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Food and Our Mood

by Lisa Drayer, MA, RD |
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I can't seem to stick to a diet. I get so depressed all the time and food seems to comfort me. I eat because I'm unhappy and I'm unhappy because I eat. Do you have any ideas of what I could do? I need your help badly!

Too often, we eat in response to feeling depressed, stressed, bored, anxious, or lonely. But there are ways to decrease the urge to binge on high-calorie foods when experiencing these feelings, which are serving as food triggers. The best way to do this is to get at the root of the problem: that is, get at the root of what's eating you.

Below are some tips on coping with different feelings, which will help you avoid the urge to binge:

Depression

Indeed, feeling depressed over an external or internal event or can cause us to overeat. The best thing to do if you are feeling depressed is to speak with a mental health professional. He or she will be able to discuss your problem with you, and will be able to help you focus on coping. Exercise can help too-research shows that exercise helps to boost our endorphins, or "feel-good" hormones, ultimately improving our mood. The important (although difficult) aspect to recognize is that overeating in response to feeling down can cause us to feel worse.

Stress or Anxiety

Overeating in response to stress or anxiety can create more stress, especially as the number on the scale increases! If you tend to overeat when you feeling anxious, take time to stop and think about what is causing the anxiety. Is your husband driving you crazy? Are you awaiting a reimbursement in order to pay a bill? Do you have too much to do and too little time? Whatever it is, identify what is causing the anxiety, and think of realistic solutions. A solution that will immediately "take the edge off" is heading outside for a quick run (or walk) around the block.

Boredom

If you tend to overeat when you're feeling bored, ask yourself which time of day this usually occurs. Does it occur at night when you're flipping through television channels? On a Sunday afternoon when waiting for the laundry to be done? Depending on the time period, think of an activity you can do when you are bored, such as reading a magazine, or going shopping. Don't forget, logging on to your favorite Web site is always an option!

Anger

If you are feeling angry, and overeating in response, ask yourself why. Did someone lie to you or hurt your feelings? Did you not get promoted at the job? If this is the case, turn the energy from your anger into positive energy. A good way to think of it is like this: Someone has hurt you, (your boss or your friend) so why should you give him or her the power to have control over your eating habits? Hasn't he/she done enough harm already? Keeping these words in mind can help you cope with your anger, and can prevent you from binge eating.

Loneliness

Treat loneliness as you would treat boredom-that is, be sure to plan for times when you are most likely to feel lonely. Arrange activities to do with friends ahead of time. If the loneliness occurs suddenly, pick up the phone and call a friend. If no one is around, turn on the television or radio, or log onto your favorite Web site. DietWatch.com offers several support groups, depending on your needs. Registered Dietitians are available too, if you wish to receive one-on-one professional advice on your eating triggers.

20 Things You Can Do Instead of Eating

1. Read a book -- or your favorite fitness magazine

2. Search for a Web site, on a topic that is of interest to you but that you haven't had time to pursue

3. Go for a walk

4. Call or email a friend

5. Write in a journal

6. Go window-shopping

7. Play a game with your spouse, children, or pets -- whether it's Frisbee or fetch, checkers or chess

8. Do an exercise video, or hit the gym for aerobics, weightlifting, or yoga

9. Tackle some household chores: Dust, vacuum, balance the checkbook, etc.

10. Take a long bath or shower

11. Start your holiday gift list -- both gifts to give, and gifts to receive

12. Alphabetize your books, CDs, videotapes, spice rack...

13. Do some outside chores: Work in the garden, mow the lawn, rake leaves, or shovel snow

14. Meditate or pray

15. Work on a craft project that will keep your hands busy: knitting, needlepoint, painting, woodworking, etc.

16. Crank up your stereo and dance around the living room

17. Try on old clothes -- clothes that are now too big as well as clothes that are now too small

18. Research healthy recipes to prepare for the coming week, and make a shopping list

19. Brush your teeth, use a strong mouthwash, then pop in a piece of

extra-minty gum

20. Start, or add to, a scrapbook of your weight loss journey. Include photos, motivational articles, and your own thoughts and feelings

Lisa Drayer is the eCounseling Program Director for DietWatch.com, the leading online center for professional counseling in the weight management arena. Ms. Drayer has appeared frequently on television and radio as an expert in nutrition. She also moderates chat discussions and answers questions on diet, nutrition, and weight management for DietWatch.com and Cyberdiet.com.
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