Emotional Eating & Exercise

Emotional eating is the practice of consuming large quantities of food -- usually "comfort" or junk food -- in response to feelings instead of hunger. Experts estimate that 75% of overeating is caused by emotions. Many of us learn that food can bring comfort, at least in the short-term. As a result, we often turn to food to heal emotional problems. Eating becomes a habit preventing us from learning skills that can effectively resolve our emotional distress.

After 25 years in being in fitness and weight loss industry, I am still surprised how little the doctors, diet experts and food companies knows about sensory perception and food pleasure—through no fault of their own of course! The connection is not adequately studied or researched, and has overall not received enough attention.

Overconsumption also alleviates many emotional and physical pains. Just like taking medications for pain, overeating and consuming junk food can act as a medication as well, and can easily become addictive. Everyone has the potential to become an emotional eater, as it is a pleasurable experience that extends beyond “feeling full.”

Emotional eaters have strong emotional connection to food. In fact, over 70% of calories consumed is due to emotions rather than being hungry. At it takes is feeling pleasure, rather than “fullness,” from eating food for your brain to associate the two together, resulting in a memory response that encourages this behavior in the future.

Why then, does not everyone become an emotional eater? The answer lies in self-awareness.

There are five situations that cause emotional eating. By identifying what triggers our emotional eating, we can substitute more appropriate techniques to manage our emotional problems and take food and weight gain out of the equation.

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  • Social.- Eating in the presence of others; occurs when you are being encouraged by others to eat; eating to fit in; arguing; or feeling inadequacy around other people.
  • Emotional.- Eating in response to boredom, excitement, stress, fatigue, tension, depression, anger, anxiety, or loneliness as a way to "fill the void."
  • Situational.- Eating because the opportunity is simply “there.” For example, eating a particular food after seeing an advertisement for it eating a pastry after passing a bakery. Eating may also be associated with certain activities such as watching television, going to the movies, or attending a sporting event.
  • Thoughts.- Eating as a result of lack of self-worth, or making excuses for eating. For example, using eating as a mean of scolding oneself for looks or a lack of will power.
  • Physiological.- Eating in response to physical cues. For example, increased hunger due to skipping meals or eating to cure headaches or other pain.
  • The Science of Emotional Eating

    Emotional eaters eat because they want feel better, rather feel full. This experience brings a feeling of particular pleasure to the eating experience, and, over time, the experience of feeling pleasure while eating becomes part of the LTP (Long-Term Potentiation). This feeling of pleasure cements it self to our long-term memory, and repetition creates additional gratification layers, makingpleasure and food become one in the same. Neuroscience explains emotional eating is a memory response in which the hippocampus plays a crucial role in its manifestation. The pleasure felt during emotional eating and junk food consumption is the result of dopamine being released by the reward center of the brain (the Nucleus Accumbens). Once the taste has the brain’s attention, the prefrontal cortex commands the hippocampus to remember the situation and sensation in intense detail. For instance, if you love the taste of chocolate, the brain will link the aroma of chocolate and sensation felt to a.

    The prefrontal cortex (logic and reasoning) and limbic system (emotion) must agree before the judgment is executed and it becomes part our memory as LTP in the hippocampus. Prefrontal cortex analyzes the incoming stimuli, sequences it, and the limbic system fertilizes the data with neurotransmitters or feelings to complete the process. The repetition of this process creates bushier dendrites in hippocampus cells. Once the memory is created the prefrontal cortex goes dormant. That’s why when it comes to emotional eating or addictions logic and reason and what you are consuming does not come in play. Strong association or addiction to food is engraved in long-term memory and it takes behavior therapy to fix it. For many, a relationship is created between food and the self. Rather than a partner or a good friend, people turn to food with their problems. Like a good friend, the food takes the problems away(ever notice how people say that they “love” chocolate or ice cream and they can’t live without)


    By increasing one’s self awareness, a person can become able to identify the situations in which he or she is vulnerable to emotional eating. Temporary fixes, such as “fad” diets,may assist in weight management, but the results will be fleeting as they will not solve the root of the problem. When it comes to emotional eating, the emotional part of the brain (limbic system) and their thinking brain (cortex) is out of balance. For this reason, the “temporary fixes” such as diets, weight loss pills, and surgery usually creates more problems than results. The key lies in a long-term mindset: empowerment to take control, leading to an improvement in self-image and self-worth. By raising an individual’s awareness of emotional eating and the five causes that trigger emotional eating, it is possible to achieve long-term results for both the body and mind.

    At Ultimate Results, we empower individuals reduce or eliminate their emotional eating. Mustafa Nazary believes that emotional eating is a memory response and created by learned behavior. Just as this behavior is learned, corrective behavior can be learned as well. The team of experienced staff at Ultimate Results will walk you through the physical exercises to better your body, and the mental exercises to strengthen your mind and defeat situations that trigger episodes of emotional eating – empowering you to achieve the long-term results you desire. Our results-driven programs have helped numerous clients achieve goals they never thought possible – and you could be our next success.

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