By Dr. Gia Marson
Most of us have found ourselves eating to soothe a negative mood. Although it can work temporarily, hopefully it is not your go-to or only strategy to make yourself feel better. You’re better off if you can rely on it as one of many ways of coping with feeling down. Some alternative possibilities for navigating unpleasant moods include: feeling and accepting the emotion, reaching out for support, problem-solving, exercising, taking time in nature, meditating, completing a task, or distracting yourself. The options are nearly endless. But, some people use eating as a primary means of dealing with feeling bad. That can cause even more upset later. Does this describe you? A new study provides hope for interrupting this cycle.
We have known for some time that negative emotions and difficulty dealing with them can lead to all types of eating problems. New studies are beginning to further clarify the specific mechanisms related to the role of emotion regulation difficulties in eating behaviors. According to a study published last month, undergraduates who experienced a negative mood but were not able to label it, ate more than those who experienced a negative mood but were able to identify it. Being able or unable to identify particular positive emotions did not seem to have an impact. The authors concluded that NOT being able to identify and label which negative emotions you are experiencing at the time may be one of the distinct problems linking upsets and eating.
While this finding warrants further investigation, it provides a concrete step you can try if you tend to stuggle with managing negative emotions and use eating as the primary strategy to cope. Learn to identify, label and categorize negative emotions so you can do so in real time. You could dive into the psychology literature, engage in therapy, read about emotions and emotional intelligence or simply find a “feeling wheel” and start naming your negative emotions as they arise throughout the week. These new tools of self-awareness and mood differentiation may make you less likely to overeat next time you’re feeling down.
- Jones, AC & Herr, NR, (2018). Emotion differentiation mediates the association between emotion regulation difficulties and caloric intake. Eating Behavior; Feb 17;29:35-40. doi.org/10.1016/j.eatbeh.2018.02.003
Leehr, EJ et al. (2015). Emotion regulation model in binge eating disorder and obesity-a systematic review. Neuroscience Biobehav Rev. 2015 Feb;49:125-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.12.008. Epub 2014 Dec 19.DOI: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.12.008.