When you are trying to lose weight and get in shape, food can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Sadly, those nutritious fruits and vegetables are never the foods we reach for when we're sad, or just bored.
Using food for comfort, or emotional eating, is a common - if not biggest - roadblock to losing weight. Even if you're carefully following your personalized exercise plan, late-night snacks and binge eating can completely derail your efforts to reach a healthy weight.
Psychologists know that different people have different triggers that lead to emotional eating. Some of the most common are boredom, anxiety and sadness. When things in our lives aren't going as planned, we reach for sweets. There's a scientific reason behind it: treats like ice cream and chocolate can cause a temporary spike in serotonin (a feel-good hormone) and a drop in cortisol (a hormone related to stress). Of course, as soon as you finish eating empty calories, you feel even worse than before.
Being constantly derailed from your nutrition plan by binges can be discouraging. Luckily, you can change the habit.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, every habit is a loop that consists of three parts: cue, routine, and reward. You can alter a habit once you recognize how it operates. For many people, boredom is the cue, snacking in front of the television is the routine, and an uptick in happiness, due to hormonal changes, is the reward. By replacing emotional eating with a different routine – a walk around the neighborhood, reading a chapter of a book, calling a friend – that produces the same reward (happiness), you can take control of your habit loop.
Many people use food as comfort, when it should be used as fuel. To take control of your emotional eating, you simply need to remember that happiness - not the food - was always the reward. Make it easier on yourself by removing the foods that are most likely to confuse this fundamental understanding. Then, by finding new routines that also create happiness, you'll be that much closer to a long-term happiness boost: the body you've always wanted.