Do you ever feel like when you’re stressed, emotional, or bored that you reach for food? There is a reason why we all have our comfort foods. Everyone in small ways comfort eats, like eating some chocolate when we are hormonal or reaching for chips and beer after a stressful day. In small doses this is fine and can be a form of your body wanting to nourish yourself. However, this can turn into emotional eating or habits that can lead to poor health, weight gain, or addictions. In Ayurveda, unprocessed emotions and food become Ama (toxins) in your body. The Ama gets stored in our fat cells. Overeating decreases our Agni (digestive fire), which creates more Ama. Thus, a cycle begins. Emotional eating leads to imbalances for our body, gut health, and lowers are immunity. It becomes problematic when it is the main way you soothe or calm down. There are many reasons why many people reach for food during stress. Understanding the reasons why food is comforting can help us discern why we are eating, if it is not for physical hunger.
Everyone faces stress no matter if you are a college student or working professional. Biologically when you become stressed your body releases large amounts of a stress hormone called cortisol. The cortisol creates a chemical change in your body and food can help soothe this. This can create cravings for sugar, carbohydrates, and fatty foods.
Eating can be distracting and can help us tune out to whatever we are dealing with emotionally. Eating a bag of chips while watching a show helps to tune out of our environment. The eating of the food almost becomes mechanized. When you reach for food, take a second to breathe and be aware if there is something you want to distract yourself from.
Many people have become conditioned to believe food can ease our pain. This is a natural and healthy instinct as food can be very nourishing. However, when that conditioning comes from media advertisements on the therapeutic qualities of food it can be dangerous. Candies and cheeseburgers won’t help us find “bliss”, “happiness”, or “paradise”. These qualities are cultivated within.
When we become stressed or busy we reach for foods that are convenient to us. Vending machines, fast food, frozen foods tend to be what people gravitate towards for convenience. However, most of these foods are highly processed and can lead to a spike and a fall of blood sugar. When dealing with anxiety or boredom, food is often reached for as entertainment. Food can fill gaps in time and help “support” us when dealing with complex emotions. “Food prep” is an easy way to help this problem. If you are often on the go at lunch, it can help if you prepare your lunches in advance. If you do meal prep try to do it for 2-3 days in advance. After three days the food loses its prana (life force) and is not good for you. A good meal prep idea is rice with vegetables.
Food can also be linked to positive childhood memories. If we are sad, stressed, or down and we eat macaroni and cheese or home baked cookies, it can trigger positive or comfortable memories or feelings. On the other side of that, if as a child we went through trauma and reached for food for comfort, then emotionally eating can be an ingrained pattern.
Food is our nourishment. We can cultivate healthier eating habits and relationships to food with time and practice.Give yourself compassion when dealing with emotional eating and try journal, yoga, drinking tea, or calling a friend when feeling stressed or emotional.