Comfort Food and Stress Eating

When you are stressed, angry or depressed, what is your go-to coping activity? Is it food? Stress eating is a maladaptive behavior and is only a temporary fix. How can you stop? It is much more difficult than “just say no”. When you eat comfort food, usually comprised of processed carbs high in sugar and fat, your body has a biochemical response. Processed carbs, especially sugar, react on your brain’s reward pathway similar to alcohol and other drugs. To ultimately stop comfort eating, one must sever these reward pathways. This involves a complicated cascade of chemical reactions including but not limited to insulin, leptin, and ghrelin. To keep it simple, avoid processed carbs, especially sugar, until these pathways (synapses) in the brain are disconnected. This can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks. It is possible, however; to change your brain, so when triggered, you will no longer crave sugary, salty junk food. I speak from experience. At night to de-stress from the day, I used to snack on salty foods, usually chips. I replaced chips with fresh cut vegetables for about 30 to 60 days. After this period, I ate chips one night to see if they would still give me the same comfort. They no longer tasted good. In fact, they tasted like chemicals. I hate wasting money, but threw the bag of chips in the trash. Taste can change. So what do you do in the mean time while waiting for the synapses to disconnect?

Instead of trying to stop and merely abstain from eating when your upset, you need to replace it with another activity that is soothing and rewarding. At night, I stretch before bed or while watching Netflix. Stretching releases hormones that are calming. As a personal trainer, I love a good workout. For me, there’s nothing better than a hard workout when I’m angry. Exercises releases endorphins and other “feel good” hormones. Sometimes I’ll go hiking to center myself. Explore and find what works for you. There are many healthy coping strategies such as; painting, writing, working on cars or model airplanes. Any kind of hobby can work. Experiment and have fun.

Be consistent and you can change!

Sharon Powell

Female Fitness Trainer

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