Does Emotional & Mindless Eating Get In the Way of Your Diabetes Management?
Last updated: March 2022
Are you emotionally eating? Struggle with self-control when eating? Find yourself eating mindlessly? These patterns can definitely interfere with effective diabetes management. Not to mention the fact that it is frustrating and discouraging.
How does emotional eating affect type 2 diabetes management?
Emotional and mindless eating can send your mood and blood sugar on a roller coaster. This leaves you feeling utterly exhausted. In my recent work with a client, he discovered “having a blood sugar roller coaster wipes me out mentally and physically…why even go to the park?”(11/19/19) What a powerful image! Giving in to a tempting treat is like buying an all-day admission to an amusement park, though this one is not very amusing.
Was it worth it? Ultimately no. We know this because most of us end up regretting mindless and emotional food choices and later ask ourselves, “Why did I do that?” or "Why do I keep doing that?" However, most of us don’t stop to actually explore and answer that question: why?
Reasons for emotional eating
To help break the chains of emotional and mindless eating and the blood sugar ride to follow, let’s explore some potential reasons why and factors that likely contributed:
Lack of planning
You are going to eat at some point today and every day, probably multiple meals and snacks. But so many of us are completely caught off guard when mealtimes roll around with no thoughts around what we will do for food. When you plan ahead, at the very least just to have good choices around, you are more likely to make good choices.
When we don’t plan, we are subject to making decisions in the moment. But in the moment is where we can be highly vulnerable. In the moment you may be influenced by triggers in your physical environment for food, your mental and emotional state, the people you are around, etc. If you add high and low blood sugars to the mix, this becomes a real struggle (causing you to emotionally eat or treat with bad choice).
We live in a world surrounded by food temptations, they are everywhere! Seriously, you go to an office supply store to pick up toner and, boom! Tempting snacks are in your face at the checkout. These are triggers for emotional and mindless eating. If you are not conscious, these temptations will get the best of you. That’s why it’s helpful to avoid getting overly hungry, which is when you are more vulnerable to give in.
You need to eat throughout the day to fuel your brain, your body, and keep blood sugar stable. Going long periods of time without eating and skipping meals puts you at serious risk for overdoing it later. When you get overly hungry it’s more likely that you will make poor food choices and that you will overdo it on the portion. And, we can fall into the mind trap of justifying unhealthy choices. For example, you may find yourself thinking something like: “I didn’t eat breakfast so it’s okay if I have these cookies before bed.” This is a mind trap for justifying treats and meal timing and skipping meals only provides more support for it.
I recommend putting some thought into when you have your meals. Recognize the times that you are most vulnerable to skipping meals. For most individuals, it is mid- to late afternoon and evening times that are most vulnerable. Also, think about meals where you find yourself getting overly hungry and how to prevent this to avoid overeating. For example, if you are starving at dinner time every day, try adding a healthy afternoon snack.
Humans are creatures of habit. Mindless and emotional eating may just be built into your habits. For example, you’ve had a bad day and immediately go to ice cream/sweets. Or sitting down with a bag of chips in the evening and thoughtlessly munching away is just what you do, it’s a part of your daily habits.
Habits are actually a good thing in many ways if you are able to harness them for your best interest. Habits help your brain save energy by essentially turning on the cruise control. Establish healthy habits, especially those that surround food decisions, meal timing, and avoiding temptations.
Lack of effective coping skills
For many folks, food is the go-to for dealing with emotions like feeling down, depressed, upset, overwhelmed, stressed out, etc. And, when it comes to mindless eating, this can often be a tool to cope with boredom. Part of the human experience is experiencing a range of emotions.
If you don’t have other coping skills to turn to during these times, you will consistently fall back to using food to cope, especially when considering the other factors previously mentioned. I recommend having a variety of coping skills, a whole toolbox. That way, you can use the right tool for the job of dealing with normal human emotions.
How often do you find yourself craving sweet snacks?