Marika Wamback, BSc. R.D., Registered Dietitian
Have you ever wondered why you can’t stop eating the foods that you love that you’re supposed to avoid? Why is it so hard to eat an apple instead of apple pie? Why does the guilt afterwards fuel this cycle? Why doesn’t it stop the wrong choices instead of encouraging them?
Food For Survival
Food is something we all must have to survive. We can’t go without eating! We can go without alcohol, we can go without caffeine (although some would argue this point — me included!) but we need basic fluids and food. There’s no avoiding it. Unfortunately, we often don’t eat for survival.
Why We Eat the Way We Do
We eat for a variety of reasons other than physical nourishment, which can complicate breaking the cycle of emotional eating. Stress from trying to manage chronic kidney disease can contribute to the cycle. Chronic kidney disease can and does interrupt our lives: it affects work, home, and responsibilities that come with it — mortgage, children, bills, family, etc.
Sometimes solace is found in food. Approximately 1 in 4 adults use food to cope with stress. Unfortunately, this can become a vicious cycle, and lead to unwanted weight gain, kidney disease complications, poor labs, more dialysis, more guilt, and more shame. Working with a team of health care professionals can help manage emotional eating by establishing specific goals, providing support, and encouraging personal persistence.
Defining Emotional Eating
Emotional eating consists of consuming food for reasons other than physical hunger, usually due to a negative stimulus. Boredom, stress, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and frustration with restrictions associated with the renal diet are some of the emotions that can ‘feed the food’. Getting at what is causing the emotions and how to cope with them is the best way to address emotional eating. When this happens, and with goals, and strategies, it becomes easier to manage emotions, thus leading to improved food choices. This leads to improved health outcomes.
Strategies to Overcome Emotional Eating
Conquer emotional eating with your health care team by implementing goals and strategies that are realistic for you, to help you manage and cope. Set S.M.A.R.T. goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely). For example, you may be a ‘snacker’ during commercial breaks on TV. A goal of: ‘I will do a jigsaw puzzle during the commercials while watching TV’ is a specific goal that helps you make a positive choice and learn to take control of your emotions. Notice it says nothing about food. Pick a goal you know that you’ll be at least 70% confident you can do.
Be prepared for slips — even the most confident person and the most well-picked goals can have interruptions. If something does not work, try something else, or, better yet, pick something you know will work, instead of something that will not. For example, if you like to knit as a distraction, use it! If you hate it, don’t!
By setting small goals, you can make positive choices, improve coping skills, and improve health outcomes. This can lead to better kidney disease management, and a healthier, happier you.
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