Do You Eat When You’re Anxious? Try This…

Do you often turn to food when you’re feeling anxious?

There are many reasons why you might do so, such as:

  • Dopamine: Food can be soothing due to the chemical changes it produces in your body.

    The act of eating—especially highly pleasurable foods like chocolate, cheese, cupcakes and chips—releases the feel-good chemical dopamine into your bloodstream.
     
  • Distraction: Eating can distract you from whatever is troubling you. 

    I have a friend who bakes cookies when she’s anxious. The time it takes to go grocery shopping then make, bake and eat the cookies easily provides two to three hours of distraction.

    Plus, she gets a dopamine hit from not only accomplishing something, but also from the pleasure provided by the cookies’ sight, smell and taste.
     
  • Conditioning: Perhaps you were taught from a young age to turn to food for comfort.

    You may have been conditioned by a well-meaning parent who gave you cookies and milk to soothe your worries, or by media messages that promised relief in a bowl of ice cream, basket of fries or bottle of wine.

Even though it may not seem like it, turning to food to alleviate your anxiety is actually a form of self-care. You’re simply trying to make yourself feel better—and your strategy often works, albeit temporarily.

Don't Fret, Try This Instead
When you feel anxious, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode.

Your rational brain shuts down and your primitive brain takes over. Your ability to think, reason and consider the long-term consequences of your actions is diminished. You basically go offline.

The fastest, simplest way to come back online is by pausing and taking a few deep breaths.

This will shift your body from the stress response to the relaxation response, the state you need to be in to reactivate your rational brain and make more thoughtful, intentional decisions.

You can take three to four long, slow breaths, or practice a more formal breathing exercise.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 Breathing Technique. I teach it to all of my clients, who find it extremely helpful with reducing their anxiety and emotional eating.

Do You Suck It In?

Growing up, my summers were spent at the neighborhood pool. I have very fond memories of playing Marco Polo with my pals, perfecting my swan dive, and snacking on frozen candy bars and sour taffy. 

I also have a very vivid memory of one of my girlfriends. I’ll call her Kim. She was about 13 years old at the time.

To this day, I can still see Kim walking down the diving board and around the pool deck in her magenta one-piece swimsuit sucking in her stomach like crazy. 

I was struck by Kim’s vigilance and unwavering determination to reveal nothing but a perfectly flat stomach. We never talked about it, but I could sense how strongly she felt her body wasn’t acceptable unless she shape shifted it to fit a cultural ideal. 

Protection from Rejection
Of course, I can totally relate to Kim's actions. Maybe you can, too. 

There have been many times over the years that I either intentionally or subconsciously walked around chronically sucking in my stomach.

I felt it was critical to hide this protruding part of myself that I feared others would find unattractive and label as a weakness, ultimately leading them to reject me. 

Deeply ingrained, I still sometimes catch myself resorting to this tactic when feeling vulnerable. Unlike my butt or thighs, I can instantly suck in my gut.

By controlling the size of my stomach, I mistakenly believe I can control a world full of uncertainty, including how others perceive me and the degree to which they admire, accept and love me.

Liberate Yourself
As you pull on your swimsuit this summer, you may find yourself also getting pulled into the false stories about what the size of your belly (or butt, thighs, arms, etc.) says about you.

Such toxic thoughts can trap you in a negative mindset that drives you to relentlessly beat yourself up for not having the "perfect" body while missing out on all the fun.   

Instead, what if you used this moment as a life-changing opportunity to liberate yourself from the conditioning and beliefs that are no longer serving you? 

It takes courage and commitment to change your relationship with your body, to accept and love yourself even when you don't always like what you see in the mirror, to let go of what others might be thinking of you, to let it all hang out.

But, in the words of one of my beloved healers and authors, Mary O’Malley…

"Nothing less than freedom comes when you can let go of being somebody that needs to be different in order to be okay." 

What to Eat When You're Feeling Scattered, Gloomy or Moody

My client Julie once arrived at her session feeling very unsettled and overwhelmed due to her recent apartment move. I sent her away with a seemingly unconventional prescription for sweet potatoes. She ate some that night and immediately felt more grounded.
 
More Than Fuel
Food is far more than just fuel. We tend to think of it in terms of nutrients, calories, good or bad. How often do you consider its energetic quality?
 
All food has unique energetic properties that affect your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. When, where and how it's grown, raised, produced or prepared determines its essential character and the energy it imparts.
 
By understanding food energetics, you can prepare balance-restoring meals based on the energy particular foods create in your body.
 
Let's take a look at vegetables.
 
Plant Prescriptions
The direction a vegetable grows can impart the same qualities in you when consuming it. Here are a few plant prescriptions for when you're feeling...
 
Scattered or Overstimulated
Root Vegetables: Because they grow in the ground, root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips and beets have a strong downward energy. Eating these hearty vegetables can help you feel more focused, anchored and grounded.
 
Gloomy or Tense
Dark Leafy Greens: Kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, beet greens and other dark leafy greens grow upward collecting energy from the sun. Eating these chlorophyll-rich foods infuses your blood with oxygen, ultimately boosting your mood and spirits.

Light and cleansing, they also supply your body with flexible energy and remove physical and emotional toxins literally helping you lighten up.
 
Moody or Erratic Energy
Squashes and Gourds: To maintain an even keel, eat veggies that grow at ground level like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, pumpkin and edible gourds. These can help steady your mood and energy level.
 
You Are What You Eat
A food's life force directly impacts your quality of life. By selecting foods based on their energetic qualities, you can better nourish not only your body but also your soul.