Are you an emotional eater?

There are many reasons we reach for food throughout the day. Some of these reasons include:

  • Hunger
  • Cravings
  • Boredom
  • Habit/Routine

But one main contributing factor to overeating is emotion. As humans we tend to use food to change our emotional state – much like a smoker reaching for a cigarette to calm their mood. The reason we do this is because food (namely yummy food- not so much celery) affects the brain quickly. It can be used as an instant pick-me-up, emotionally and physically.

I was sat at home last night and ITV were showing an investigatory exercise programme explaining the benefits of exercises and why we (as a nation) find it so hard to meet the 150 minutes of recommended exerises per week. Now firstly, never watch a show like this with me as I am one of those ‘I know better than them’ people and secondly it got me thinking and I think I have the answer to their question.

It’s not about ‘how can we get people to exercise more’ it’s more a question of ‘why are people making poor choices’ and if you explore this avenue the answer becomes more clear.

We are pre-programmed from birth to do two things.

  1. Avoid pain
  2. Seek out pleasure

These two laws govern every decision you’ve ever made. Think about it, why do you exercise…? It’s going to be one of two reasons. Either:

1. You are trying to avoid the PAIN of ill health.

Perhaps your doctor has told you that you’re not in the best health and you’ve learnt what your future might hold if you don’t change your ways… or,

2. You love the feeling that exercise gives you.

When you are training well and eating right there is no question, it feels amazing, you have boundless energy, increased mood and a more positive outlook.

The change spectrum

I like to think there is a spectrum on which decisions are made. At one end is pain and at the other is pleasure/motivation. When you reach either end you’ll make a decision, if you stay in the middle you’ll let circumstance dictate your like choices until you slowly drift to either end (most likely the pain end). Most people who neglect exercise or diet are either not in enough pain or aren’t inspired by or realise the benefits. Case in point:

John (John is a made up person) doesn’t exercise or pay too close attention to his food choices. He is sitting in the middle of the spectrum. Over the years his health starts to deteriate until he gradually moves closer to pain. His blood pressure rises, his joints start to stiffen up and what used to be simply daily tasks now seem like a struggle. John is getting closer to making a decision.

Jon (a different Jon) is in his 20’s and is slightly overweight. He goes on holiday with his friends and has the least toned physique at the beach. His friends make a few jokey comments about his ‘moobs’ (I’m sure you can figure that out, if not google ‘moobs’) and Jon vows to himself to be in better shape than all of them come next summer.

Jim watches the Olympics on TV one year, seeing record after record being broken and the prestige the athletes command. Jim sees the accolades and attention these athletes get along with the TV deals and celebrity status and wants a piece of the action.

Both Jon and John reach the pain end of the spectrum before taking action and Jim reaches the pleasure/motivation end. It doesn’t matter which end you reach either will cause you to make a choice.

So back to the origianl quesion… Are you an emotional eater? Well if you let your circumstances and environment push you mentally to the pain side of the spectrum your body will do almost anything to move you away from it, if you find yourself reaching for the cake and biscuits or worst – booze, you simply need to understand ‘why’ it’s happening (now you do) and replace your fix. You’ll soon break the habit.

If you reach for a quick fix to your pain it will only lead to further pain down the line, this can quickly turn into a downward spiral. Identify the problem now, make small changes and reap the rewards later on.

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