Have you ever had an awful day, felt terrible, went home and inhaled an entire package of your favorite comfort food without blinking? Then later thought to yourself, “Why can’t I control my emotions without eating cookies?”
For the sake of this post, we’ll refer to the comfort food as cookies.
We’ve all been there. You’re tired, depressed, and want to be comforted. You remember the last time you felt this way that cookies made you feel better. So you figure you’ll have just one to take the edge off.
The only problem is you can’t stop once you start! It’s a never-ending cycle that seems impossible to break.
There’s a reason for all of this, and you should know it’s not your fault. It’s basic biology and food science teaming up to make us all fatter than we need to be.
What if I told you there’s a way you can control emotions, and it’s as easy as being more selective about what you eat?
Here’s a really quick intro on what actually happens when you eat those cookies, versus when you eat whole foods.
Foods are divided into two types of nutrients. You’ve got micronutrients, which make up your vitamins, minerals and the like. And then you have macronutrients, which are your protein, fat and carbohydrates.
Nature has designed their foods to serve specific nutritional purposes, and as result have specific tastes. As an example, carbohydrate dense fruit is sweet because it shows our bodies it’s a good source of energy. Fatty avocados taste creamy and luscious to show us they have a good source of nutrient dense calories. Salt adds flavor to everything and signals to our bodies that it’ll help conserve fluid our bodies need to function.
Foods that don’t generally taste great, like bitter foods are that way to signal to our bodies they may be toxic. Have you ever met anyone who genuinely liked alcohol the first time they tried it? That’s why.
The pleasure our taste buds experience through being sweet, fatty and salty are our body’s mechanism to know foods are nutritious. Then when our bodies have their fill on the nutrition that they need, it sends a signal that we’re satiated so we stop eating. At least that’s how it works when you’re eating real food the way it’s actually found in nature.
Coming back to the cookies and other packaged goods formulated by food scientists, they also taste sweet, fatty and sometimes salty. This is done purposely to get you to eat more of them (and therefore buy more of them!). But while they are manufactured to include an unnatural excess of all these tastes, they are also devoid of actual nutrients.
They’re loaded with refined flours, sugars, preservatives and additives. So when you’re eating them, your body doesn’t get the nutrition it actually needs from them, which delays your satiation responses. That’s when you blink and you suddenly realize you ate the whole package.
Now let’s talk about how you feel when you eat the cookies, versus eating whole foods.
Our brains pleasure, reward and emotional centers are all interconnected for good reason. Our bodies want us to seek pleasurable stimuli to fulfill it’s basic needs. So often times, pleasurable emotions are tied to such stimuli. This is the basis of food cravings.
Even just thinking of a food like a cookie can start to release dopamine, a “feel good” neurotransmitter into our systems. Because of ths rush, you start thinking about how happy you’ll be once you get the cookie, and it then makes the craving even stronger.
So you finally eat the cookie and your body releases feel good endorphins called opioids which also release those happy, rewarding feelings. They help you feel less stressed, feel relief from your emotions, and just all around good.
Over time with continued conditioning that the cookies will make you feel good, your body starts to actually need the cookies. Not unlike an addict needing alcohol or drugs. You don’t need the cookies, you’re not even hungry!
Stress only adds to the situation. We eat to distract ourselves from stress and to relax. In today’s day and age where our lives are a constant stream of stress, there’s now no off switch. When stressed, that’s when we want to eat for pleasure, so grilled chicken and veggies won’t help you feel better the same way a cookie does.
Sugar, fat and salt literally make you feel better when under stress. So now your body is conditioned to crave cookies to release your stress. What’s worse, is when you get in the cycle of stress eating this way, you then get upset at yourself for eating so many cookies which then causes even more stress.
So how do you break the cycle and start regaining control of your eating habits as well as your emotions again? You can start by trying the following four things.
Four Ways to Control My Emotions With Food Choices
Eat Real Food
This is the number one component to regaining control again. You have to eat real, actual food. As in fruit, veggies, meat, poultry, fish, unrefined oils, nuts, and seeds. I personally prefer to leave whole grains out but so long as you’re eating a whole grain vs. refined, you should be good as well.
It also doesn’t matter if you eat meat or if you’re a vegan or a vegetarian. I was a vegan for many years and found I ate worse because of my reliance on packaged, manufactured mock meat and cheese products. You can get the same results if you ditch the packaged goods and learn to cook with real, whole food ingredients.
Eat Your Macros
Keep all your meals and snacks a healthy balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats. I prefer the Whole30 template for remembering this because it’s the simplest I’ve come across. Shoot for a palm size serving of protein, fill the rest of your plate with veggies, and add 1-2 thumb size portions of a fat like unrefined oils or avocados.
Eat within an hour of waking if you can, and plan for three square meals a day. If you’re following the meal template, you shouldn’t need to snack because your body will get all the signals it needs to be satiated from receiving nutrition from real, whole foods.
If you are really hungry (and not bored, as we sometimes mistake hunger for), then plan a snack that follows the meal template. In the Whole30 world we call it a mini meal.
Manage Your Stress
Since stress is a major trigger in poor eating choices, manage your stress in other ways besides eating cookies. Make sure you get enough sleep, drink water, get some exercise, and meditate to curb your anxiety. Take care of yourself.
In summary, ditch the packaged foods and instead choose to fuel your body with real, whole foods. Also work to manage your stress via self-care. By following these simple suggestions, you’ll be able to break the cycle and control your emotions by being conscious of how you eat.
What’s your comfort food of choice? Leave a comment below. Mine is potato chips, I have to avoid them or I just can’t stop eating them!