September 28, 2001
Food and Our Mood - Expert Question
By Lisa Drayer, MA, RD
Q. I can't seem to stick to a diet.
I get so depressed all the time and
food seems to comfort me.
I eat because I'm unhappy and
I'm unhappy because I eat.
Do you have any ideas of what
I could do? I need your help badly!
A. Too often, we eat in response to
feeling depressed, stressed, bored,
anxious, or lonely. But there are
ways to decrease the urge to binge on
high-calorie foods when experiencing
these feelings, which are serving as
food triggers. The best way to do this
is to get at the root of the
problem: that is, get at the root
of what's eating you.
Below are some tips on coping with
different feelings, which will help you
avoid the urge to binge:
Indeed, feeling depressed over an external
or internal event or can cause us
to overeat. The best thing to do if you
are feeling depressed is to speak
with a mental health professional.
He or she will be able to discuss your
problem with you, and will be able
to help you focus on coping.
Exercise can help too-research shows that
exercise helps to boost our endorphins, or
"feel-good" hormones, ultimately improving
our mood. The important (although
difficult) aspect to recognize is that
overeating in response to feeling
down can cause us to feel worse.
Stress or Anxiety
Overeating in response to stress or
anxiety can create more stress,
especially as the number on the scale
increases! If you tend to overeat
when you feeling anxious, take time
to stop and think about what is causing
the anxiety. Is your husband driving
you crazy? Are you awaiting a
reimbursement in order to pay a bill?
Do you have too much to do and too
little time? Whatever it is, identify
what is causing the anxiety, and
think of realistic solutions.
A solution that will immediately
"take the edge off" is heading outside
for a quick run (or walk) around the block.
If you tend to overeat when you're
feeling bored, ask yourself which
time of day this usually occurs.
Does it occur at night when you're
flipping through television channels?
On a Sunday afternoon when waiting
for the laundry to be done?
Depending on the time period,
think of an activity you can do
when you are bored, such as
reading a magazine, or going shopping.
Don't forget, logging on to your
favorite Web site is always an option!
If you are feeling angry, and
overeating in response, ask yourself why.
Did someone lie to you or hurt your feelings?
Did you not get promoted at the job?
If this is the case, turn the energy
from your anger into positive energy.
A good way to think of it is like this:
Someone has hurt you, (your boss or
your friend) so why should you give
him or her the power to have control
over your eating habits?
Hasn't he/she done enough harm already?
Keeping these words in mind can help
you cope with your anger, and can
prevent you from bingeing.
Treat loneliness as you would treat
boredom-that is, be sure to plan for
times when you are most likely to
feel lonely. Arrange activities to do
with friends ahead of time. If the
loneliness occurs suddenly, pick up
the phone and call a friend.
If no one is around, turn on the
television or radio, or log onto
your favorite Web site.
DietWatch.com offers several support
groups, depending on your needs.
Registered Dietitians are available
too, if you wish to receive
one-on-one professional advice on your
20 Things You Can Do Instead of Eating
1. Read a book -- or your favorite
2. Search for a Web site, on a topic
that is of interest to you but that you
haven't had time to pursue
3. Go for a walk
4. Call or email a friend
5. Write in a journal
6. Go window-shopping
7. Play a game with your spouse,
children, or pets --
whether it's Frisbee
or fetch, checkers or chess
8. Do an exercise video, or hit the
gym for aerobics, weightlifting, or yoga
9. Tackle some household chores:
Dust, vacuum, balance the checkbook, etc.
10. Take a long bath or shower
11. Start your holiday gift list --
both gifts to give, and gifts to receive
12. Alphabetize your books, CDs,
videotapes, spice rack...
13. Do some outside chores:
Work in the garden, mow the
lawn, rake leaves,
or shovel snow.
14. Meditate or pray.
15. Work on a craft project that
will keep your hands busy: knitting,
needlepoint, painting, woodworking, etc.
16. Crank up your stereo and dance
around the living room
17. Try on old clothes -- clothes
that are now too big as well as clothes
that are now too small
18. Research healthy recipes to
prepare for the coming week, and make a
19. Brush your teeth, use a strong
mouthwash, then pop in a piece of
20. Start, or add to, a scrapbook of
your weight loss journey. Include
photos, motivational articles, and
your own thoughts and feelings
Lisa Drayer is the eCounseling Program Director
for DietWatch.com, the leading online center
for professional counseling in the weight
Ms. Drayer has appeared frequently on
television and radio as an expert in
nutrition. She also moderates chat
discussions and answers questions on
diet, nutrition, and weight management
for DietWatch.com and Cyberdiet.com.
We look forward to the opportunity of
We welcome your comments, suggestions,
Please feel free to contact us at:
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