Is Food Your Drug?
I am an emotional eater. I eat when I'm bored. I eat too much when my blood sugar is low. I eat when I'm sad, when I'm stressed, when I'm anxious. I eat to punish myself. I eat to procrastinate. I am an emotional eater - food is my drug.
It kinda hurts to say these things "out loud." I mean, I know these things about myself, and I often tell others about them and chuckle to myself, but they are painful truths. In times of crisis, I turn to food as if it can fill some sort of void - emotional, mental, physical, time. It's second nature, instinctual. This is generally a good thing when it comes to low blood sugar - the void must be filled with glucose (food) or I will die. That's just life! BUT, I don't have to overdo it (which happens sometimes). In fact, overdoing it leads to the opposite of low blood sugar - high blood sugar. Which, again, could put me into a coma and death if I don't deal with it appropriately.
What's Wrong With Me? Am I Addicted?
As someone who lives with a disease that is based on daily management of (and occasionally severely fluctuating) blood sugars, I can definitely attest to the fact that our blood sugars drive our choices! My emotional state and ability to think clearly are constantly affected by my blood sugars and how quickly they change. I can become giddy one minute and irate the next or I can be thinking clearly and dive directly into a sea of brain fog, all because of a severe change in my blood sugar. Of course, this is just my anecdotal evidence, but research shows the connection between your blood sugar and your mental health.
Emotional eating or filling a "void" in your life with food becomes a habit and a coping strategy. As a kid, we're taught that food equals love and comfort, we're rewarded for "good behavior" and special occasions with food and treats, and even when someone wanted to appease us or make us go away and "behave," we were distracted with food. Punishments? Going to bed without dinner or "no dessert for you." All of these connections to food in our childhood build reward and pleasure pathways in the brain. Which then leads me to think about sugar addiction, further complicating the situation!
In The Blood Sugar Solution: 10-Day Detox Diet, Dr. Mark Hyman spends a big portion of his book talking about sugar addiction and how sugar lights up the pleasure center in the brain and triggers a release of dopamine, the "feel-good" chemical. Basically, sugar causes the same response that cocaine or opioids do - a surge of pleasure followed by a "depression" until that substance is provided again. As we eat more and more sugar and processed foods (which ultimately turn into sugar in the body), our dopamine receptors decrease, so we then crave even more sugar to "fill the void."
So What Can We Do?
I recognize that all of this is complicated, and I can honestly say that there is no simple fix - no magic pill. But, the more aware we are of the problem, the easier it becomes to address it. Sometimes, we need to take a moment to breathe before we reach for that extra cookie, doughnut, or slice of cake, that third handful of nuts, chips, or spoonful of almond butter. We pause, we take a breath, we think before we eat. Are we hungry? Do we really want to eat this or do we want something else? Do we actually need it? Or do we need a hug or someone to talk to instead? Maybe we grab our dog or a friend and go for a walk. As my fellow 10-day detoxers know - maybe we just need some herbal tea and everything will be just fine!!
No matter what, always, always, always take that moment to think before you eat. You may realize that 9 times out of 10, it's not what you actually need in that moment. And, if you do decide that yes, you NEED that doughnut, then savor it slowly and don't beat yourself up. Allow your stomach the chance to catch up to your brain, so perhaps it will only take 1 doughnut instead of 3!
What management strategies do you use to fill the "void" in your life?