I have been compensated for my time by McNeil Nutritionals, LLC, the maker of SPLENDA® Sweetener Products. All statements and opinions are my own. I have pledged to Blog With Integrity, asserting that the trust of my readers and the blogging community is vitally important to me.
The connection between certain foods and our emotions can be very strong. I know having carrot cake with cream cheese frosting puts the “happy” in my happy birthday celebration, but it isn’t the only way to put a smile on my face. Yet many of my clients have told me they find it difficult to cope with the ups and downs of everyday life without turning to sweet treats to lift their spirits.
If you’ve ever eaten your way through a sleeve of Girl Scout cookies to help you deal with a difficult situation, you know what I’m talking about. Whether it’s an overwhelming project at work or an extended to-do list at home, using food to “feed” your emotions can become an unhealthy habit.
The desire to eat sweets can feel so strong to some people they call it a craving. But is it really a food craving or just a long-used coping mechanism?
I’ve written about the power of perceived food cravings before. Their connection to coping mechanisms is very strong. Simply put, if we have always relied on certain foods to help us get through tough times we can feel very deprived without those foods – but that isn’t a craving. It is a learned way to cope. Unfortunately, the pleasure of eating a favorite food is short-lived, while the excess calories that go with those foods can last forever. And eating doesn’t solve the problem at hand.
What you need if you’ve become conditioned to think of food as the fix for everything that hurts are new coping skills. The goal is to learn how to deal with whatever comes your way so you can feel good about yourself for handling the task rather than giving in to sweet cravings to feel good. The more you practice these skills, the less you’ll rely on food rewards for your happiness. You’ll soon discover that nothing tastes as sweet as success!
Coping Without All the Calories
- Have a backup plan. You need a new strategy that can be implemented in a moment’s notice to replace reaching for a treat. An easy one is to drink a 12 ounce glass of cold water and avoid eating anything for at least 30 minutes. That will give you time to deal with the problem and break down the need for instant gratification.
- Use the escape route. When thoughts of food are distracting you, let your mind take a rest and put your body to work instead. Go for a short, brisk walk or get up and do some jumping jacks or find a stairwell and make a few trips up and down to provide a physical release for your pent-up frustrations. Getting away from the situation for a few minutes can’t hurt, and the activity just might help to clear your mind so you can see your way to a solution a little faster.
- Reach for a lifeline. Sometimes our problems are just too big to handle on our own, especially when facing unrealistic expectations imposed by yourself or others. Knowing when it’s time to reach out for help can save both time and unnecessary stress. Focus on getting the job done using whatever resources you can rather than trying to go it alone.
- Fortify your fortress. Keeping tempting foods out of sight can certainly make it easier to stay on task, but that doesn’t mean you can never eat something sweet. That’s where low calorie sweeteners, like SPLENDA® No Calorie Sweetener, can come in handy. Using a low calorie sweetener instead of sugar makes it possible to satisfy your sweet tooth with fewer calories as a regular part of your meal plan. Whether used in a cup of your favorite herbal tea, to flavor a Sweet and Spicy Snack Mix or make a batch of Deep Chocolate Shortbread to stash in the freezer, you can enjoy a sweet treat just because it tastes good, not because it helps you cope!
Robyn Flipse, MS, MA, RDN, “The Everyday RD,” is an author and nutrition consultant who has headed the nutrition services department in a large teaching hospital and maintained a private practice where she provided diet therapy to individuals and families. With more than 30 years of experience, Robyn is motivated by the opportunity to help people make the best eating decisions for their everyday diet. She believes that choosing what to eat should not be a daily battle and aims to separate the facts from the fiction so you can enjoy eating well.