Scientific research suggests that there are strong associations between our eating behaviour style (emotional, restrictive, or external) and anxiety.
What Is Anxiety And Eating Distress?
Fear is known to be a survival instinct especially when it occurs in response to dangerous situations. For instance, if a dangerous animal approached you would most likely respond to the situation with fear, and this fear response will make you run. In other words, your body goes through different changes so you can physically defend yourself. As you see, the experience of fear is associated with survival.
Anxiety and Generalised Anxiety:
Anxiety is an emotion you can experience in several ways and can be problematic when you experience it in situations where there is no apparent danger or threat. For instance, you may feel anxious before a job interview or before an important game. However, if your anxiety becomes so extreme that it interferes with your life, particularly if it is excessive and uncontrollable, it can be persistent and cause you significant distress. This is when your anxiety may become a form of generalised anxiety.
Eating distress often occurs when you are feeling unable to cope with different areas in your life. Eating distress is most likely to start when you are trying to take control over one area of your life while you feel like you have lost control of other areas of your life. Other times, it can be due to body dissatisfaction, and can become problematic when you start becoming unhealthily obsessed with your food choices. Distinct eating disorders have different symptoms and can cause different physical problems.
Different Ways To Calm Your Mind And Eating Behaviour
This will take time and therefore you should train your mind daily and be patient with yourself.
Here are four ways to calm your mind and eating behaviour:
Do not deprive yourself:
Avoid depriving yourself from food to calm your mind. Try to eat satisfying amounts of healthy foods and healthy snacks such as fruits and nuts. If you have an emotional eating behaviour style, not allowing yourself to eat certain foods might make your cravings even greater.
Helpful food diary:
Keep a diary to write down what you eat, how much you eat, when you eat and importantly, how you are feeling when you eat and how hungry you are. Over a certain time, you might be able to see certain patterns and links between your mood and food.
Emotional hunger often is automatic and involves mindless eating. Try mindful eating to enjoy a meal and the experience of eating.
Reflection of cravings:
Before you give into your craving take some time to think about when you are craving food and give yourself an opportunity to make different decisions. Remember that you do not tell yourself that you cannot give in to the craving, but rather tell yourself that you have to wait.
Reflect over your emotions:
Whilst taking time to reflect, also think about how you are feeling emotionally. This might help you to have a better understanding of why you did it and help you to respond differently the next time.
Turn off anything distracting:
If you do decide to give into your cravings, switch off from any distractions as this can make you less aware of what and how much you are eating.
Avoid eating straight from the bag or the box. This way, you will be more aware of much you have eaten and help you avoid overeating.
Attention Training & Meditation:
One way to train your attention to become more present instead of dealing with a wandering mind is through meditation. Meditating can help you to disengage from your worries. You can practice being mindful of your breathing, and notice anytime your mind wanders away from your breath. When you catch your mind wandering away from your breath, redirect it back to your breath as an anchor to become more present.
Sit down on a chair in a way that you feel relaxed, but with an alert posture. Ask yourself what are you experiencing, in other words become aware of your thoughts and body sensations. For 30 seconds, allow yourself to acknowledge this without making judgements or making them go away.
Now, bring your awareness to your breath. Focus on the sensations of your breath and the movements of the sensations on your belly. Spend 2 minutes doing this.
Expand your awareness to sensing your whole body breathing. If you are feeling anxious about food consumption, try to tell yourself that it is OK to feel it and allow yourself to breathe with these feelings.
If your mind wanders to difficult thoughts or sensations, acknowledge it and let them go. Always go back to focusing on sensing your whole body breathing.
How Can We Help You?
When you feel like you still cannot calm your anxiety and eating behaviour, our therapists at WeightMatters have received specialised training, and can work with all presentations of disordered eating and eating disorders as well as other mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and trauma.