If you've ever had the urge to eat your feelings, well, you're just like the rest of us. No matter your emotional trigger, here's how to cope - with both better food choices, and by getting to the heart of the problem. By Holly Corbett, REDBOOK.
The emotion: Anger
The food craving: crunchy foods like potato chips When you're angry, it's natural to reach for the crunchy, salty stuff. Potato chips, nuts, and snack mix all help satisfy that gnawing feeling, says Susan Albers, Psy.D., psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and author of Eating Mindfully. It's a basic instinct - all animals tend to bare their teeth and clench their jaws when they feel angry or threatened.
The healthy-food swap Munching can be soothing and give you a release, so try a healthy alternative like baked tortilla chips with salsa, carrots dipped in hummus, or sugar-free licorice. Clenching and unclenching your jaw can also help release some tension.
The eating alternative While you may be tempted to complain to a pal to let off steam, research shows that venting can sometimes make you dwell more, not less. A better strategy is to find a release. "Distract yourself with another activity to get your mind off what's bothering you, such as taking a jog to work off some adrenaline," says Dr. Albers. If you have some sitting around, popping bubble wrap can be a surprisingly cathartic quick-fix.
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The emotion: Loneliness
The food craving: ice cream You may dive into a pint of the cold stuff to soothe yourself while your family's away, or after a friend cancels plans you were looking forward to. "It may be because dairy has calming and sedative properties," says Dr. Albers. "It may also be a pop culture association that has evolved - almost every breakup movie features a woman eating ice cream right out of the carton."
The healthy-food swap The guilt that often follows a pint of ice cream doesn't kick loneliness, so go for nonfat Greek yogurt instead. "It still provides comforting creaminess, but also has protein, which is energizing, and less sugar, which keeps glucose levels steady," says Dr. Albers. If you're craving something like a banana split, try sliced bananas topped with whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel and slivered almonds.
The eating alternative "We can't make food our primary relationship, so the only cure for loneliness is to find connection," says Dr. Albers. "If it's 2 a.m. and you can't call a friend, Facebook is great way to connect with others. You can also write a letter the old fashioned way with paper and a pencil telling someone how much they mean to you."
The emotion: Boredom
The food craving: snack foods You thought a day without plans would be relaxing, but too much downtime leaves you bored, and draws you to foods you can munch mindlessly, such as popcorn or bite-size candies.
The healthy-food swap Try eating something with a dash of spicy pepper to keep your test buds busy. "It can wake up all of your senses so you're not zoning out," says Dr. Albers. Or pop a piece of sugar-free candy or two or three chocolate chips into your mouth. "This delay can give you enough time to distract yourself, and for the urge to pass," says Dr. Albers.
The eating alternative "Boredom eating is a big problem in our culture," says Dr. Albers. "With constant texting and social media browsing, it's hard to have a quiet moment without feeling the need to fill it in with an activity. Eating is entertaining and fill gaps in time." Instead of trying to entertain yourself in every single empty moment, close your eyes, let your body completely relax, and simply stay still. Ask yourself, is there some unfulfilled dream or passion you might be stopping yourself from trying? Instead of eating, take steps to start working on it.
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The emotion: Anxiety
The food craving: chocolate Hershey bar looking like a good companion to your feelings? "Chocolate has many chemical properties that give us a little emotional buzz, such as a release of the feel-good chemicals dopamine and serotonin," says Dr. Albers.
The healthy-food swap Instead of plowing through an entire plate of brownies, make sugar-free chocolate pudding with skim milk, or swap a milk chocolate candy bar for a glass of chocolate milk. However, keep in mind that chocolate contains caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety. Cool foods such as sugar-free popsicles or frozen grapes are a calming alternative.
The eating alternative "When you're anxious, your body moves into panic mode. Your heart beats faster and breathing quickens," says Dr. Albers. Yoga can help by settling your thoughts and naturally slowing an increased heart rate so you can bring back a more rational frame of mind. The next time you're anxious, try spending a few minutes deep breathing in child's pose to channel instant stillness and peace.
The emotion; Sadness
The food craving: comfort food Mac and cheese from childhood brings back happy memories, so you turn to it for reassurance when feeling sad.
The healthy-food swap Instead of reaching for traditional comfort food picks such as mashed potatoes, try steamed cauliflower mashed with a tablespoon of olive oil. And instead of heavy mac and cheese, make whole-wheat pasta with nonfat milk, low-fat extra sharp cheese, and chopped broccoli.
The eating alternative Flipping through old photos to relive happy memories, like your wedding day or favorite family vacation, may be a better pick-me-up than eating. When researchers in the United Kingdom looked at how much people's moods rose after either eating a chocolate snack, sipping an alcoholic drink, watching TV, listening to music, or looking at personal photos, they found the winner was viewing pictures - by a long shot.
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The emotion: Stress
The food craving: carbs When you're stressed, your body releases a flood of cortisol, the fight-or-flight hormone, which makes you crave the energy that carb-rich foods like French fries, cakes or cookies provide
The healthy-food swap "Foods that regulate your blood sugar a are must when you're stressed out," says Dr. Albers. "My favorite food for stress relief is pistachios because they help keep blood sugar levels steady for energy; are the nuts lowest in calories and fat; and buying them in shells makes you automatically slow down when you eat them so you don't consume as many."
The eating alternative Replace food with activities that naturally reduce your cortisol levels, such as sipping a soothing cup of black tea. A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology found that the beverage helps reduce cortisol levels by 47 percent.
The emotion: Happiness
The food craving: holiday foods When happy, you may reach for flavors linked with celebrations, such as cupcakes and apple pie, because our brains associate them with joyful times.
The healthy-food swap Instead of devouring a container of cupcakes, have a serving of frozen yogurt, complete with rainbow sprinkles. You'll associate the colors and taste with a birthday party, and hold onto that festive feeling.
The eating alternative "It's a myth that we only emotionally eat when we are sad, angry, or upset," says Dr. Albers. "We eat in response to any emotion, and sometimes we reach for food to try to hold onto feelings of joy for longer." Try to find alternative ways to remain blissed out, such as tweeting at friends to share the good times in your life.
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