Have you eaten food that brought up happy memories or even tried to alter your bad mood with something sweet and comforting?
We use food all the time to nourish our bodies and our mind and spirit as well. When we have imbalances in our life, we may end up using food as a remedy. This imbalance can lead to emotional eating or feeling stuck or trapped by food addictions (hello, sugar cravings!) through repeated unwanted behaviors. Over time, we create habits of which we're not even aware.
For example, you might always crave something sweet when getting home if you had a stressful day and then reach for a soothing treat like ice cream or chocolate. Whenever you feel stressed, you reach for something sweet as a relief.
What should you do if you can't have your chocolate or ice cream (or other favorite food) on an elimination diet, and the urge is overwhelming? These patterns or habits can become much more apparent as you work through elimination diets like AIP (Autoimmune Protocol) or Paleo.
One way to reduce inflammation with an autoimmune condition like Hashimoto's is with the autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. The diet consists of a strict elimination phase followed by a slow and intentional reintroduction phase. The goal is to figure out which individual foods contribute to adverse autoimmune responses.
However, an unexpected issue often pops up during these kinds of diets. You may feel strong emotions when you remove foods that you previously found comforting or habitual for navigating life's stressors.
These emotions can manifest as resistance to the diet changes, self-sabotage with the diet, negative thinking, emotional urges to cry, feelings of overwhelm, or anger and frustration. You may notice these emotions more when removing foods like caffeine, chocolate, sugar, and grains. These foods are highly palatable, and we often use them to soothe our stress responses or provide us with energy, creating a reliance on these foods to get through the day.
Ahead, I'll help guide you through creating better eating habits with my four-step Q.U.I.T tool.
Before you indulge (like when sugar cravings or the urge to eat something not on your elimination diet comes up), pause and be in the moment. Observe yourself and your thoughts. Be non-judgmental, and ask yourself what triggered this. Consider when the craving or habit began. What happened during your day? What emotions are coming up in the moment? Are there any patterns to your emotional eating? Ask lots of questions and see what answers come to mind.
By recognizing patterns to emotional eating, you can identify your triggers. Check-in with your mood – are you hungry and need to eat, or are you lonely, sad, angry, bored? Understand why you are eating or indulging in the unwanted habit. Then, you can identify how your emotions are impacting your behavior and what the primary triggers are.
This step is the most important! Initiate a new response before you indulge in the craving or unwanted habit. By replacing the old action, you train your brain to create a new connection to remove the unwanted pattern. You want the new behavior to be a positive impact that brings you joy and satisfaction, not in the form of food. Instead of indulging in sweets or chocolate, call a friend to chat or dance for a few minutes, for example.
There will be some trial & error as you figure out which new actions work for you and which ones just don't cut it. If one action wasn't enough to curb the craving or habit, try another one on your list the next time or do 2 or 3 of them. With practice, you'll implement new habits over time.
Doing an elimination diet doesn't have to feel scary as you remove some of your favorite foods. You can gain control of your emotions and cravings by creating better habits that will positively impact your health and well-being.
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