Why Unwinding with Food can Backfire

unwinding with food does not work
 

Have you ever reach for a glass of wine after a long day? Or a bag of chips?
Do you find that you feel just as tired or stressed after eating? 
Although food can sometimes be a comfort, it rarely decreases stress or fatigue (unless of course you are hungry and lacking calories).

Reaching for food to unwind at the end of a long day usually backfires. Not only does it rarely help with boosting energy levels, but some people become more stressed once they start to think about the calories they ate. This is especially true for people who don’t eat intuitively or are chronic dieters. If you are counting calories or are desperately trying to lose weight, any overeating or indulgence usually evokes panic. Feeling like any unplanned eating is a catastrophe tends to make things worse, evoking feelings of “what the heck, I’ve already ruined my diet, I might as well keep eating”. Whereas if you eat intuitively, you are likely to stop eating before getting too full, you may naturally compensate at the next meal and are generally more comforted by food.

If eating doesn’t help you feel better, you’ve essentially wasted that precious time you could have spent doing something that would actually help you feel better. Next time, before reaching for something to eat or drink, take a moment to think about what you are feeling. If you are not hungry, will food make you feel better? Has this way of relaxing or de-stressing ever worked? Ask yourself “what am I going to get out of eating this?” or “how do I want to feel afterwards and is this the best route to feeling better?” before eating mindlessly.

Before eating for comfort, as yourself “what am I going to get out of eating this?” – tweet this!

In fact, a study published in Health Psychology found that so-called comfort foods didn’t actually comfort participants any more than other foods did or even more than those who ate no food. 
In this study, the participants were given a food they found comforting, a food they enjoyed but didn’t expect to be comforting and no food at all. They were instructed to rate their mood after watching a video and found that the results were the same across the board- comfort food did not improve mood better than other foods or no food. Often, an improved mood was wrongly associated with eating a comfort food, when in reality it did not better than other foods or even no food at all. Moreover, the amount of food eaten did not affect mood so there was no correlation between the amount eaten and the comfort received. They also found no correlation between the expected degree of comfort and a change in mood. In other words, even though participants thought some foods would comfort them more, they did not.
Although this study was not a very big one, it raises some interesting questions!

To help cut down on mindless eating or eating food to help relieve stress, try taking a moment to reflect before eating. Take a deep breath, check in with your stomach (are you really hungry?) as well as with your thoughts and feelings. What are feeling or thinking right now? What is going on around you? (is anything influencing you to reach for food when not hungry such as other people eating or drinking?). Give yourself permission to eat, if that is what you really want to do- all this exercise is asking you to do is to wait a minute or two before eating. If permission to eat is off the table (so to speak), we are often more panicked and anxious about food. Giving yourself the option to eat or to find another activity that will likely be more efficient at helping you feel better, will allow you to think clearly about what you really want to do. Some of this stems from the “I want what I can’t have ” phenomenon and some of it from the act of rebelling against strict food rules.

Here is a fantastic list of things that better nourish our mind when stressed that is from Psychology Today: http://bit.ly/1L3CH2h

This graphic outlines some ways to de-stress without food from this list.

don't unwinding using food


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