Integrative health and food therapy specialist Christine Dionese shares her toolkit for healthy emotional eating. It encourages us to embrace the science behind intuitive eating, and allow it to reveal how our food choices nourish our emotional connections to them.
Emotional eating has always been and continues to be a happy, natural part of my life.
After living my entire life in New York, I moved to California in 2001. Let’s just say some of the first friends I met didn’t share my same experiences with food.
Suddenly, those dining around me ate anxiously like birds while I sat to enjoy second helpings. All I’d hear from new friends was: “Won’t you need to lose weight if you eat that much pasta?” Or “You can’t eat that; it has too much fat.” Another friend boldly asserted: “I think you must have a problem with emotional eating. You eat way too much.”
I was blown away. Certainly my European friends and Italian family never projected this thinking toward me. Why—instead of discussing flavor, recipes and the health attracting qualities of food—were my new friends suddenly qualifying everything on my plate?
I was accustomed to listening to my body, giving it what intuitively felt right and consuming what was available by the seasons. Although I was no stranger to eating disorders, I was a proponent of the pro-emotional, intuitive eating movement early on.
Not surprisingly, the published literature covering emotional eating was primarily focused on disordered eating habits. As I researched deeper, I confirmed that not only were eating disorders strongly associated with cultural phenomena, but that the epigenetic loop being created by this issue devastated self-compassion and stole from the very basic building blocks that helped cultivate self-compassion from a core nutritionally-driven physiological level. It was at this moment I became hooked on understanding how epigenetic phenomena shape our internal and external existence through food.
That’s where the science comes in.
MOOD FOOD & GUT FEELINGS: THE SCIENCE
In his book Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious, Gerd Gigerenzer, psychologist and director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development explains that gut feelings are anchored both in the evolved brain and the environment. This explains behavior from an adaptive perspective. The approach assumes that people will develop flexible, adaptive behaviors as they interact with their environment. This is what I refer to over and over again as the epigenetic landscape, or information we draw in from the environment consciously or subconsciously that will influence our neurophysiological health. In this case, the epigenetic variable we’re discussing is information about and derived directly from food that exerts a physiological result.
Borrowing from our own Danielle Beinstein, there’s those stories we tell ourselves, that dialogue our brain makes up that can crush or cultivate an intuitive gut feeling and confidence in a flash. The science supports the notion that listening to and acknowledging, rather than qualifying your gut feelings could be one of the most invaluable epigenetic gifts we have the ability to wield. So, what if those gut feelings make us feel bad or sad instead of confident? How can be embrace rather than shun emotional eating?
Consider this equation:
Sluggish Gut + Lack of Key Nutrients = Decreased Happiness
Zoom inside for a biomedical explanation and it’s there. Serotonin is responsible for regulating sleep, appetite, emotional wellness and mood fluctuations—aka the ingredients to happiness. It is not a coincidence that serotonin is made in the gut or that your gut microbiology are linked to the manufacture of serotonin. We call it the ENS or enteric nervous system. Along with serotonin, the gut is well-endowed with other neuromodulators that influence emotion and behavior.
We’ve long known that serotonin production depends on diverse gut microbiology, a wide variety of beneficial bacteria living throughout the gut, but also that the manufacture of serotonin maintains a direct relationship to how well things are moving along in the digestive system. It’s a key variable to emotional flow. This is one explanation among many as to why a sluggish digestive system can lead to an unfavorable emotional relationship with food. With slow activity, serotonin and other neuromodulators experience a difficult time being taken up to be used by the brain. When serotonin cannot reach higher brain centers, depression may ensue and doubt can hijack your self-talk mind. You might find yourself saying things like “I feel off” or “I can’t gauge satiation or satisfaction.”
So, what’s to be done? We’ve got to work from the inside out this time. We’ve got to dive inside and we’ve got to get primitive to feed those tiny micro-organisms. You can take a risk on allowing your gut to be your compass if you feed it what it needs to intuitively thrive.
//Where Science & Discovery Meet Human Intuition and Wellness//
Emotional cues have a way of permeating the gate that protects what neuroscientists refer to as working memory. Once inside, these cues have the ability to circumvent the current data stored there. Why is this important? Working memory helps us hold onto information long enough to evaluate whether or not it serves our higher needs.
According to the American Mindfulness Association, this means we can choose to practice new behaviors free from self-judgement so we can literally “feel out” whether they intuitively jive.
Ready to test out and harness intuitive eating? Here’s my toolkit for nourishing confidence through mindful eating:Honor and acknowledge food as your life force.
Thanks to the Stanford School of Medicine’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research we are reminded that the heart, mind and wellness exist and thrive through a positive relationship with food. Consider how in some cultures food is shared as a sign of love. Allow yourself time to experience flavor and the heart will respond by functioning at an improved rate; signaling the brain you’re practicing a behavior that serves your higher needs. Sharing meals with others or eating in public spaces can improve this frequency even more.
Offer yourself permission to practice intuitive eating in a peaceful setting.
Eat slowly and allow yourself to consume the portion size that intuitively feels right until you are satiated. Resist counting calories, give yourself permission to eat the foods you’re naturally gravitating toward and while doing so, introduce or rotate 3 new foods each week for 4 weeks. At the end of the 4 weeks reflect on how you feel mentally and physically, perhaps via journaling. Many of my patients report reduced anxiety, improved sleep and energy and most noteworthy, an overall rise in confidence and personal satisfaction.
Get the support of personalized functional science.
Show your subjective side some gratitude and justice by taking advantage of specialty diagnostic tests such as total gut microbiology evaluation, complete allergy and sensitivity panels along with personalized genetic testing to reveal any genetic, immune or microbiological factors that may be influencing your emotional wellness. As the science shows, our emotions are created and therefore nourished by what we feed ourselves.
Christine has dedicated her career to helping others understand the science of happiness and its powerful effects on everyday human health by harnessing the power of the epigenetic landscape. She is available for both private and professionals consultations. Please contact her here.
#moodfood #comfortfood #emotionaleating #trustyourgut #gutfeelings #attractinghealth #foodtherapy #foodpsychology #foodforthought