Baggages. We carry them everywhere; domestic issues, workplace stress, personal relations, heartburns of the past, and so many more. We shed a few as we travel up, but few baggages land up on our plates and travel straight down to our intestines! The dejected ones call it filling up the emptiness and the health experts implicate it as Emotional Eating: a condition where one uses food to satisfy their emotional hunger rather than their physiological hunger.
Physiological hunger entails:
Emotional eating is purely based upon impulsion rather than nutritional requirement and the sufferer tends to binge upon foods that spike up their blood glucose levels to give a sense of fulfillment. Fries, chips, burgers, pizzas, ice creams, chocolates, cakes are some of the most exploited ones for instant gratification. Fluctuating mood and emotional cues like euphoria, sadness, depression, anxiety or general lack of interest can drive one towards emotional eating, turning food into a reward system for the brain to cope up with oscillating emotions.
This reward system encapsulate 4 aspects:
Emotional eating is not just a temperamental mess to deal with. It has underlying physiological impacts, often long term, if not contained in its early phases. Since taste is the paramount criteria to lure a mind, the foods consumed are hyper-palatabile and act like addictive substances for the brain to generate a sense of pleasure. This hyper-palatability loaded with simple carbs, sweeteners, saturated fats and oils, it is nothing short of a catastrophe in disguise with metabolic disorders and obesity consequentially striking the system at lightning speed.
What exactly goes wrong?
It is all in the brain! Hypothalamus is a tiny part of the brain doing some big stuff out there. Apart from maintaining daily physiological functions, its key function is to regulate hormones, appetite, emotional responses and sexual behaviour. This hypothalamus has a complicated relationship with the ‘satiety hormone’ leptin. Leptin is the hormone for regulating energy expenditure through negative control of feeding. It inhibits appetite or hunger by signaling the hypothalamus when your calorific intake is sufficient enough thereby preventing you from overeating and gaining weight. It is produced liberally by adipocytes or fat cells in a simple mathematical proportion: more the fat cells, more leptin oozed out into the blood stream. By this logic, overweight or obese people should have more leptin floating around and should prohibit them from over- or binge-eating, but this does not happen. Rather, such individuals are more prone to binging and gaining further weight, making this mechanism more complex than it seems. Obesity figures in a walloping compromise on the leptin-hypothalamic axis. It renders the body leptin-resistant. In this condition, leptin, although is secreted normally by the adipocytes in response to high fat content, the brain refuses to acknowledge its presence. The pathophysiology of leptin resistance has not been clearly elucidated although diet-induced hypothalamic inflammation and leptin receptor mutations are considered to be the primary causes of it. As a result, the brain senses starvation while the body suffers obesity. Hunger remains unhindered and continues to bolt the body with more and more calories.
How do you clear the mess?
Staggering back on trail is far less easy than going off-track. There is a monster to tame and you will have to give in, give up and give way to all that has been guzzling you offlate.
Emotional eating is not accomplished overnight. It creeps in stealthily from the dingiest corners of your heart and treks right upto the brain without any noise. The alarming part is that you lose control. It may start with just a handful of peanuts to munch on, moving on to gulping down a shake and before you realize you are neck deep in a tub of icecream!
The other word for emotional eating is self-sabotage. Well, really. The magnitude of damage emotional eating can inflict on you is unimaginable. Once the orb of obesity is created, there is a gargantuan hill to cross. Nevertheless, there is always a plan B. Talk to your therapist, dietician or nutritionist for expert advice. You may have to work upon your emotions and also shed all those extra pounds you gained for polishing off the pizzas and chocolates before rearranging your physiology. Developing and practicing strategies to cope with the emotional turmoils are not always easy, yet achievable. Be gentle to yourself and tell yourself more than often than you can do it. Let not your emotions control your eating behaviour. They can weigh you down and can weigh you up too.
Next time your emotions play the dirty devil and wheedle your cravings, remind yourself, food is fuel, not a reward!
Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.