According to dietitian Jane Jakubczak at the University of Maryland, negative emotions cause 75% of overeating. 75%! I used to tell my husband, “you don’t have an eating problem, you have a stress problem!”
Some reasons for ’emotional eating’ include past trauma, chronic or short-term stress like an angry co-worker, crazy traffic, mood disorders like anxiety and depression, and/or low self esteem. We’ve all been there before and it goes something like this; we have a bad day at work, we come home and the first thing we do is grab something that we know isn’t good for us. For me, it used to be a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch – oh my god. A survey of 9,125 U.S. adults conducted by Dr. Gregory E. Simon, MD, MPH, at Seattle’s Group Health Cooperative showed that people who are obese are 25% more likely to have mood and anxiety disorders. People who overeat for these reasons may find themselves caught in a vicious cycle. They overeat because they feel bad, and they feel bad because they overeat. Behavior change is the only way to get past this but it takes time, patience with yourself and the willingness to change.
Our brains are hardwired for rewards. Taken to the extreme, it can cause addiction. People can become addicted to a variety of substances and behaviors such as watching TV, using the internet, and even healthy behaviors like exercise. Sugar and fat trigger similar pathways and feelings as drugs. Some people get a more intense feeling after eating fat and sugar than others, more so when they are under stress or dealing with emotional trauma. Interestingly, Dr. Simon’s survey reported obese people are 25% less likely to abuse other substances, such as alcohol and illegal drugs, than non-obese people. This enforces the likelihood that some people use food to cope.
Dark chocolate is high in antioxidants and can be lower in sugar than other snacks. Add in a handful of nuts and this will satisfy any snacking cravings you may have. But remember, eat in moderation. When you come home from that ‘bad day’, go to the fridge, grab a small piece of this bark, and walk away from the fridge before eating it. Savor it slowly…I know, I know – it’s not easy but really try to enjoy the smell, the texture, the taste. Eating chocolate releases serotonin. However, chocolate has an additional benefit. It promotes relaxation through the release of endorphins. Endorphins are “feel good” chemicals also produced after hard, aerobic exercise. And chocolate may improve blood flow to the heart and brain, thus improving concentration, due to the antioxidants it contains.
If you are a “stress eater,” then try this delicious and satisfying snack to help improve your mood.
1 cup toasted almonds or pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup dried cherries or chopped dried fruit, coarsely chopped
6 oz dark chocolate (60%-70%, or higher), finely chopped
¼ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp espresso powder, optional
- In a medium bowl, toss together the almonds and the dried fruit. Line a baking sheet with waxed or parchment paper.
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave on low power or until melted, but not thick. It may take from 1-2 minutes depending on the power of the microwave. Or use a double boiler to melt the chocolate. Stir in the fruit, nuts and cinnamon. Add espresso powder if desired – this makes it extra yummy.
- Drop by teaspoonful for clusters, or pour onto parchment paper lined baking pan and spread evenly. (You can sprinkle sea salt on top if you’d like). Refrigerate until firm and store in air tight container in refrigerator.