Are You Using Food as a Coping Mechanism?

Are You Using Food as a Coping Mechanism?
Are You Using Food as a Coping Mechanism?

Are You Using Food as a Coping Mechanism?

Dr. Richa Mittal

Are You in Control or is Food Controlling You?

Have you ever had a stressful day and turned to the pantry or fridge to seek out that bag of left over Halloween chocolate or that perfect bowl of icecream?

Have you ever sat in front of the TV and by the end of your show realized that you had finished a whole bag of chips when you had planned to only eat a few?

Have you felt like it helped you unwind after a long, stressful day?

Have you ever realized that you eat a certain way in certain situations? Like indulging a little bit too much when you are socializing with friends, especially when it's over a few glasses of wine?

Have you noticed certain foods are "triggers" that derail your best intentions?

Many of us have done so, and maybe you have even heard about people being "emotional eaters".

But are these fixes to our mood too fleeting? Are they worth the havoc they cause to our bodies? Worth thwarting our efforts to try to stick to a healthier lifestyle?

Why we eat and how much we eat is a complex process that takes place on a subconscious level. Food is associated with many things like social interactions, cultural customs, memories and habits, to name a few.

Our reward centers in the brain actually release "feel good" hormones when we eat sugar/carbohydrates.

Are you using food as stress release?

Are you suffering from depression and using food to fill a void in your life?

Could you be suffering from an eating disorder?

The first step to addressing this issue is taking an honest look at why are you making the choices you are making.

If you think you may be depressed or you have concerns about having an eating disorder (for more information on what the signs are, please see:, you need to talk to your doctor and get help.

There are behavioral therapies and medications that can help treat these serious conditions.

What can we do to break the cycle of making these bad choices, sometimes "in the moment"?

The answer is to be mindful and really think about why are eating. Break the associations. Eat intentionally.

If you are in the habit of sitting down after the kids are in bed and watching TV, check yourself. Is that time also associated with mindless snacking?

If so, turn the TV off and go read a book. Leave the kitchen or the living room near it. Go upstairs. Or take a walk. Break the association!

Find other ways to manage your stress.

If you are going to indulge in dessert or a delicious bowl of gnocchi alla sorentina (one of my faves!), make that decision intentionally.

You can take control of the situation and make the choice to have that treat rather than feel like it "just happened" and you had no control over it. You make this choice and then make the choice to eat healthier after that particular meal.

If you have certain foods that "trigger" you to eat poorly, you can stop having them in your pantry. Instead, choose to have healthier options readily available to you in those moments when you feel like a snack.

Last, realize that alcohol lowers our inhibitions, and you could end up making choices that you will regret. You need to recognize this. Limit your alcohol use and have a plan for how you are going to handle this.

Remember, food is not only for nourishment, but also for pleasure. Our brains were wired this way because our survival depends on our enjoyment of food.

But, in this age of too much abundance of food and the complex pathways in our brain (that lead to sugar addiction), we have to remember that we can control some of these patterns, habits and associations. We can make the choice to enjoy something that gives us pleasure without letting it control us.

Our health depends on it.

Next week, I will discuss intermittent fasting and whether it could be a useful tool to maintaining wellness.

Until then, be well.

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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