An article published in the July/August 2013 issue of USA Gymnastics Magazine was written by Karen Owoc, a highly credentialed authority on exercise. Karen shares great information on why we eat what we eat when we eat it. Please enjoy her article provide below.
As an athlete, you burn countless calories, but even so, you’re not immune to gaining weight. While food fuels your muscle, it also feeds your feelings. When eating is triggered by an emotion rather than physiological hunger, it’s known as “emotional eating.” It comes at a cost to your health and here are some of the causes, dangers and solutions.
Emotional eating is distinctly different from physical hunger. It strikes suddenly, whereas the rumblings of physiological hunger occur gradually. Emotional hunger is a psychological need to fill a void and generally involves a craving for a specific food, i.e., “comfort food.” On the other hand, physiological hunger can be satisfied by any variety of foods and isn’t focused on one particular item.
Comfort foods are foods that you crave to obtain a good feeling when you’re in a negative mood, such as when you’re angry or depressed. But you may also reach for comfort foods to sustain good, positive emotions, such as when you’re happy, relieved or elated. Comfort foods become dangerous when they’re unhealthy choices. The most popular comfort foods for women are ice cream, chocolate and cookies, whereas men tend to gravitate toward pizza, steak, casseroles and chips.
When physiological hunger is satisfied, you’re more likely to stop eating, whereas when you’re eating to satisfy an emotional need, you’re more likely to continue earing past the point of being full. Emotional over-eating often results in feelings of guilt and defeat if you’re trying to lose weight. These feelings can trigger yet another emotional eating binge.
When you’re eating emotionally and not when you physiologically need food, you’ll ted to consume more calories than your body needs. If these extra calories aren’t used, they’ll be stored as fat, which can eventually lead to health problems, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Managing your Emotions
Children who are given food as a reward or to cope with emotions, wuch as cookies or ice cream to “cheer them up,” never learn to manage their emotions. When food becomes their friend and their only strategy to resolve emotional distress, they risk the associated dangers of overeating and unhealthy eating.
Know Your Triggers
Take ownership of your emotions and health. Dealing with emotions is a skill that’s learned. Triggers often include; loneliness, boredom, sadness, fear, frustration, stress, depression, depravation, anxiety, shame, lack of control, avoidance and defeat. When you have the urge to eat emotionally, consider the following alternatives to cope:
- Express your emotions rather than shove them down with food. Call a friend or write about your feelings in a private journal.
- Get physical or productive. Get some fresh air! Go for a walk, play with your pet or play a game. (Exercise helps release endorphins that trigger feelings of well-being.) Wash the car, help around the house, do laundry or redecorate your room.
- Calm yourself. Do yoga or meditate.
- Seek help. Individual or group counseling may be effective in coping with emotional stress.
- Find ways to have fun and laugh.
- Be aware of your behavior. Be careful not to substitute your emotional coping mechanism [eating] with one that can lead to another negative out-of-control (addictive) behavior.
The solution to emotional eating is to first recognize it as well as identify a pattern. The next time you have the urge to eat:
- Stop and ask yourself if you’re physically hungry.
- Then rate your level of hunger I a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being ravenous and 1 being barely hungry).
- Next, rate your mood. Are you happy, sad, lonely, bored, stressed, etc.?
- Then note what food you’re craving.
This exercise will help you identify whether your need to eat is emotional or physiological, which emotions trigger you to eat, and which emotions are associated with particular foods.
It’s not necessary to completely eliminate comfort foods from your eating plan Eat them in moderation. If you can satisfy a craving with a few spoonfuls of ice cream versus a whole pint, then that’s okay. The key is to learn how to manage your emotions and control the cravings.
About the author: Karen Owoc is a writer, producer and television host with her own television show. She is a Health News Reporter/Anchor, exercise Physiologist, Cardiac Rehabilitation Exercise and Green Living Specialist. Karen is a Clinical Exercise Physiologist certified by the American College of Sports Medicine in Health Fitness Instruction and the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Click here to read more about Karen.
This article was originally published in the July/August 2013 issue of USA Gymnastics Magazine.