About three weeks ago on a Monday, I wasn’t feeling quite as rested as one should at the start of a week. The previous week had been a stressful and busy one (we all have those, right?), and before I knew it the weekend had come and gone without much time-out. As Monday mornings usually go, 7.30am through to 9am is dedicated to rounds with the doctors. As we were approaching the final patient, I suddenly felt weak at the knees, my vision blurred, I broke out in a cold sweat and started shaking. I quickly ran out and phoned one of my colleagues: “Bring me something to eat now!” I knew exactly what was happening – I had skipped breakfast that morning and my blood sugar was dropping dangerously low (a hypoglycemic attack, a term our diabetic friends know all too well). In fact, I hadn’t eaten much since the previous Friday. I hadn’t realized that because I was so stressed out, I had eaten close to nothing!
This got me thinking, the science of eating includes emotional processes. Some of us under eat because our appetite and hunger cues disappear, while some of us tend to dive right into a sugary treat (or two)!
We humans are complicated creatures.
If it is from a thought about our worth, emotions about another person, an exam or a reaction to any stressful situation, our hormones shift and our brains respond to it. So whether we are hungry for a hug or hungry for a burger, our body has a cascade of hormones that alerts us to this need. We may just misinterpret which one our body wants.
Appetite, as opposed to hunger, is the desire to eat. The trick is to learn the difference between an emotional appetite and true hunger. This kind of mindful eating can be tricky at first – the key is to be as present as possible! Take a breath, consciously slow down and be honest with yourself. Whether you are an emotional over eater or an emotional under eater, here are a few tips and tricks to know how to manage your food mood!
Drink a glass of water: Sometimes our bodies confuse thirst and hunger. Simply drinking a glass of water can help you become present and consciously think about what you’re doing and why you feel the way you do.
Sit down: Eat your food from a plate or a bowl at the table with utensils. You don’t need a formal dining room or the finest china cutlery, but the act of sitting down for a meal sends a message that ‘we are eating now’ so that all your senses can play along with the act of nourishing your body.
Eliminate electronics: Sure you can flip through channels with one hand and shovel food into your mouth with the other, but that’s a terrible idea! When we are distracted while eating we don’t feel satisfied afterwards. We end up mindlessly consuming extra calories that don’t really nourish our bodies. Eat first, watch later. So, cell phones off, tv off, music off, table, chair, fork and knife, plate, you… and that’s all!
Eat slowly, chew well: Turns out it is not just good manners, but it is good for our health too! Learn to put the fork down between bites, and chew your food well (32 times for those of you wondering). All the better to savour every bite!
Small frequent meals: You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again. Eating 5-6 small frequent meals a day will leave your blood sugar levels stable, leaving both your stomach and mood satisfied. This one is particularly important for those that avoid food during emotional times. We know you don’t feel like eating large meals, so just getting something small into your stomach will ensure no drops in your blood sugar levels (which will actually worsen your mood!) and start re-stimulating your hunger cues.
Don’t forget to eat your rainbow of fruits and vegetables: Research has found that vitamins and minerals have been linked to fatigue, depression and an inability to concentrate. So load your plate up with with mood supporting fruits and veg!
Be stubborn: Remember that you’ve deliberately decided to make your physical and mental health a priority! Be relentless in that commitment.
It is important to remember that food cannot permanently change our emotional state. Sure, eating something might provide a momentary distraction and fleeting pleasure. But whatever emotion we are facing – happiness, frustration, anger, fear, worry, sadness, boredom – will continue to exist after we’ve eaten. In many cases, depending on what you eat and how much you eat, we could actually worsen our emotional state. Food itself cannot be a permanent balm of our feelings.
The most important thing is that we feel in control and are aware of why we are eating and to keep the dialogue going between you and your stomach!
Stay tuned for the next article, all about how to tell if you’re really hungry or not!