and ratty. Balancing liver energy through reflexology, massage, acupuncture or herbs, also helps regulate these emotions.The kidneys are linked to fear and anxiety. Having too many late nights or working too hard can deplete kidney energy and make you even more nervous. Energizing the area helps you to calm down. If there is a weakness in the lungs (e.g from smoking) you may feel more depressed and sad than usual. Strengthening the lungs helps deal with depression.
What Triggers Food Cravings?
Apart from the psychological comfort provided by certain types of food, there may be various physiological reasons why you crave certain foods. These include an unstable blood sugar level, food intolerances and chemical addiction. “Basically, your brain comprises a variety of chemicals, all of which are made up from the food that you eat,” explains Frank McGowan, a nutritionist at the Natural Health Clinic, London. “Grains, for instance, contain some amino acids which may have a psychoactive effect similar to that of opiates. This may explain why eating too much cereal can leave some people feeling spaced out. Carbohydrates increase the levels of tryptophan in the brain which is converted to the feelgood chemical serotonin. If you are depressed, serotonin levels are low and it’s natural to crave these foods. The problem is that if you don’t deal with the depression, you’ll also end up with a weight problem.”
Fluctuating blood sugar levels
“Some foods such as bread, ice cream, pastries and chocolate, and drinks such as tea and coffee induce an instant high, because they induce a rise in the blood sugar level,” says Alex Kirchen, a nutritionist at the Laboratory Health Club, London. “This affects the nervous system and the brain, which rely on a continuous supply of blood sugar, or glucose, for healthy function. The down side is that, because the blood sugar level shoots up so quickly, your body secretes too much insulin to compensate and so the effect is short-lived. Afterwards blood sugar levels drop even lower. This makes you crave even more food.”
To break out of this pattern, the solution is to keep the blood sugar level steady throughout the day. Kirchen recommends cutting down on foods that provoke this reaction, that is, any food that makes you want more (such as cakes, biscuits, fizzy drinks, chocolate, alcohol, coffee and tea).
“You should also eat small amounts of highly nutritious food regularly,” says Kirchen. “Try to increase your intake of fresh vegetables, fruit, wholegrains, beans and pulses – all of which promote a slow, steady release of glucose (blood sugar). If you still feel hungry, snack on healthy foods such as sunflower or pumpkin seeds, almonds and cashews.”
“Often an intolerance to certain foods can trigger cravings,” says Penny Davenport, a nutritionist at the Higher Nature Clinic in Sussex, England. “As well as causing allergic reactions such as rashes, headaches, sore joints, puffiness and bloating, certain foods can have an adverse effect on the chemicals in the brain, which can induce cravings. The worst offenders tend to be wheat and dairy products, but almost any food can be the cause.” To determine which foods you are intolerant of, you will need to consult a nutritionist who will suggest different tests you can do. For instance, a standard test is the Immuno Test, which can test up to 102 foods. Other methods include alternative techniques such as Vega testing and kinesiology. Eliminating ‘Culprit’ foods from your diet will make the cravings go away.
One in 10 people is addicted to food in the same way that others are addicted to alcohol. The problems are the same as with any addiction: an intense obsession with food which leads to constant cravings. Most food addicts tend to be very overweight, which is bad for their long-term health. So what triggers an addiction to food? Dr Robert Lefever, an addiction expert, explains, “In some people, cravings originate from a defect in the mood centers of the brain, in how certain messages are transmitted from one cell to the next. Some people are just born like that, in the same way that some people are genetically predisposed to alcoholism. Eating the wrong foods makes symptoms much worse, as it triggers more cravings. It is difficult for a person to deal with food addiction on their own. They should always seek professional help to help them learn to substitute their addictive tendencies with other healthy behavior. An elimination diet is also important to reduce the intensity of cravings.”
Suppress Appetite With The Aid Of Natural Supplement
Hoodia is very popular appetite suppressant that comes from the plant Hoodia Gordonii which is found in South Africa. The San tribe of this country has been using this for a very long time now to suppress their appetite and thirst during long and extended hunting trips.
The Hoodia plant contains a potent chemical which works to effectively suppress the appetite. This chemical is known as P57. The part of the brain that controls hunger is known as the hypothalamus; this brain region regulates appetite by detecting the glucose levels in the blood. Food consumption causes glucose levels to rise as food is broken down. When this happens, the hypothalamus sends a signal that results to the feeling of fullness. P57 works like glucose in that it sends a signal to the hypothalamus, only 10,000 times stronger. So, even when you have not eaten anything, the brain is duped into thinking that you are already full.
Hoodia supplements can be quite expensive though, so if you want to make sure that you get your money’s worth, be sure that you get only the pure authentic Hoodia.
DIY Food Intolerance Test
If you suspect your cravings result from a food sensitivity, try the following simple test, based on kinesiology – a form of muscle testing – to find out which foods cause you to react:
Before you begin
- Enlist the help of a friend.
- Make sure you’re relaxed. Kinesiology is based on the study of muscle response – in this case to food – so avoid any distractions.
- Stand up straight and look ahead.
- Keep your arms at your sides. Turn one palm outwards and away from your body.
- The ‘tester’ now slips their hand between your side and the lower half of your arm.
- Hold your arm in place while the tester gently but firmly tries to pull out at your side. If your arm stays steady and in place, you can now repeat this exercise using food. If your arm wavers, don’t do the test (consult a qualified practitioner).
- Repeat the exercise. This time hold a piece of food, to which you suspect you may have an intolerance, under your nose.
- You and the tester will notice the difference immediately whenever your muscles weaken. It suggests you may have a mild sensitivity to that type of food. Repeat the exercise again on another day to be sure.
How it works
Your muscles weaken when you’re in contact with certain types of foods, because your energy field is disturbed -the communication between your brain and nervous system. The simplest way to explain this is that muscles provide instant biofeedback. When your brain is preoccupied with a food it doesn’t like, then it momentarily forgets about the muscle.
What you can do
Don’t suddenly eliminate any foods. Instead, list the suspect foods and then get a professional diagnosis. They will also be able to advise you about taking supplements if giving up certain foods jeopardizes your nutrient intake.
Healthy Comfort Foods
Next time you want to make yourself feel better, rather than reach for the stodge, try the following healthy, calming foods instead:
- Cherries, rice, lentils – scientists at the Fischer-Bosch Institute of Clinical Pharmacology in Stuttgart have found that these foods contain tiny amounts of Valium-like chemicals, although the amounts are probably too minuscule to have a pharmaceutical effect. However, these foods are filling and nutritious and help keep cravings at bay.
- Celery, anise, cloves, cumin, fennel, ginger, sage, spearmint and parsley– these foods have a naturally calming effect, because they stimulate the production of serotonin.
Beat Those Cravings
Here’s the proof you don’t have to be a pudding – delicious recipes to counter the urge to splurge on chocolate, fats and starches.
You can make a healthy snack out of Spiced Nuts. To make, gently warm 4 tbsp acacia or any other mild, clear honey with 1 tbsp chilli seasoning, a pinch each of cayenne and cumin and 1 tsp sea salt. Stir in 400 g mixed nuts (almonds, pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts – brazil nuts don’t work so well though). Spread evenly over a baking sheet and bake for 8 minutes at 200°C/400°F.