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Using food to lift your mood?

Yesterday was World Book Day. Did you know that? I found out a few days ago on the way home from school. Car rides are the best time for information extraction — they are strapped in and have nothing to do except download their days. I have a few more years at best before they start plugging in their iPods and drowning me out.

There are times when I crave a small breathing space in between sentences, but I know I’ll miss it when the chatter subsides. Still, much as I love the car-time noise, the World Book Day conversation did not go well. They’re allowed to go to school dressed as their favourite book character so, with 72 hours to spare, I had to conjure up a Brambly Hedge mouse costume and a rabbit costume. Not just any rabbit costume mind you, Bella the Sparkle Fairy’s rabbit costume — which has a very specific distribution of brown and white fluff… ... Kill. Me. Now.

Hopefully by the time you read this, my kids will have gone happily costumed to class, where they washed their whiskers or did whatever small mammals do to pass the time. Hopefully, they won’t gnaw their way through the TV cables or poo on the floor — am pretty sure neither would go down well. As for me, I’m likely at my desk, with post traumatic costume disorder, nursing a few glue gun injuries. If I made it through without a wine and chocolate hangover, that will be good cause for celebration. I’m trying to stop the stress-induced sugar consumption.

There’s no doubt that comfort eating (or drinking) are common reactions to stress. Food (and alcohol) are relatively cheap, socially acceptable and immediately rewarding short term. Sugar psychologically and physiologically lifts our mood, at the same time as being addictive. The more we overstimulate our palates with sweet stuff to make us feel good, the more we need to achieve the same level of satisfaction. And so we overdo it.

Given, then, how easily we fall into the trap, how do we go about avoiding it? Over time I’ve found that the following strategies work really well for both me and my clients. I won’t promise you’ll never comfort eat again, but these should help you regain a lot of control:

1. Acknowledge that it’s happening and know your triggers

Sometimes life moves so fast that we have little time to observe our own behaviour and watch for patterns. Take a breather and figure out when it is that the junk or sugary options creep in. Once you understand what your triggers are, it’s much easier to make a plan.

2. Connect the short-term and the long-term goals

Most of us have some kind of long-term health goal, whether it’s losing 10lbs, fitting into a particular outfit or achieving a fitness challenge. The problem is, our desire for short-term satisfaction often gets in the way. So it’s important to understand that the short-term solution to your sugar craving (chocolate) is getting in the way of your long-term accomplishment (going down a dress size). Take some time to think about WHY you want to achieve your goal — it’s rarely superficial. Buying smaller clothes, for example, is usually connected to better body confidence which permeates all areas of your life — day-to-day irritability, how you role-model to your kids or how easy intimacy is with your partner. That level of understanding provides much more motivation when it comes to ditching the junk and finding willpower in short-term situations.

3. Anticipate a hunger dip

It’s practically impossible to make a good decision when you are starving, especially if you are emotional too. Reduce the number of factors you have working against you by anticipating your hunger dip. If you know you get hungry at your desk in the morning or at 3 in the afternoon, then make sure you have a bigger breakfast or a healthy snack at 2.30pm. Planning your meals well and having healthy snacks you enjoy, to hand, are major steps towards success.

4. Exercise

Eating sugar can lift your mood, but so can exercise. Sometimes it takes a while to experience a real endorphin rush, but the feel-good factor you achieve from knowing you nailed your exercise goal really does give you a buzz. If you feel completely wrecked after exercise and sore for days — you’re going too fast. It’s supposed to be challenging but enjoyable at the same time!

The advice given in this article is not intended to replace medical advice, but to complement it. Always consult your GP if you have any health concerns. Catherine Burns is the managing director of Natural Ltd and a fully qualified nutritional therapist trained by the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in the UK. Please note that she is not a registered dietitian. For details, please go to www.natural.bm or call 236-7511. Join Catherine on Facebook: www.facebook.com/nutri fitandnaturalnutritionbermuda.