When we feel emotions such as sadness, anger, emptiness, stress, or anxiety we feel inclined to consume comfort foods. Eating these comfort foods releases dopamine (a neurotransmitter [or chemical message] that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure system) and serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps the brain to regulate moods), which causes us to temporarily feel better and strengthen the connection between our feelings and food. The next time we feel one of these emotions, we remember how we felt after eating and then reach for those comfort foods again to feel better. As this cycle continues, neural pathways link our mood with the experience of eating and this becomes a habit.
In order to overcome emotional eating we need to change this habit. We can change a habit by replacing food with an alternative activity that provides comfort and relief from distress. For example:
- Confide in a friend/family member
- Write in a journal
- Take a hot bath
- Play with a pet
- Take a walk
- Light scented candles
- Spend time in nature
These are just some of the potential options to provide comfort that do not involve food. Determine which options work for best for you and/or create your own list of non-food related comforting activities.