Happy belated Mother’s Day to all you fellow moms out there, to all the men that support the moms in their life, to those of you who lost your mom or a child, and to those that wanted children but find themselves without. Mother’s Day can be a beautiful day, and it can also be a bittersweet day for some, and I want to honor that.
Speaking of moms and kids, you know what cranky toddlers, sick kids, difficult teenagers, and struggling adult children all have in common? These challenges, along with job stress, financial worries, relationship challenges, and the like, can sometimes launch us – women and men alike – into…EMOTIONAL EATING. You know what I’m talking about, right? You look at the couch cushion next to you, or the space next to your computer at work, and see an empty potato chip bag. “Hm. How did that get there?!”
What I’ve learned in my client work is that many folks have shame around their emotional eating. They feel out-of-control, and are often convinced that they have a unique struggle with food and emotions. That other folks have it more together than they do. Wrong and wrong. Emotional eating is one of the most common client struggles that I work with. In the context of a short blog, let’s talk some Mind Savvy® about why this happens and a first step you can take to change it.
Emotional eating is simply a routine that we’ve developed in response to a cue. We do this routine to get a reward (comfort, pleasure, etc.):
Cue: You feel emotionally challenged
Routine: You eat ______ (usually crunchy, salty, or sugar-y foods)
Reward: You feel better.
There’s nothing personal or shameful about it; emotional eating has its roots in brain chemicals. During the CUE phase, a craving is created which is marked by an increase in the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is released when we experience OR anticipate pleasure, and it demands a reward in the same way that a 2-year-old demands your attention. “Do it!!! Now. Now. NOOOWWWWW!”
Once you meet the cue’s demand with the ROUTINE of sitting down with a bag of chips and some M&M’s, your brain delivers a big dose of dopamine, making you feel good. This is the REWARD. It’s worth noting here that dopamine is also the “addiction neurotransmitter,” shepherding us towards all or our addictions – alcohol, drugs, internet shopping, gambling, social media, etc. A powerful chemical, indeed. Pit willpower against dopamine and dopamine will win most every time.
The only way out of this health-defeating feedback loop is by changing the routine: find another activity that you truly enjoy while removing your ability to follow the old routine (ie: no chips and M&M’s in the house). In the past, after a long day, I’d often find myself eating chips and chocolate. I experimented and found that coloring (go figure!) delivers enough dopamine to successfully close the feedback loop.
As always, the first step is mindfulness: noticing what your CUE is. Then you see that the routine that follows that cue is the habit that you need to replace. So that’s your homework: what health-promoting routine might you try instead of the health-demoting emotional eating one?
Let me know how you go! Give a shout-out below, sharing your challenges and/or wins.
Create Vibrant Health: BodyMindSpirit®
With love and dopamine sass,