I used to think I wasn’t an emotional eater. That I couldn’t understand the concept of eating when you’re sad, lonely, angry, overly stressed, or even bored. Until I found myself devouring a bag of m&ms down into my anxious stomach.
Anxiety. Most of us feel it at some time or another. It’s our body’s healthy response to imminent danger. Except when there is none. And then we’re just sitting there fearing the world around us but we really don’t know what is making us want to jump out of our own skin. So why food? It’s a distraction. And a damn good one at that.
Anxiety is really uncomfortable. Our world gives us so many reasons to feel it more often than not. The symptoms range from a flipping stomach, mild or severe headache, pounding heart, shaky hands, sweating, inability to focus, crying, irrational fear. None of these symptoms are easy to sit in. And multiply them by ten during an anxiety attack. The most common reason for ER visits in the U.S. is due to chest pain, which is often caused by anxiety attacks. Anxiety attacks from unsuspecting individuals that think they are having a heart attack. I believe this is why many people fall into drug and alcohol addiction or otherwise. Escaping it consumes the thoughts of an anxious person.
And then there’s food. High carbohydrate, high fat, sugary food to be exact. Why? Because it triggers a dopamine response similar to narcotic-like drugs that lessens the anxiety. But, exactly like a drug, over time the brain becomes less stimulated by the food and needs more to experience the same effect. This is why people can feel like they’re addicted to sugar. In a sense, they are.
How can you get rid of it without becoming addicted to an unhealthy habit? I was taught by a psychologist that the best way was to ride it out. Sounds crazy right? But in reality, an anxiety attack isn’t going to kill you like a heart attack and it WILL eventually end. The fear that leads to the unhealthy habit to make it end NOW is that it will NEVER end. But rest assured, most anxiety attacks end in an average of 10 minutes.
What about that nagging, everyday anxiety that many of us feel until we’re elbow deep into a bag of potato chips? Personally, I’ve found listening to music, prayer, and deep breaths with citrus essential oils to be most helpful. If you don’t have citrus essential oils, a fresh cut orange, lemon, or grapefruit will do. Studies have indicated that most adults take shallow breathes from our sternum. However, as children, we start out taking deep, slow breathes from our abdomens – about six per minute. This is how we are naturally built. But as we age and life happens, we take quicker, shorter breaths that feed less oxygen into our nervous systems. No wonder stress has such a damaging physical effect on our bodies!
For other types of emotions I’ve recommended journaling. For the anxious person this isn’t always realistic due to the inability to focus. So try simpler tasks like coloring, painting, and going for a short walk. Thing is, as I’ve said in my previous posts on the subject of emotional eating, you won’t know what works until you give it a shot. We all know eating works. But if you’re reading my posts, I’m guessing you want to get away from that.
Let me know in the comments what you discover works for you, whether in this post or not and let’s help each other!
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