Eater’s High – How To Avoid Emotional Binge Eating
by Mag. Karin Lobner:
A runner’s high describes the euphoric state of mind found in (hobby) athletes where they forget all efforts and, instead, feel like they want to keep running for the rest of their lives. For some, the same can be true when it comes to eating and one can experience an eater’s high. This is because the food we eat can improve our mood and relax us. However, as with any high, the eater’s high also comes with a consecutive low.
When we’re stressed out or have negative emotions, it’s not the pleasure of eating that makes us eat. Stress puts your body in a state of emergency. As a consequence, some of us lose our appetites and can’t seem to ingest any food or might even feel nauseous. Others react the exact opposite and binge eat when stressed. If you feel physical or emotional stress, your body automatically reacts by sending a rush of adrenaline through your body.
Many folks are on a diet or “watching their weight.” This means they’re constantly controlling what and how much they eat. Therefore, they ignore hunger signals their bodies send – for the sake of a smaller clothing size. However, those who control their eating behaviour are particularly prone to binge eating. Why? Because any form of food control actually consumes energy. After all, they have to overrule powerful biological mechanisms. If stress increases, at a certain point they lose control simply because they don’t have any energy left. Sometimes having had a hard day is enough to trigger emotional eating and on the way home they can’t just walk past that fast food restaurant without ordering something. Due to this stress and lack of energy, your body’s natural mechanisms that control your hunger and feeling of satiety are not working anymore so, you overeat.
In this case, you go for those foods you usually ban from your plate – like chocolate. The more you try to avoid certain foods, the stronger your longing for them. After losing control during a stressful moment, you’re overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and regret.
How can you break out of that dieting cycle?
When binge eating caused by stress constantly interrupts your efforts to adopt a relaxed eating behavior, you’ll have to come up with other strategies to cope with stress. First of all, you should identify those situations which lead to uncontrolled eating. Then, you can either avoid those situations or change them. However, that’s not always easy. After all, you won’t give up your job or leave your partner just like that. In this case, you’ll need alternative strategies to approach those situations and cope with your stress triggers. Learn new relaxation techniques, go for a walk, engage in helping others or dig out your knitting needles – whatever helps you relax and unwind.
Another key point is to let go of the feeling of guilt that appears when you eat – that’s another stress trigger and keeps you in a vicious cycle of eating and not eating. Reflect on, then change your relationship with food and your own body to convert eating into a pleasant experience again. Eating may and should produce a feeling of happiness or an emotional high, yet without the low the day after.
Karin is a freelance Nutritionist and Psychotherapist specializing in eating behavior and obesity in children and adolescents. www.gefühlsküche.at