Mindless munching

If stress-driven ‘emotional eating’ is increasingly tempting you to eat nutritionally devoid food then you need to look out for strategies to get rid of it

Mindless munching

I am a 26-year-old female, working in an MNC, engaged to be married and overall, in a happy place in life. With the wedding coming up, I have been trying to eat clean and exercise but time and again I find myself struggling and eating large quantities of sweets, chocolates, junk food only on the days I am stressed. I then end up feeling guilty and loathing myself for doing it. Why does it happen to me?

Emotional eating aka stress eating/storm eating is defined as the "propensity to eat in response to positive and negative emotions." It is notoriously common during periods of stress.

What are the types of eating?

There are four types of eating:

Fuel eating: It is the actual reason why we need to eat because food is the fuel for our body. When the body 'senses the cues' that we are hungry and need to replenish, we eat consciously and intentionally.

Joy eating: Food that may not necessarily have much nutritional value but pleases us, for example, desserts, savoury snacks, etc. Indulge in it minimally and mindfully so you can experience the joy.

Fog eating: It is the mindless grazing, snacking and munching that occurs between fuel and joy eating when you may not even be hungry.

Storm eating: It comes from emotional cues and not physical hunger, and leads to 'eating your emotions' when you feel out of control. This results in negative consequences — both physically and emotionally.

Why does storm eating occur?

Our body, when stressed, initially produces epinephrine which kills our hunger, leading to hunger suppression in many individuals. But for some of us, if the stress persists then we see ourselves going into overdrive. This occurs because persistent stress produces another chemical called cortisol that increases appetite and makes us motivated enough to eat more. If your stress continues being high, you may keep the cortisol in a 'switch on' mode and eat more.

When hunger strikes in full swing, most of us look for a quick release of glucose, and head for sugary and fried things.

These make us feel comforted and hence are called "comfort food". They are devoid of real nutrients, add calories and lead to addiction to eating more.

Do you indulge in emotional eating?

❋ Do you eat more when you're feeling stressed?

❋ Do you munch/graze when you're not hungry or when you're full?

❋ Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you are sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?

❋ Do you reward yourself with food?

❋ Do you regularly eat until you've stuffed yourself?

❋ Does food make you feel safe? Do you feel like food is a friend?

❋ Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?

The more 'yes' answers, the higher the chances of 'emotional eating' issues.

Wondering how to solve this issue?

❋ Mindful eating and being aware of hunger cues;

❋ Delaying the urge by just five minutes;

❋ Switch and substitute: Move towards 'healthier alternatives' like salad, raisins or fruits at that moment. You can replace the soda/soft drink with homemade lemonade. Keep these options readily available in front of you in place of junk food;

❋ Plant-based natural sugar: Try to replace simple sugars

with stevia, which reduces the glucose spike but tastes the same as sugar;

❋ Munch mindfully: You can have a handful of nuts to fight the craving for chips, and munch on makhana (fox nuts) for the extra crunch;

❋ A 'trick' snack: A snack that tricks you into believing that it's a dessert to satisfy the craving. For e.g., mixing a spoon of actual ice cream to a low-fat flavoured Greek yogurt can trick you to believe you are eating an ice cream. Similarly, a scoop of peanut butter is a great food trick;

❋ Indulgence without guilt: An occasional comfort food isn't a bad deal after all. A small (tiny) piece of chocolate can make your heart and worries melt. A cheat meal occasionally is okay;

❋ Planning a cheat meal day per week in advance can help you push and override the tide and get to the other side of the craving.

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