Recently, a client who is dealing with a recent Type II diabetes diagnosis told me about a frustrating experience that included an unexpected tax bill. “What did you do then?” I asked.
She gave me a sheepish look and then answered: “I stopped at an ice cream place and had a big old hot fudge pecan sundae, and then I felt better. And then I felt awful.”
The lesson here? Hunger is only one of the reasons we eat.
And with holiday eating going on all around us, all those “tidings of comfort and joy” – as well as the holiday stress – are sure to get translated into too many carbs and sugar.
Eating can also be a reaction to the way we are feeling emotionally, so that emotions can become a motivator for eating. I have clients who report that they are “depression eaters” or “stress eaters.” When they are feeling sad or lonely, or overwhelmed, they might be tempted to buddy up with Ben & Jerry, and consume a pint or two of their favorites. Clients have also told me stories about getting mad and having a Big Mac attack, and attacking a Big Mac. Or feeling helpless and out of control, and wrestling with a slab of banana cream pie (my personal favorite…). Or stress that leads to the desire to dive into a bag of potato chips to ride out the storm.
No argument here: food can certainly be an effective bandage to cover uncomfortable emotions, at least temporarily. But the evidence isn't so easy to overcome. And that’s bad news to someone dealing with diabetes.
While diet and willpower are critical, it might also be helpful to get a handle on your emotions, to understand how your emotions can become a trigger for destructive eating habits.
Triggers? To get started, think about those times when you are most likely to go off your diet. What’s going on emotionally when you get hit with a sudden craving for forbidden food? You might want to do your own mini-analysis of emotional triggers – anger, frustration, loneliness – as well as environmental triggers – certain people who push the wrong kind of food at you.
Alternatives? Now that you have an idea about your triggers, brainstorm with yourself about some alternative ways of coping with these triggers. Instead of facing off with that cream pie, is there someone you could call and talk to? A favorite activity? Or, you might consider having some healthy snacks around that might help to satisfy that craving. Sure it won’t be quite the same, but the benefits, including the avoidance of the consequences, will be a whole lot better.
Need help? Counseling techniques like CBT (cognitive-behavioral therapy) and mindfulness practices can help you to recognize how you are feeling emotionally, to be proactive about protecting yourself from getting too deep into emotional states like depression and out of control anger, and also to develop alternatives ways of coping with emotions that don't involve food.
You can develop healthy alternatives to reacting to emotional eating triggers!
Now… any techniques to share for dealing with food cravings? Inquiring minds want to know. At least my inquiring mind does!
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