“What a day again! I need to do everything myself, nobody is helping me.” You come home exhausted after another long day. You are tired physically and mentally and your stomach is growling. You are thinking:
“After this kind of day I deserve something for myself!”
For sport no more energy or time. Sex could help but me and my partner are way too tired. I will eat something good to make me feel better.Do you know this feeling?
Before you even recognize, whole chocolate bar has disappeared. It can be also something else, pizza, chips or some other sweets. You know that you are not doing something “good for yourself”. Knowledge is not problem, you know difference between healthy and not healthy foods but you need something to reward yourself.
Follows a question: Why are you doing it anyways? You might think, am I missing willpower or discipline to choose different?
Our hormones and brain are stepping up in this point. Why our reward system is playing crucial role in “reward- or stress eating”. I will explain it and give you few options to find some other solution.
Emotional eating because of stress
Overeating or “stress eating” is a form of emotional eating. Thoughts like “ today I have deserved something for myself” or “I am so sad today and to feel better I need sweets”. We all have had these feelings. You are trying to give your brain excuse to not eat healthy. You might think that in this cake I used less sugar so it is not so bad or that to throw away this small piece of cake would be ashame so I just eat it.
If the urge for a particular food is so strong and you begin to justify yourself with such justifications then your brain has successfully sabotaged you.
It is totally ok to eat sometimes something what is not healthy. You can enjoy piece of cake from your grandma together with your family. Enjoy it and don´t feel bad about it. But do not repeat it too often. It will be a problem if it is has become habit you do almost daily.
Stress eating is is usually recurring behavior and often does not take place in society. As the name implies, it results in an increased level of stress. In this case, negative stress, often associated with negative emotions, e.g. fear, sadness, anger but also boredom or loneliness.
In such situations, your need for reward is particularly high. Eating creates a certain relaxation and displaces the negative feelings.
Reward system – why we have it?
The reward system is a small part of our midbrain. It was “built in” during evolution to ensure our survival and development. This works by rewarding certain things with the release of dopamine.
Dopamine is a hormone that makes us feel good, motivates us and makes us happy.
If you are collecting something, you know that feeling when you found mushrooms or berries from forest or if you are hunter when you get home with a catch. You release dopamine and it motivates you to keep collecting or hunting. In stone age that was how hunters and collectors were rewarded with extra dopamine so they kept searching and hunting. It was necessary for surviving. In that time it was hard to find foods with rich of sugars or fat.
Our need for sweet and fat foods is not lack of discipline or intelligence. It is need of dopamine. To get this same feeling what ensured our ancestors survival has become a problem today. We are not hunting or collecting things, we are eating to get reward in form of dopamin.
Situation today: High stress – less time and surplus of fast foods
In last years situation got only worse. No time to prepare food, it need to be fast and obviously taste good as we want reward ourselves also in middle of stress. Options are many, restaurants who are not caring how many calories are in meals, it need to taste good so customers return. Grocery stores are full of foods what you need only to heat. If there is any vitamins left, who knows, that is not important for companies. Taste and profit is what matters. What is cheap and tasty? Right, you knew it – sugar and fats.
Number of ways to calm your reward system have increased. This would not be a problem as long as your reward system does not scream for attention.
However, our modern lifestyle is full of hectic rush, too much information, social conflicts, overwork, uncertainties and fears. In one word: stress!
For brain stress means still danger! Stress is something that your reward system absolutely can not stand and so constantly demands a compensation.
Reward system against your mind
The higher your stress level, the more reward your brain needs. Your mind wants to fight against it. You are thinking like“come on, eat something healthier, it is not good for me”. You might have success for short time, depending your willpower how long you can resist. After you will start to think:
“ I was doing sports yesterday”
“ Just this small piece of cake will not do any harm!”
“ I will eat this now but tomorrow I will eat less so it is ok”
“ It is just glass of wine and I need after today, ”
“This is BIO product so it is healthy”
I am sure you have more such excuses. The longer you forbid yourself and do not allow yourselves to eat or drink anything “unhealthy”, the stronger this urge will one day beat back. You might heard a word Yo-yo effect. If you have experienced this before, you know very well:
Resistance is futile.
If you are one of those “stress eaters” and somebody is giving you advice “just leave it” it is pretty mean. It gives the impression that you are too lazy, too stupid or too undisciplined. You will feel guilty and be ashamed what makes things even worse.
I give you a solution: make your “enemy” a friend.
Are you helpless against your reward system? Hell no!
Instead of fighting against your reward system, accept it. You need to be smarter than it. Let it become a friend. You can do it by searching for other sources of dopamine and bring them into your daily life.
In next blog I will write you examples how you can do it.
I would be happy about your thought and questions. Let me know what you think. Mail me at email@example.com or write me in Instagram @personaltrainer_turo or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/personaltrainerturo/