There's an emotional connection between how we feel and what we eat. Most of us are familiar with the idea. We find it in terms like "comfort food." Food can make us feel better; it can be a reward; and it can be a source of stress relief. But inevitably, letting your mood control your food has some drawbacks. So here are some great ways to recognize the emotional patterns we create around our eating, and to make those patterns a little healthier!
What You Crave: SUGAR
Many of us grew up with sweets being presented as a reward. The very anticipation of a reward triggers the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brain, releasing the ‘feel-good’ chemical, which is very addictive. Can you relate? From a young age, many of us come to associate celebrations with sweets, from cake at birthday parties to being treated with dessert after finishing our veggies. This is part of what makes sugar so comforting.
Change What You Crave: Become aware of the sweets-reward connection from your childhood to understand where this craving comes from, as well as the circumstances surrounding the craving. Establish a new goal or hobby that is healthy that will produce these “feel-good” feelings. Replace sugar as your vehicle to happiness.
What You Crave: DAIRY
Find yourself hankering for a cheesy slice of pizza or a creamy milkshake? Cheese contains the stimulant tyramine and milk contains L-tryptophan — which triggers the release of another “feel-good chemical," serotonin — as well as choline, which has soothing properties. The creamy texture of dairy is also often associated with comfort.
Change What You Crave: Reach for a banana or avocado for the creamy texture, plus a natural energy and mood boost. Then, engage in mood-boosting activities (anything you enjoy!), which will release endorphins and can also be soothing for the body.
What You Crave: CARBS
The urge to eat pasta, bread, and cookies tends to really kick in when we’re stressed or sad. Not only do these “comfort foods” have mood-boosting properties and provide a short-term energy boost, but we often associate them with comfort from an early age. Think: Chocolate chip cookies served up by mom when you had a hard day or the comforting smell of your grandma’s freshly baked bread. When you’re feeling agitated or upset, you may subconsciously be turning to carbs for comfort.
Change What You Crave: Get creative with veggies to recreate the textures you crave. Incorporate whole, unrefined carbs like quinoa, sweet potatoes, and squash into your diet. Notice when stressful situations arise and stop to take a breath and calm down.