Anxiety & Food

Friday, July 28, 2017 Comfort Food  No comments

Have you ever been unintentionally sabotaged by a coworker, spouse or a complete stranger in the car next to you because they said or did something that upset you? You get upset, feel wounded and wonder why people can’t be nice. To feel better and soothe yourself you reach for the bag of M&Ms you swore you wouldn’t touch until you lost ten pounds. Welcome to emotional eating.

Stress, anger, anxiety, boredom, sadness, loneliness are all emotions that we tend to try to suppress or soothe. There are times that emotional eating includes emotions such as happiness. Experiencing excitement and getting caught up in the moment can also lead us to celebrate with food. Both positive and negative emotions have a way that an trigger us to respond by reaching for the M&M’s to either soothe a hurt or elevate an already happy moment.

Lack of Self Education

If we are able to learn how our mood is effected by food we have a better chance of being ready for those emotional battles. Being prepared is a key factor in your success. Knowing that some foods may have seemingly addictive qualities can help us avoid them. When you reach for an enticing food such as chocolate, your body releases trace amounts of mood and satisfaction elevating hormones. These ‘rewards’ may reinforce a preference for foods that are most closely related with certain feelings. In addition the pleasure of the experience of just eating the food itself is enough to offset the negative emotions.

We often use food as a distraction. If your in-laws are heading over for dinner and you are nervous, anxious or worried eating comfort foods may take your mind off it temporarily. If you are dealing with an unpleasant event and you start to eat your thoughts focus on the pleasant taste of your comfort food and not the event. You get a stay of execution so to speak but eventually you have to face the music of what was upsetting you in the first place. The problem now is that you not only have the event still at hand but also you may now feel badly about yourself because you overate.

Knowing all of this can help you plan and make better choices. If you can recognize the feelings coming on you can shift them by doing something different to soothe or distract you. People with anxiety disorders use this type of distraction very successfully. Something as simple as a crossword puzzle, word search, cleaning or anything that changes your focus can be successful. It allows your body to take a break from the stress without sabotaging your weight loss efforts.

When we are upset, anxious and emotional it is hard to stop and think ‘what can I do to stop these feelings?’, “How can I distract myself?’ Having a few items in your head to turn too is a great help overcoming these emotional barriers.

Setting Up Support

Most people don’t have a support system and having one built into your program is vital to your success. It can help you through those moments that make or break your control when your emotions would have you reaching for the donuts. Having a coach, buddy, family member to text, call and talk to can be the emotional release needed instead of stuffing them down with food.

Keeping a journal is another way of keeping the saboteurs at bay. Journals are one of the most effective ways of keeping on track when dieting and fulfill many areas of need in the ‘dieting system.’ They are always handy, private, hold you accountable, reliable and can be your best friend in a tight spot. In addition checking in with a friend, coach or buddy at the end of your day either by email or phone can be another great asset to keep you on track. Having someone to share your triumphs with can boost your confidence and help you celebrate your successes. It keeps you accountable as well. In addition it is another perspective that can help you navigate the times when you do falter and help you learn to forgive yourself for things we tend to beat ourselves up on too often.

No Rules or Recognition

Make a few non negotiable rules. ‘Your rule can be as simple as I won’t eat in my car anymore.’ It seems simple but what an impact it can have on a person. Think of the calories that you save, how clean your car becomes, how nice your car smells, how good you feel when you succeed each time you get out of your car? There is one small exception to this rule. If you are hungry and are teetering on getting too hungry and going off then you should keep a healthy snack in your glove compartment. Even a small protein bar can help control the all or nothing hunger pains and help you navigate to safer ground. Learn to recognize true hunger and learn to love it. One of my clients chose to have her lightest meal be dinner time and have it around 6 p.m. when she would get hungry she said she loved the hunger pangs because she knew her body was using calories to feed it. Although I don’t recommend getting that hungry, I do like her approach to changing what most would look at negatively and navigating it into a positive thought process. Also, start to recognize a craving and feel confident you can overcome them. Did you know that a craving actually only lasts about 5-15 minutes. Nest time you want to reach for the chocolate bars, time yourself and wait it out you will feel the triumph of winning over the agony of ‘I guess I will have to start again tomorrow.’

No Trigger Identification

If you don’t know there is a problem it is hard to fix it. Triggers are a problem that can impact your diet in a not so friendly way. Most of us don’t realize we have been triggered until it is too late and we have downed a full bag of potato chips. Why is that? Why don’t we know our triggers when they impact us so greatly? The answer is that we don’t want to know them because we don’t like the way they make us feel so we avoid looking into them. That’s why we stuff the bag of potato chips down our throat, to avoid those feeling. So how do we rectify this? Try taking a step back and look at your situation from a third party perspective. Take yourself out of the picture and put in someone else. Identify what happened. Notice the events,feelings and the actions that ‘they’ took to get through the trigger. Brain storm solutions for ‘them’ and write them down. Now take those solutions and try them out when you are in that situation. You don’t have to correct the trigger because sometimes we can’t. Say it is your boss that triggers you, well you can’t always remove him or her from your life so put in a solution you can control.

Redirect, Redirect, Redirect

Redirection or distraction may seem like the cowards way out but it is actually the way of warriors. The power of the mind is amazing and we have just begun to explore this area of ourselves. Redirection is used for many people with anxiety disorders. I personally have seen it work on my son who was diagnosed with severe Contamination Obsessive, Compulsive disorder. Redirection was something he was unknowingly doing to get through his anxiety, which at the time was classified at a 10 on a scale of 1-10 and he was not on medication to soothe him. If he can do it at a level 10 anxiety so can we when our lives for the moment overwhelm us to the point of wanting to reach for the Dorito’s. What he would do would be to zone out for few minutes if he felt anxious or uncomfortable. Similar to how we can feel when we get upset or anxious about something and turn to food. He would day dream, do a puzzle, Lego’s, take a walk [this helped tremendously], listen to music that he liked, wrote in a fantasy journal about anything other than his anxiety or discomfort, basically do anything that took him away for the moment until he could better handle it. He would just redirect his focus. The reason I call it a way of a warrior is because of the way it enables the person to win the battle at hand and have control over it. For many people weight is a battle that needs to be won and this is a tool you can use to win it.

Look to see what other people do when they get upset rather than turn to food. Some people like to clean when they get upset [me] because you get immediate gratification from it [sounds like what you get from food when you eat it when your am upset], some just recognize the incident as a negative give themselves a time limit to be mad and then choose to release the anger [because it doesn’t effect the person who made them mad and only hurts them if they hold on to it]. Have a list of quick rewards that don’t involve food handy so you don’t have to think doesn’t about what you should do you can just pick from the list. Splurge on you.

Clean it Up

Get rid of the unhealthy food. Many people tell me the food is there for their kids. My response is why? Why would you want to feed your kids unhealthy foods that will hurt them in the long run? Did you give them unhealthy formula when they were babies? They are still developing and they still need good food, even more than you do. So you need another excuse. Avoid having an abundance of high-calorie comfort foods in the house. Also don’t go food shopping when you feel hungry or blue, postpone the shopping trip for a few hours so that these feelings don’t influence your decisions at the store.

Avoiding a Balanced Diet

If you’re not getting enough calories to meet your energy needs, you may be more likely to give in to emotional eating. Try to eat at fairly regular times and don’t skip breakfast. Include foods from the basic groups in your meals. Go for the whole grains, vegetables and fruits, as well as low-fat dairy products and lean protein sources. When you fill up on the basics, you’re more likely to feel fuller, longer. Try having an apple before a couple of your meals studies show that people who consume an apple before their meal eat less.

Poor Choices for Snacking

Your snack should be between 100-200 calories or not much more so choose wisely. If you feel the urge to eat between meals, choose a low-fat, low-calorie food, such as fresh fruit, vegetables with fat-free dip or non buttered popcorn or test low-fat, lower calorie versions of your favorite foods to see if they satisfy your craving. If your hungry make it a high fiber snack to keep you full. Snacks are just as important as your meals.

Getting the Right Exercise and Rest

People who are tired have repeatedly shown in study after study that they consume more calories. Try not to burn your candle at both ends. As hard as that can be some days it is very important to get enough rest. Your mood is more manageable and your body can more effectively fight stress when it’s fit and well rested. So make time for rest. Choosing the right amount of exercise is equally important. Try to work towards 30 minutes a day and then increase to 45- 60 minutes if possible down the road. Remember you can break it up throughout your day.

Release Your Emotions

People do not factor in the emotional elements of their day and how it effects their decisions about food. Many times the emotion [i.e. anger] that we feel is a trigger that makes us turn to food for self soothing. We find our mind chatter telling us that, We deserve it because they did this to me, or because No one recognizes all the hard work I do. You are feeling frustrated at something or someone. We all have a right to get upset and no one should be treated badly. However, it is how we handle the anger that is important.

Plan for the ups and downs and how you will handle them. Everyone always thinks of the perfect day when planning their diet and then wonder why they went off when their day didn’t go as planned. When was the last time your day went as planned? I thought so. So make plan B your plan A. Recognize the anger for what it is and how you are reacting to it. Why? Because you are only hurting yourself when you put the food in your mouth, not the person or thing that made you angry. Learn to release the emotion, communicate your feelings so you can redirect the anger to be useful and not self sabotaging.

reinforce your success by learn to S.T.O.P [Step back, Take a deep breath, Oppose the urge to eat and Pat yourself on the back] and empower ourselves with what meets our long term needs as a whole and not feed an non serving emotion for the moment.


Recognized as an expert in her field, Patrice Ruggieri has been helping clients lose weight for over ten years. For a limited period you can receive your free personalized, individual weight loss session with Patrice. If you are interested in more weight loss strategies & weight loss tips you can get them free for a limited time.

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