Over the past few weeks, more than one of my clients has mentioned a recent and unexpected trigger of emotional eating -- the presidential campaign. I've coined the phrase ESEE -- "election season emotional eating." I noticed a similar phenomenon four years ago. It's no surprise that the presidential campaigns can trigger strong emotions that range from excitement and anticipation to fear and anger.
How does this relate to eating? Emotions, particularly intense feelings, often lead to comfort eating. If you are an emotional eater, it is common to go back to habitual ways of calming and soothing -- such as eating -- when feeling stressed and overwhelmed. And it is easy to get overwhelmed when the media debates job rates and the economy 24/7. Even the AARP is worried about the emotions of older adults. They recently created an "anxiety index" to keep tabs on how stressed out retirees are about the elections.
Topics discussed in the media also can serve as "triggers" of strong emotions, which then can lead to emotional eating. (Consider Rep. Todd Akin's comments about rape and other emotionally charged issues such as abortion and gun control laws.)
So, if you notice yourself eating more over the next few months or sitting on the couch mindlessly eating chips as you watch TV, consider whether ESEE might be one source.
Five Tips for Dealing with Election Season Emotional Eating
1) Be Conscious of Your Feelings
If you find yourself emotionally eating, notice whether it could be triggered, even in part, by your emotions about the presidential campaigns. Being aware of where your feelings are coming from is key.
2) Focus on What You Can Control
The elections can bring up feelings of fear, hopelessness and anxiety -- particularly when it feels like the economy and the national debt are completely out of your hands. Instead, focus on your internal locus of control, what you do have power over, like getting your own finances in order and making a budget.
3) Replace Comfort Eating
If you are an emotional eater, be sure to replace eating with another soothing activities -- a hot shower, cup of tea, or massage. (You can find more ideas in my book, 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food.)
4) Don't Eat in Front of the TV
This is generally good advice any time of the year. But, if you are particularly prone to emotional eating, the TV ads and evening news are likely to stir up strong feelings that lead to comfort eating.
5) Carefully Choose Your News Source
If TV ads are upsetting, get your presidential campaign updates online. You can turn off or away from the news whenever you need to instead of being at the mercy of TV ads. Or, better yet, set your DVR or TiVo to skip over triggering media.
Hopefully, we can enjoy the election process while taking care of ourselves and avoiding emotional eating!
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See Dr. Susan Albers' new book, But I Deserve This Chocolate: The 50 Most Common Diet-Derailing and How to Outwit Them. She is a psychologist for the Cleveland Clinic and author of five books on mindful eating including 50 Ways to Soothe Yourself Without Food and Eating Mindfully 2nd edition (order now!). Her books have been noted in O, the Oprah magazine, Shape, Prevention, Health, etc., and seen on The Dr. Oz Show on TV.
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