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Emotional eating? Try these instant feel-good alternatives

By Wendell Fowler

Not so much anymore, but when I used to get stressed or world-weary from all the hate, fear and cruel, angry people, I gave myself permission to cheat by eating a piece of chocolate cake, which of course made me feel good. Now I just close my eyes, slowly breathe deeply in and out five times, re-center and enjoy the peaceful rush. Phew, close call!

Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better: to satisfy emotional needs, rather than hunger. You might reach for a pint of chocolate ice cream when you’re feeling down, order a pizza if you’re bored or lonely, or swing by the drive-through after a stressful day.

Do you eat your emotions? Do you eat more when you’re stressed about politics? Grim TV news broadcasts, or what someone said to you today that hurt? Do you mindlessly eat when you’re not hungry, to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, or worried? Do you reward yourself with food until you’re, urp, bloated? Does food make you feel safe? Is food a friend? Do you feel powerless around food? It’s true, eating particular foods can temporarily silence anger, fear, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, resentment and shame … emotions you’d rather not feel.

Like addictive drugs, foods rich in sugar, fat and salt trigger feel-good, emotion-numbing chemicals such as dopamine. Once people experience the “high” associated with increased dopamine, they crave more. Food addicts become dependent upon the “feel good” obtained from eating certain foods, which often perpetuates a continued need to eat, even when not hungry. These behaviors generate a vicious cycle as the food addict continues gorging foods that bring pleasurable feelings. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter in the human brain which makes you feel good. When you don’t have enough dopamine, you’ll crave foods that make you happy. Then again, having too much dopamine can lead to addiction, which makes it harder to lose weight.

If you’re depressed, lonely, stressed, or got the blues, for goodness sake, call someone who always makes you feel better about yourself, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento. Expend your nervous energy by dancing freely to your favorite song when no one is looking, squeezing a stress ball, whack a golf ball, or take a brisk walk in nature. And breathe deeply! Together, we can complete our journey to perfect health and awakening. You are a miracle!

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