How Sugar and Fat Feed Emotional Eating
In times of need, most of seek solace in a slice of pizza, or can’t wait to get our hands on some good ole’ fashioned sweets. But when it comes to emotional eating, how do these foods loaded with sugar and fat affect our emotional state? What actually causes us to crave these types of foods when we are depressed or stressed out?
“When it comes to our diet, sugar and fat seem to help us cope with intense periods of high stress,” says Tessa Prior-Pullins, one of the lead dietitians for BistroMD. “Even though these types of foods seem to calm our nerves, there is no definite scientific reason as to why we turn to these foods for comfort.”
In a new study conducted by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, however, there appears to be a direct link between hormones in our stomach, communicating the need for sugar and fat to our brains.
“Up until this point, most research about emotional eating has been focused on the experience of eating—tastes, smells, and textures,” says Tessa. “This study is unique because the experience of eating food is eliminated entirely. Volunteers of the study were actually fed through an unmarked stomach tube.”
So, what exactly did this new study conclude about emotional eating, and how do cravings for sugar and fat fill an emotional void? Our expert explains.
All in Your Head?
“Even in this type of artificial setting, the volunteers negative emotions of sadness and anxiety seemed to dissipate when they were fed certain ‘junk’ foods,” says Tessa. “The results seemed to prove that the volunteers were more upbeat when they were full with foods containing saturated fat.”
The results of this study are the first to show that emotional eating may operate on a biological as well as psychological level. Instead of the stereotypical notion that emotional eating is ‘all in your head’ the results of this study may prove otherwise.
This study may actually be one of the few to prove that the effect of food on your mood may be related to biology.
Is Your Stomach Emotional Too?
Most of us would think that our stomachs are emotional based on the noises they make sometimes, but what if this was actually the case?
“This study actually reveals that hormones in our stomach could contribute to our cravings for high sugar and fat foods,” says Tessa. “This is especially true during high periods of emotional stress. This could help explain why so many of us have those uncontrollable cravings for certain foods in tough times.”
Researchers at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases also believe this is one of the contributing factors to the rapidly rising obesity rates across the nation.
“This signal sent from our stomachs to our brains could indicate why it is so difficult for us to avoid food cravings in such stressful times,” says Tessa. “Evolution has actually made every aspect of eating more enjoyable for us—from the taste, to the sight, and even the sound. During stressful times, this can actually cause our stomachs to crave more of a certain food, signaling to our brains that it's time to eat.”
Divide and Conquer?
Even though foods high in sugar and fat tend to send us into an emotional eating frenzy, there are steps and measures you can take to avoid succumbing to your food desires.
“Contrary to popular belief, there are healthy foods out there that can fill your emotional void for junk food,” says Tessa. “Foods high in antioxidants—like strawberries—have shown to have a significant calming effect on both stress levels and feelings of anxiety.”
To conquer your food cravings, having a healthy mind set is especially important. Practicing techniques like yoga, and even just exercising on a daily basis can prevent your mind from desiring unhealthy foods. This can then cause your stomach to crave healthier options.
“Eating a well-balanced diet with a proper combination of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats can help boost your mood significantly,” says Tessa. “Salmon, for example, contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have shown to improve mood, as well as providing significant boosts in energy levels.”
Whatever the study, emotional eating can be conquered just by making a significant effort to make better choices.
For more tips from BistroMD’s team of experts, please visit our healthy facts section for more information.
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