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Doctor's Corner: The Hunger Games - Why We Can't Stop Eating!

It’s been a stressful day- you had a disagreement with a colleague or partner, your bank account balance was lower than expected and the hot water wasn’t working when you got home. If you have kids, perhaps they kept you up the night before and refused to go to sleep tonight. Whatever the situation, the day is finally over, the TV goes on and the only thing you want to feel is love and comfort - acknowledgement and reward for getting through your day and being you!

The next thing you know you’re standing in front of an open fridge or kitchen cabinet trying to provide yourself with that elusive feeling of wellbeing through food. Then of course there’s the guilt and regret. Immediate gratification can turn to a deepening sense of dissatisfaction with ourselves making it more and more likely that we will seek out comfort in the same way again – let the hunger games begin!

Most of us have developed many lasting associations between eating and the sensations of love, comfort, home and family. We are given treats as rewards, to make us feel loved and to comfort us from a scrape or embarrassment when we are little, are inducted into the great tradition of overeating on holidays and inundated through TV and print ads with positive messaging about how food will make us feel. Our foods are even hyper-flavored with salt, fat and chemical agents that over stimulate the senses and cause extreme rushes of pleasure hormones, leaving many to unwittingly become addicted to the sensation. Think of that old Lays potato chip catchphrase "you can't eat just one!"

There's nothing wrong with enjoying a good meal or breaking bread with those you love, but the thin line between nourishment and emotional crutch can become an ever-steepening slippery slope for those of us struggling to keep off extra weight or combat chronic disease.

If you find yourself seeking solace or reward through food even when you don't feel hungry on a regular basis, there's hope! Here are some simple naturopathic tips to improve your relationship with food and break the drive to overeat:

Honor food and savor tradition: food can indeed nourish us at the deepest levels of our being. Try and make time to honor the magical healing power of good food and personal traditions. Make sure you have regular opportunities to share a delicious meal with the people you love the most. Remind yourself that these are your opportunities to stock up on the sensations of connectedness, community and comfort.

In my practice I often employ visualization and guided imagery techniques to help my patients access the feeling of being both physically as well as emotionally well-nourished without the binges. Often patients who are willing to do a little “homework” find additional benefit from guided journaling exercises to hone in on triggers (stress, relationships etc.) I’ve seen fantastic results once patients are able to name the underlying reasons for the behavior.

Let food become thy medicine: we are indeed what we eat - literally! The foods we eat are broken down to become the essential building blocks the body needs to repair, renew and stay healthy. When we practice seeing food as our source of wellness, it becomes easier to abstain from binging on treat foods. Conscious eating is also an essential part of the healing nature of food. Take the time to enjoy the food that you are choosing to eat.

One suggestion I often give my patients is to practice “conscious eating” during one meal each day. Pay attention to the taste, smell and texture of the food as you eat it. Chew your food thoroughly and focus on when you stop feeling hungry, making a commitment to stopping at that point. It helps to eat your meal without distractions such as TV or reading on your iPad or phone so that you are able to actually enjoy your meal.

Don't go hungry: ever tried to go grocery shopping when hungry only to come home with a bag full of indulgent and expensive groceries not on your shopping list? Willpower and reason can be easily overshadowed by a cranky empty stomach!

The first thing I recommend is to eat a protein-rich breakfast. It’s a fantastic first step to reducing your chances of overeating throughout the day, especially those late-night binges. If you have days where preparing meals will take too long or feels overwhelming, try keeping a good protein powder available for a quick smoothie or try adding it to unsweetened applesauce as a snack.

Treat yourself to the guidance and support you deserve: most of us don't have the time or perhaps the interest to research the best food choices for our optimal health. There are so many options out there that even if you've taken the time to research diets and plan out fulfilling meals it can truly be overwhelming to know what to choose. Paleo? Vegan? Lemon water fasting? Rotation diet with a day you only eat brownies (my favorite!) When facing issues of chronic stress management it’s always helpful to have an expert opinion and guidance simply to reduce the sensations of isolation and willpower fatigue. Naturopathic physicians are a great choice when seeking out support. They will take into consideration your mental and emotional state, lifestyle stressors, habits and capacity to take on change as well as your state of overall health in the process of assisting you in better diet habits. Contact the office today to schedule a free first-time consultation and start the road to a happier, healthier you!

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