“I’m an emotional eater, and it’s messing with me big time,” Tina confessed.

      There’s no question that eating as a way to self-medicate one’s emotions is very disruptive to overall well-being.  While undermining physical health, it also proves damaging to mental wellness.

      So why do so many of us do it?  In a misguided effort to feel better.  Problem is, the opposite result occurs.  

      Ironically, for those like Tina, the most enjoyable part of emotional eating often occurs before food passes their lips. When anticipating a meal, the brain exudes dopamine, a feel-good neurochemical that enhances mood.

      Indulging provides benefits, as well. Food is a psychoactive drug, so when the high carb, bad fat and sugary stuff that usually passes as comfort food hits the brain, the impact is palpable. Endorphins (naturally occurring opioids) kick in, quieting the mind and easing anxiety, thereby ensuring an oasis of feeling better.

      However, emotional eaters find little lasting comfort in their culinary ministrations. What small solace they gain is brief and soon followed by self-loathing. After the high of anticipation and the calming of indulgence comes an unpleasant and often prolonged period of self-recrimination.

       Conventional wisdom suggests that emotional eating stems from a lack of self-control or willpower, but this is rarely the case. There are many catalysts, but among the most common is mindlessness.

      “I’ll catch myself halfway through a binge and realize I don’t remember how I got there,” Tina explained.

      That’s why mindful eating proves helpful for folks struggling to consume nutritious food in reasonable portions. Using one’s senses to fully savor a meal makes the experience both more enjoyable and healthier. Mindful eaters consume less, feel more satisfied, and don’t suffer self-reproach when finished.

      Other common instigators include overwork, poor sleep and mental fatigue. All of these contribute to emotional depletion. After a taxing day of work or homemaking, or a lousy night’s repose, we may try to refill our empty mental tanks with food. 

      As Tina noted, “I feel like I deserve to eat what I want as compensation for working so hard.” 

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