Strategies for Health

Strategies for Health

What do chicken and waffles, spaghetti and meatballs, chicken fried steak, and mac and cheese all have in common? Besides being delicious, they’re also commonly grouped together in a category known as “comfort foods.” 

Have you ever felt bummed and craved broccoli? Probably not. When someone is going through a hard time, casseroles and the aforementioned foods are go-tos during hard times. Have you ever wondered why that is? 

According to the Harvard School of Public Health, hyper-palatable foods are generally easy to digest and are sweet, salty or rich. Hyper-palatable foods are known to stimulate the release of various hormones beyond dopamine, including insulin, cortisol (stress) and leptin (hunger). Increases in these hormones can lead to cravings for a particular food or taste. Healthy foods tend not to contain any of these elements — leafy greens, for example, are high in vitamins, minerals and fiber, but low in sugar and salt — and so a person’s brain tends not to crave them in the same way it does a donut or a slice of pizza. Read the full article here.

Despite these foods being so common to consume during hardship that they have their own category of food named after them (comfort foods) and the fact that there are real ties from these foods to our childhood, plus the hormonal responses our emotions inflict dictating cravings, we know that “eating our feelings” is not the healthiest coping strategy. Understanding this reality, it’s wise to get ahead of the hard times and plan strategies to engage when the hard times come our way. 

So how can we plan ahead for the emotional rollercoasters of life? Here are five ideas from Aspire Health:

  • Strategy #1: The hunger scale. When you find yourself heading toward food, our health coaches say to take a second to identify where your hunger is. Is it in your head? Did you just eat your lunch? Is it actually thirst? (We often mistake hunger for thirst, so make sure you stay hydrated.) Are you bored? Or is it true hunger? If it is true hunger, take a second to think or plan ahead for a healthy, balanced snack or meal.
  • Strategy #2: Practice HALT. HALT is an acronym used to help break the cycle of emotional eating. When you are about to eat a pint of ice cream, munch on a greasy snack or another easy fix, ask yourself Am I Hungry? Angry? Lonely? or Tired? Make sure you are honest with yourself.
  • Strategy #3: Mindful meditation. Meditation helps us with focus, sleep and stress. It can also help improve our relationships with eating and managing weight. Activities including deep breathing exercises, yoga, prayer, going for a walk, riding a bike, swimming, or progressive muscle reaction.
  • Strategy #4: Identify triggers and find alternatives. Triggers can include foods, feelings or situations that occur at certain times of the day, month or season. Plan ahead. Acknowledge what time you tend to emotionally eat and prepare ahead of time and replace with a healthy alternative. For example, if you are triggered by boredom, try a new hobby that is not food related such as knitting or crafts. Or maybe call a friend, try a workout or go for a walk.
  • Strategy #5: Avoid tempting foods and keep a food log. Find alternatives and have healthy foods available. Remember the expression “out of sight, out of mind.” When you have true hunger, replace with healthy foods such veggies and hummus, fruit and peanut/almond butter, Greek yogurt with nuts and/or fruit, a handful of unsalted almonds/cashews/peanuts, whole wheat toast with peanut butter, string cheese with whole wheat crackers, or cottage cheese with fruit. Keeping a food log helps increase accountability and awareness.

We hope one or some of these strategies can be added to your toolbox of life skills to help you be your healthiest self.


By Victoria Emmitt RD

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