THE BLOG
05/24/2012 03:45 pm ET Updated Jul 24, 2012

Which is More Fattening, Guilt or Resentment?

For those of us who use food as a drug, there are a variety of feelings that will lead us to the food. Any feeling that makes us uncomfortable has the potential to lead us to eat, even when we are not hungry, just to take the edge off the discomfort.

We now know that certain foods, mainly the high salt/high fat/high sugar foods, activate the same reward pathways in the brain as do drugs of abuse. They make us feel good. The degree to which this happens is individual. For those of us whose reward centers in our brains light up like the Vegas Strip at night when seeing, tasting and even anticipating eating, we have a much harder time resisting certain foods than those who get a little energy-saving light bulb, or no bulb at all.

So if you're a Vegas Strip type of person, I am, how can you learn not to turn to food when feeling uncomfortable? Especially when you've practiced this behavior over, and over again?

In this blog I'm just going to look at guilt and resentment. Both of those feelings tend to lead us to eat, as they are both uncomfortable. Guilt means you feel like you are doing something wrong. For example, your friend asks you to do something for her that you really don't want to do. You now have choices, you can say yes or no. When we are caring people, saying no can lead us to feel guilty, even if we have a good reason for not being willing or able to say yes. We can feel like we are doing something wrong by saying no.

If we say yes to this friend and then go ahead and do something we really don't want to do, we might feel resentment. Resentment is a mild form of anger and tends to fester. We might have thoughts like, "Why does Sally always ask me to do this when she could ask someone else? When I asked her to do something, which I almost never do, she has no problem saying no. Why can't I? She's so selfish."

So we have a choice to feel either guilt, or resentment. I try to choose guilt and then work through it, instead of doing things I really don't want to do to please someone else. This isn't black and white, of course. There will be times when you are needed, or really don't mind doing whatever is asked of you, but when there is a choice, I say go for the guilt and be respectfully honest with the person you are saying no to.

While festering in resentment, and doing whatever it is we really don't want to do, we might use the food to make the experience more pleasant. Eating a bag of chips while driving to pick up Sally's dry cleaning can dampen the resentment we are feeling. Munching all weekend that the out-of-town guests are staying with you, when you really wish they weren't there, can mitigate the discomfort. It's not a great strategy but it does work in the moment.

If you said no to Sally, and/or the out-of-towners, you might feel like you did something wrong. You might feel like you are being selfish and that is uncomfortable. This can lead to eating, but generally doesn't last nearly as long as resentment. If you can realize that you don't always have to say yes, that Sally sometimes says no and the world doesn't end, that the out-of-towners can make other arrangements and will still like you if you can't host their visit, it lessens the guilt and the potential eating to cope with it.

So which is more fattening, guilt or resentment? Ideally, neither, as using food to cope with feelings is a behavior it would be good to change. Until one is able to do that, on a consistent basis, guilt tends to lead to less emotional eating than does resentment.

For more by Irene Rubaum-Keller, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.