If you’re an emotional eater, food may seem like a comfort during tough times. A new study looks at how comforting comfort food really is.
When you’re feeling sad or stressed, do you tend to drown your sorrows in a bowl of ice cream or bag of chips? So many of us are emotional eaters, but it turns out that those heaps of comfort food may actually just be helping us kill time.
Researchers at the University of Minnesota asked participants to tell them what foods they found most comforting. They showed those participants upsetting videos, then let them eat their self-proclaimed comfort foods. The researchers found that while subjects’ moods did improve, it didn’t happen any faster than with the subjects in the control group.
So, what does that mean? For an emotional eater, it means that the food we find comfort in probably isn’t really what’s helping.
I also think, though, that for an emotional eater it doesn’t really matter. Sure, we can know in our hearts that a bar of rich, dark chocolate isn’t going to make us feel better. But is that going to help us in the moment?
Jill Ettinger wrote about this study on emotional eating for our sister site Eat Drink Better, and I think that she brings up a really important point. We can’t eat our feelings in the moment, but there is research showing that we can eat for overall happiness. She points to a recent study showing that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables boosts overall mood.
Will that help an emotional eater during a triggering event? Maybe not. But could having a generally higher base mood take the edge off when you’re facing an upsetting situation?
Arming ourselves with a little toolbox can’t hurt, right? Here are some calming activities to try before turning to the ice cream:
+ Go for a walk or a run.
+ Try some soothing yoga breathing.
+ Practice gratitude to offset those bad feelings.
Of course, these things are easier said, right? I think that for an emotional eater the most important tool we can have is forgiveness. If you beat yourself up for eating that pint of ice cream, you’re setting yourself up for even more emotional eating.
Are you an emotional eater? The tricks above sometimes work for me, but sometimes I give in to the call of the chocolate bar. What tricks work for you?
If you feel like your emotional eating is out of control, little tricks like these may not be enough. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating, I know that there’s a difference between eating candy when you’re sad once in a while and feeling completely out of control when it comes to food. If you think that you may fall into the latter category, I hope that you’ll seek help. NEDA is a great place to start.
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