Emotional eating doesn’t sound like the typical MTHFR topic, but sadly it is one of the behaviors that can plague people with MTHFR, COMT fast, or MAO-A fast. Especially those with MAO-A fast because emotional eating is highly linked to states of low dopamine and low serotonin.

Tricia Nelson on MTHFR and Emotional Eating
Emotional eating and MTHFR with Tricia Nelson

Any of us MTHFR folks can be prone to low neurotransmitters, so emotional eating and other addictive behaviors can be a pattern we fall into easily.

This interview with Tricia Nelson, author of Heal Your Hunger: 7 Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating, reveals some of her strategies and tips to help conquer emotional eating once and for all.

Emotional eating and MTHFR with Tricia Nelson

The term “emotional eating” may prompt some resistance, which is understandable. Nobody ever wants to think they eat for their emotions, but I’m willing to bet lots of us want chocolate on a bad day. Tricia suggests starting with the “PEP test” to show you hidden ways you might be using food to reduce emotional pain, escape, or self-punish.

You can find the PEP test in the book or as a pop-up quiz on Tricia’s website.

Engaging with the WHY question about your eating habits can help to make your MTHFR journey more successful and boost your health overall. We all know some of the worst craving foods are also the foods that are fortified with folic acid, and folic acid is never going to help if you’re struggling with neurotransmitters because of MTHFR, COMT fast, or MAO-A fast. If struggling to eliminate fortified foods has been your challenge with MTHFR, Heal Your Hunger might be the solution.

Eating isn’t always about hunger. Sometimes we consume food to satisfy our emotional needs. Yes, food does act as a stress reliever, and when we eat for our emotions, we don’t always make healthy choices. In this state, we tend to reach for unhealthy alternatives such as junk food, oily foods, and sweet or sugary nutritionally poor foods. Most people eat emotionally on occasion, and it is extremely normal to do so.

When a person consumes food in order to feel better mentally, it can be referred to as emotional eating. A lot of people use food as an escape for mental and emotional frustrations, and it does make them feel better temporarily. But there are many problems associated with emotional eating. Firstly, it does not really fix the emotional trouble that one is experiencing, it is simply an act that one indulges in to be distracted from their mental state. Secondly, while a person eats out of emotional needs the food choices are often poor or the quantities are too large. Then often the original emotional issue is compounded by guilty feelings for overeating, or actual physical discomfort.

In terms of hunger, there is a huge difference between emotional and physical hunger. It becomes important to distinguish both of these so that you can break free from emotional hunger. But it is not that simple. Many people do not distinguish between emotional hunger and physical hunger, or find emotional hunger to be more compelling.  Also, if you are chronically under stress it is hard to manage emotional hunger and easy to give in to your cravings. It is difficult to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger as there lies a thin line between the two.

Here are some signs that you might be eating emotionally:

  1. Emotional hunger can come suddenly and without any warning. Physical hunger tends to be more gradual and is not felt suddenly or abruptly.
  2. Emotional hunger is more likely to center around certain comfort foods that are craved when one is experiencing emotional hunger. 
  3. Emotional hunger often results in mindless eating. If you find yourself eating large quantities of food in a short amount of time, there is a high chance that you are eating emotionally. There is no satisfaction when it comes to emotional hunger even when you are full.
  4. If you feel continuously hungry even after having a good amount of food, you are likely emotional eating.

Emotional hunger often comes as a mental impulse rather than feeling a sensation in the stomach. This kind of hunger is often felt as an overwhelming craving rather than your stomach signalling you to ingest food for nutrition.

It is common for emotional hunger to lead to regret, guilt or shame. Eating for nutrition and physical demands of the body does not lead to a feeling of guilt, regret or shame. 

Identifying triggers is one of the first steps to deal with emotional hunger.If certain places,situations or feelings make you desire food, they are most certainly your triggers. Not all cases of emotional eating have negative or unpleasant triggers. Sometimes feeling happy also makes you indulge in eating mindlessly. This can be an outcome of feeling accomplished and “rewarding yourself” with food.

Emotional eating can be caused by a variety of factors, stress is one of them Stress-eating is a term that most of us are familiar with. When a person is experiencing stress, the body releases certain hormones and enzymes. One of those hormones is cortisol, which is released by the body to cope with mental stress. Cortisol makes a person crave for foods with high sugar and salt content. As a result, the person craves unhealthy foods to feel better. 

Emotions can also be suppressed by eating.We experience so many emotions and feelings on a daily basis. Everyday situations can make us feel anxious, sad, angry, lonely and resentful. Eating can take our minds away by distracting us with the taste, texture and smell of the food. This in a way numbs us and we think about our emotions less. Therefore, it makes us feel better.

Feelings of boredom or emptiness can also make us hungry. In today’s age of technology, it has become too convenient for us to order basic necessities online. In a matter of minutes, you can get food delivered to your doorstep. We sometimes place an order for food just out of boredom, so that we have something to do. So, in a way, boredom is another trigger of emotional eating. If there is a movie playing on your T.V, how often are you compelled to get a bowl of popcorn even if you are not hungry at all? Or maybe your favourite team is playing and you just feel like ordering a pizza, even if you had a perfectly filling meal? The food becomes part of the entertainment, not because you need it, but just because you enjoy it.

The habits we develop during our childhood.Our childhood eating habits are often carried out into our adulthood. The childhood joy provided by a “treat” is undeniable. Unfortunately, many of us find it difficult to eliminate the habit of having sweet treats in our adulthood. Having a jar of candies on
the table, or always stocking up on that ice cream compels us to consume those sweets, especially when we are over or underwhelmed.

Influences of the social environment .Going out for a meal with friends or acquaintances is a delightful feeling. It can be an excellent stress buster, but it is very easy to overeat under such a circumstance. If a person is nervous or has social anxiety, they can indulge in eating more and more so that they don’t have to talk or communicate. Also, if the people around you have unhealthy eating habits, chances are that it will negatively influence you to follow their footsteps.

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