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Hunger Games: Way out for emotional eating

Express News Service

Think of it as a primitive brain glitch. Emotional eating—consuming food in response to emotions, not hunger—is caused by stress, boredom or loneliness, say experts. The gratification is addictive.

“While there is nothing wrong with eating for pleasure—in fact, it enhances the digestive process—emotional eating can be habit-forming and detrimental,” says Gurugram-based nutritional consultant Vindhya Pratap.

New research says it can damage the heart, too. The syndrome is associated with a higher pulse-wave velocity (stiffer arteries) and an increased risk of diastolic dysfunction (stiffer heart), according to research published on January 11in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.

Comfort eating is a vicious trap that results in binge eating and guilt. Dopamine (the feel-good hormone) produced by the brain plays a central role here, as the neurotransmitter activates the brain’s reward pathway, creating a sense of pleasure in response to food.

In emotional eaters, dopamine receptivity is impaired, which means too much or too little of the chemical is being produced, thereby disrupting the body’s normal functioning. Such eaters are also likely to consume high-calorie foods for a greater release of dopamine.

To sustain the ‘high’ that comes from feeling good, it becomes difficult to eat mindfully. Such relief, momentary as it is, reduces anxiety and lowers stress, but makes eating hard to resist, reinforcing emotional eating patterns and increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems
in the long term.

While emotional eating can be a complex problem, there are methods to keep it from taking over your life.

“Start a diary of emotions to understand what you’re truly feeling. Through writing, you are trying to recognise the uncomfortable emotion beneath the surface; not act on them or find solutions. Write down quick pointers to reflect on them in a few days. Since many of our behaviours are automatic, awareness alone (you can build this with mindfulness practices such as meditation, conscious breathing, hypnosis)
will help you catch yourself in the moment of that dreadful urge and make a better choice,” says Delhi-based psychotherapist Sunaina Gupta.

Another effective strategy to counter emotional eating is delayed gratification. When you hanker for food, wait for just 10 minutes. Drink water, move around or stretch to jolt yourself out of your triggered state. “Movement aids the release of endorphins or chemicals that boost mood and help manage impulses better,” says Gupta. Emotion in motion is a good prescription.

Deal with it

Stress: Breathing exercises, meditating or finding a quiet place to take a walk
Loneliness: Text, call or video chat with a friend or loved one
Sadness: Take a list of things you’re grateful for or laugh along with some comedy
Boredom: Finish a project, watch a movie or read a book
Anxiety: Confide in a friend, spend time with your pet(s) or consider reaching out to a counsellor or therapist

(Courtesy: Kasey Kilpatrick, dietician,Kasey Benavides Nutrition)

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