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Are You an Emotional Eater? -- Medical Minutes Episode 8

Welcome to Medical Minutes.

Today, I’m going to spend some time talking about emotional eating.

The easiest way to define emotional eating is simply as eating that is not secondary to hunger. We all tend to do this at times. It’s when we do that repeatedly, that it becomes a problem.

There are three types of emotional eating. The first and most common is called stress eating. We’ve all been stressed at some point. Stress eating you can think of as …stress starts out low in the morning and starts to build throughout the day. The reason it’s low in the morning is because nothing’s happened yet. You haven’t been late for an appointment, you haven’t checked your email with deadlines and such and so it’s low.

Throughout the day though, however, it tends to build.

And if we think of it as a continuum or a circle, it starts out low and builds, builds, builds. When it’s at its peak, and I think each person seems to have a peak that’s very common to them or very characteristic to them, and the peak is either in the mid afternoon, say between three and four o’clock or in the evening hours, probably after six, but before nine. When this stress starts out low and builds, when it’s at its peak, we want to eat food. Usually a simple carbohydrate. It does decrease our stress. And so, as our stress comes down and it’s at its bottom again, it works. But the problem with simple carbohydrates in this way is that they only last or it takes about 20 minutes for it to be digested.

After you digest the carbohydrates, your stress comes right back to where it started. We didn’t actually fix the stress, we just treated it and 20 minutes later it’s back where it started. And so, then we grab a little bit more food or we have some more food and our stress comes down and it comes right back. And it’s the repeated cycling of eating that causes the weight problem that goes with stress eating.

The second subtype is what we call avoidant eating.

Avoiding eating has two main parts.

Number one, it could be very simply eating to avoid doing something or thinking about something. If you have a project that’s due and procrastinate to start it, or if you have a conversation coming up that would be hard to have, or you’re seeing something that you don’t want to deal with, we literally are using food to push down our feelings.

The second part and some people with avoidant eating actually tend to be all or none dieters. You’re all the way on your plan and you say, “I’m not going to eat X.” And then you do eat X and all of a sudden you were on all and now you’re none. And if it happens on a Friday, you’re off until Monday and Monday comes, you start your diet all again. And it goes for several days or even weeks and you eat the food you said you weren’t going to eat and then you are completely off.

And the last subtype or the third subtype is mood lifting or energy eating. Think of it a lot like stress eating. So, in the morning our energy starts out good, but it does tend to fall. It can fall in the early afternoon, sometimes a half an hour to an hour after lunch, especially if you ate too many carbohydrates and you get that early afternoon lull, or that you’re not sleeping well enough at night, or if your day is pretty busy and you don’t really sit down. It’s when you come home in the evening, you’ve had dinner, it’s time to just unwind from the day and then our energy falls. And then we use carbohydrates to pick it up and then it falls and we get in this again, repetitive eating cycle.

And so, in our clinic, we do check you for five different eating patterns. Three of them being these subtypes of emotional eating before you even come in clinic. And we do discuss them very briefly on your first visit. Our class series has been designed to pick up especially on emotional eating and to give you some simple tips to treat it. To just summarize, the first step is actually identifying that you are emotional eating. It is hard once you’re in emotional eating to break the cycle. And so, instead of going through the cycle of emotional eating, finding out if you are stressed or are tired and use other techniques to best treat that.

I’ll see you next week.



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