There’s a tiger in the room. An angry tiger. And he is ready to attack. Not a very good time to have lunch, is it?
“Do you really think you are going to digest your food, much less lose weight, if you are struggling with an angry tiger?” asks eating specialist Rebecca Moos, MS, LPC, NCC. She frequently uses the tiger battle to illustrate the mental and physiological impact of emotional eating.
“Emotional eating is not just about the food choices we make,” Moos explains. “Thoughts about our body and our food, and our ability to relax, to breathe, to enjoy the moment, to be thankful for life with gratitude and pleasure – all of that encompasses emotional eating. Most issues with food have very little to do with food. Usually, something else is going on that influences metabolic health. Food is merely a symptom used to binge, restrict, control, count, or abstain from in order to respond to stress.”
Stress, fear, anxiety, anger, judgment and negative self-talk can literally create a physiological stress response in the body, Moos emphasizes. “Digestion shuts down when the body is stressed, generating more cortisol and insulin. Those hormones have an undesired effect, signaling the body to store weight, store fat and stop building muscle. We literally change calorie-burning capacity and adjust it downward when we are stressed. You could follow the best weight-loss diet in the world but, if you’re an anxious, stressed person, the power of your mind limits weight-loss.”
Don’t allow food to rule your life, Moos advises, encouraging individuals to relax in the approach to food through mind-body nutrition. “Express gratitude for the good things in life. Focus on everything that works well and reminds you to be happy,” she says. “When we choose to be happy, the body relaxes and we step into the optimum state of metabolic health.”
Trained in a psychology of eating program, Moos emphasizes that learning to be aware of a meal, how it tastes, and eating it slowly helps you feel nourished, eliciting a relaxation response. “Thirty to forty percent of digestive capacity comes from our thoughts and feelings about food,” she says. “Breathe, slow down and change how you think about yourself and food. You will better utilize nutrients for calorie burning, muscle building, energy, and mood improving results.”