Most people can say that they’ve been emotional eaters before, whether it’s crying over Chinese food after a breakup or eating too much cake on your 20th birthday. Even I can’t lie and say that my hand was not in a box of Cheez-Its just before I started writing this. Emotions, whether they be excitement, restlessness, anxiety, sadness, happiness or even boredom, can cause us to eat more than we want to, or even cause us to skip a meal.
Living with bipolar disorder can complicate and aggravate eating habits when experiencing these emotions. Since bipolar disorder has a cyclical nature, some people who experience mood swings can also experience cycling in their eating habits. From my own personal experience, depressive episodes kept me away from the kitchen. Anxiety and depression surrounding body image can play a factor in this for some people as it did for me. For others, that might be the opposite. Depressive episodes can potentially trigger emotional eating because people find comfort in snack foods. Hypomanic and manic episodes kept me occupied with pints of Ben & Jerry’s, on the other hand. Restless energy, overexcitement and even anxiety can have people racing to their junk food stash to occupy their minds. Food is also comforting and pleasing, which could be a source of stimulation for manic symptoms. For others, high energy can keep people away from food for a variety of reasons, like finding other, more pleasing stimuli or simply just forgetting to feed the body.
Mood and food cycling can create serious problems if emotional eating gets out of hand. Psychotropic medication side effects that change body weight, paired with high amounts of emotional eating, can create a weight gaining problem that causes physical health issues like diabetes, obesity and hypertension. On the opposite end of the spectrum, not eating due to mood swings can cause unhealthy weight loss and malnourishment of the body. Cycling back and forth between these two extremes exhausts the body, making symptoms of bipolar disorder even more difficult to cope with and creating higher risk for physical illnesses.
So, if you’re emotionally eating in a way the correlates with mood cycles, what are some ways to keep you feeling healthy?
1. Eat healthy. Work on creating a diet that both nourishes the body and keeps you full. For me, this was adding more protein to my diet to keep me eating smaller portions and to keep me fuller for longer periods of time. Feeling more full keeps me away from the kitchen when I’m feeling restless or upset
2. Exercise. We’ve all eaten too much for our own good every now and again, but why dwell on it when you can work out? Exercise is a great way to not only manage emotional eating, but to manage cycling moods in general. Whether it is going for a walk, doing yoga or even weight lifting, exercise is a great way to keep yourself physically and mentally healthy.
3. Treat yo’ self. Giving yourself some good old TLC is a great way to manage emotional eating and mood, especially when depression is in town. Buy that dress you’ve been eyeing up on the clearance rack. Go out to that show your buddies invited you to. Spend an extra 15 minutes outside and away from your phone. Take a nap. Do something that rejuvenates you. Keeping your brain happy will help keep your body happy.
4. Be aware of emotional hunger. Be self-aware of your motives for opening that pack of Oreos. Is your tummy hungry or is your mind hungry?
5. Know your triggers. If you find yourself consistently going to the fridge during episodes, ask yourself what brought you there. Keep track and find out if you’re eating for the same reasons. Knowing your triggers allows you to be able to cope with them in more effective and healthy ways.
6. Keep a Routine. There’s plenty of evidence and research that proves routine helps people live more healthily with bipolar disorder. Keeping your diet on a routine can help keep cravings away.
Emotional eating during mood swings is something that is completely manageable with a little bit of work. It’s worth it too, as the body feels healthier and happier, making your mind healthier and happier, too. It’s not always easy to identify what has us snacking on those Doritos, but with some self reflection and even the help of a counselor, therapist or social worker, emotional eating and the damage it can create can be controlled.