Eating Healthy When You Don’t Feel Like It
Emotional eating is problematic for many of us. When stress goes up, food and calories often go up as well. When depression sets in, we often use food as a way to stop the hurt. This is where we get the phrase “comfort food”. Food has a way of making us feel better since it takes the focus off what is making us feel bad. This is, of course, leads to emotional eating (and emotional over eating).
Using food based on emotion is similar to the way an alcoholic uses alcohol. After a period of emotional eating or a food binge, the results can be similar to an alcohol binge. Feelings of regret, frustration, defeat, emptiness and self-loathing can be very real consequences of emotional eating. Then we feel so bad that we again use food to make us feel better. This begins the cyclical practice of using food to fill a void and make us feel better, yet we ultimately end up feeling far worse than we did before eating. This viscous, damaging cycle often leads to weight gain and can even lead to eating disorders.
It’s important to remember the type of food you eat can raise or lower your serotonin levels – a chemical in the brain that makes you feel good and can have a lasting effect on how you feel throughout the day. Serotonin is made in the brain from the amino acids tryptophan. The more serotonin – the better you feel. So one way to fight depression and stop overeating on unhealthy foods is to choose healthy foods that actually make you physically feel better while allowing you to mentally feel better, too (no guilt after eating these healthy foods!)
Foods that are high in Omega-3 fatty acids aid in fighting depression because they help raise low serotonin levels and lift your mood. Some of these foods are fish such as salmon and mackerel, walnuts, ground flaxseed, andcanola oil. Certain fruits such as cherries, orange, kiwis, pineapples, plantains, plums, tomatoes may also help raise your serotonin. When you have these food choices on hand, it will help you to consciously make a food choice that you know will actually make you “feel better” as it lifts your serotonin, while preventing guilt that might have previously come from using a fatty or sugary choice to “feel better”.
Low blood levels of vitamins B6 and B12 and Folic Acid (folate) can also make you feel tired and depressed. Taking a vitamin B complex can give you more energy particularly if you take it when you are feeling tired. Vitamin B12 is also found in fish, such as salmon and trout, and in fortified whole-grain breakfast cereals. Good sources of folate (another B vitamin) are dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach, citrus fruits, beans, almonds, dairy products, and fortified breakfast cereals. Researchers believe that these two B vitamins help break down the amino acid homocysteine, which is being investigated for a possible link to depression when in high levels.
And did you know that dark chocolate can also be a healthy, mood elevating food choice? Dark chocolate contains antioxidants and increases endorphins, the feel-good hormones. If you can eat just one or two small pieces a day, it’s good for you. But be sure to stop there — a serving of only 1.5 ounces has been shown to be heart-healthy, but eating the whole bar may cause you to pack on extra pounds.
A final food choice that can help is proteins. Protein provides the amino acid tryptophan, which has been shown to improve mood in some people. Good sources of protein are lean meats, fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products. Also, beans and certain nuts have protein and can supply tryptophan to help fight the symptoms of depression.
It’s true that sometimes life can feel overwhelming. It can seem difficult to make good food choices at these times, especially as poor food choices are easy and we can always find reasons for them. “I’m busy, it’s quick, it’s cheap, it tastes good and will make me (at first) feel better”. Fast food and junk food always seems like a more convenient choice when we’re feeling down, especially when it seems difficult to exert the energy to prepare and eat healthy food. It’s at times like this that a different, more beneficial approach to eating healthy can be considered.
Eating healthy should be viewed the same way as brushing your teeth. Most of us wouldn’t consider not brushing our teeth just because we didn’t feel like it. Try making healthy food choices a priority the same as brushing your teeth. If the urge to eat or your emotions are such that you feel you must eat, now is the time to make the conscious choice to eat something healthy (like a serotonin-raising choice!)
One thing that can help is to make a conscious choice to start each day with the intention to eat healthy! Look through the following tips to find some that might help you. Remind yourself that making these choices will improve how you feel about yourself, leading to less depression and stress, which leads to less emotional eating!
• Choose to eat whole grains, fruits and vegetables instead of white bread, chips and candy.
• Eat a healthy breakfast within 1 hour of getting up. Experts say it is the most important meal of the day. Studies show that eating a morning meal improves your memory and energy through out the day.
• Eat multiple small meals through the day. Eat every 2 or 3 hours. Eating through out the day will sustain your energy and mood.
• Give yourself healthy snacks. Examples of healthy snacks are:
– An apple – Small piece of cheese – ½ of protein bar- Cherry tomatoes – ½ a banana – Handful of baby carrots -Celery and hummus- Raw Almonds
• Plan ahead. Have healthy snacks with you in the car or in your purse so that you will not be tempted to eat junk food. We recommend keeping a bag of raw almonds in the car.
• Substitute whole grains for white carbohydrates.
• Exercise for 30 minutes 3 to 4 times a week. Exercise releases endomorphins, a chemical in your brain that makes you feel good.
Another thing to consider is WHY you want to eat. Get in the habit of analyzing your true motivation for eating. The moment you say to yourself, “I want food”, stop and think about why you want food. Are you truly hungry? Then you’ll be able to make a conscious and healthy food choice. But if an apple doesn’t sound good, and you’d rather throw those almonds out the car window instead of eating them, you might be wanting to eat due to being bored, lonely, sad, stressed or depressed. It’s at times like this that getting away from food altogether may be necessary to avoid the temptation of making bad choices. But how do you get away from bad food choices when they’re everywhere?
One quick and easy way is to divert your attention from food. Something as simple as a quick phone call to a friend can help. Try taking a walk around the block, participate in your favorite hobby; you can even indulge in something you seldom make time for, such as reading a good book, or luxuriating in an afternoon bubble bath! If you do this, the desire to eat will pass and you will forget about eating to soothe your feelings.
Diverting your attention from eating by using exercise when you’re feeling depressed can be especially beneficial for you emotionally. Exercise gets the endorphins flowing, and endorphins have a way of changing a bad, sad or bored mood into a good one, making you feel better overall. Although exercise may be the last thing you feel like doing when you’re feeling down, it’s most definitely a worthwhile and profitable choice. And if you reward your body with something good, your mind and emotions will return the favor!
We may not always feel like making good food choices or eating healthy. In fact, eating unhealthy may be just what we feel like doing. So keep in mind that when your emotions start to rise and unhealthy food is looking good, perhaps you need to do something different than simply adjust your food: perhaps an attitude adjustment is what is really necessary! And a great way to start this healthy thinking (and eating!) is to begin to train yourself to eat healthy while you’re feeling good. That way, when you do have moments of stress or depression, you will remind yourself instinctively to choose alternative and constructive choices instead of food to use to heal yourself emotionally.
A great help to starting each day with the intention of eating healthy is to give yourself a daily affirmation. Pick an affirmation from the list below or make up or own. Repeat the affirmation to yourself through out the day. Remember, take it ONE DAY AT A TIME, focusing only on the day – let go and forgive yourself for whatever happened yesterday, do not think about mistakes you might make tomorrow, only focus on TODAY.
Today I will make time for a nutritious breakfast because I deserve it.
Today I choose to eat healthily because I love myself.
Today I will eat for nutrition, not because I’m stressed, bored or sad.
Today, I choose to not deprive myself of wearing my skinny jeans!
Today I will substitute a bad food choice for a good one.
Today I choose to replace a sugary snack with a healthy one.
Today I will discover a new fruit.
Today I will enjoy a new vegetable.
Today I will make wise food choices.
Today, I am going to nourish myself with water, exercise and healthy food.
I forgive myself for overeating yesterday. I will make healthier choices today and be proud of myself.
It is difficult to break the cycle of eating unhealthy food choices or overeating in general when we’re sad or depressed. But remind yourself that it is not impossible. Start each day fresh and new with the determination that you CAN do this. Be determined to reverse an unhealthy eating cycle into a healthy one!
Written by Athena Thomas