Why You Overeat When You Are Sad
Today I answer a question from an IG follower named Terri: When something happens and it makes me really sad, I find that I just don’t care what I eat. I have a “screw it” mentality so I will eat junk food or whatever I want. I’ll even think to myself “this is so bad for you!” but I eat it anyway and suffer later. WHY?
Well, Terri you are not alone. Sometimes even when we know something is bad for us, we do it anyway. Food is no different.
If you are like Terri and want to stop this bad habit, first ask yourself what you get out of eating when sad.
Even though it may make you feel regretful, physically stuffed, or even sadder in an hour, you get something out of it while you are chewing. What is it? Answering this question is your key.
Let’s think about what you could possibly be getting out of your eating.
Immediate gratification from the taste could be the benefit. This is short lived though. As soon as we are done chewing, the benefit dissipates.
If you indulge in something high in sugar like brownies or ice cream, you are sure to get a nice dopamine release. Sugar spikes dopamine, the hormone responsible for making us feel happy. When you have laid down a reward pathway in the brain that says – sugar – yeah – this makes us feel better – your brain may create a craving for sugar when you are feeling sad. It’s attempting to make you feel better. Brownies certainly can do this but again we see that the benefit is short lived.
Sometimes we are sad and we have a need to be comforted. We need a hug, a shoulder to cry on, someone to say “it will be ok.” If we don’t have that we may turn to comfort food to illicit a similar feeling. The term comfort food started in the 60’s. You may associate certain foods with a feeling of comfort that calms you and makes gives you hope that it’s going to be OK.
Consider this. Sometimes we are sad and this mood makes us so uncomfortable that we don’t want to think about what is making us sad. We want to escape. We want to zone out or distract ourselves by turning our thoughts elsewhere. Food is a great distractor. We can spend an entire evening cooking or baking and eating.
All these things offer immediate gratification and the brain is all about immediate gratification.
Our brains can’t differentiate between habits that are good for us and habits that are detrimental. This is why unhealthy habits like smoking are so hard to break. They serve a purpose in the moment and our brain reinforces this behavior. It doesn’t really care that smoking may lead to lung cancer in 20 years. This is why a diabetic drinks a regular soda. The brain wants the immediate taste. It does not urge her to think about how high blood sugar impacts her health long term.
In summation, when you are sad, the brain says:
“This sucks! I want to feel better.”
And you’ve taught your brain that eating will accomplish exactly that.
If you are still with me let me give you some DO’s and some DON’Ts to start turning this around.
Realize food may make you feel better for a few moments but it does not help you process or deal with the feeling. Get to know how you process your feelings like journaling, talking to a friend or going for a long walk alone so you can think.
Get comfortable with uncomfortable feelings. Feelings have a purpose. Denying them is never a good idea.
Practice being able to name the feeling/feelings. You can’t process feelings you don’t recognize.
Be open and accepting of all your feelings. Experience them – good and the bad.
Learn how to process your feelings without food. Processing means acknowledge, accept, evaluate their purpose, make decisions, move forward.
Focus on how denying the feeling will affect you down the road. Don’t just live in the moment.
Avoid the feeling. Deny it or stuff it. Unprocessed feelings may go away temporarily but they will return.
Judge your feelings. Avoid telling yourself that you shouldn’t be this upset or you shouldn’t feel this way. Don’t waste energy trying to change your feelings. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just are.
Minimize painful feelings.
Dwell on the feeling.
Rely on food to help you cope with how you are feeling.
If you need to work on processing feelings without using food to help, I want to give you a special invitation to my course called Feelings and Fries. It’s a 4 week online course where you can learn skills to start detangling your feelings and food. There’s more details about it in this video here.
In week 1 of F and F we really look at how you learned to express emotions when you were a child.
Anna had a father who had a terrible temper and was volatile although not physically violent. As an adult, Anna discovered that when she is angry she is very uncomfortable with that emotion and it scares her. She avoids situations that could result in her getting angry. When she does feel anger, she runs from it. How does one run from it? That means they avoid it, dismiss it, ignore it – she does this by distracting herself with food. In Feelings and Fries Anna is learning how to stop running and start dealing.
Another really cool ah-ha moment happened with Ashley when she took Feelings and Fries. She had two parents that were stuffers – meaning she never saw them express emotions. Ashley didn’t learn how to properly express her emotions. Her mom was always on a diet and her weight was always fluctuating. Looking back on it now, Ashley sees her mom used food to numb her emotions. What does Ashely do today? She is so uncomfortable with her feelings and unsure how to express them that she avoids them by eating. She has become her mother and didn’t even realize it until week 1 of Feelings and Fries.
Consider joining me so you can begin your own healing like Anna and Ashley. Like I say, isn’t life too short to be tortured by a potato chip?
Bye for now!
If you want to see the full YouTube video on Why you overeat when you are sad, click here.
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