Find yourself reaching for a cookie when you’re lonely? Or, downing a pint of ice cream when you’re sad? It may be that you are trying to boost your neurotransmitter levels of “feel-good” chemicals, such as serotonin, in your brain. Carbohydrates, especially those that are simple sugars, can increase levels of these natural chemicals. But they can also cause weight gain when eaten in excess. Many women get cravings right before their periods, or when they are ovulating at mid-cycle. This can occur because it is during these times in a woman’s cycle that serotonin levels can be lower.
The good news is that there are many ways you can naturally support healthy levels of feel-good chemicals and avoid emotional eating. Here are some solutions:
Keep your blood sugar level even keel by eating protein, quality fat, and some high-fiber carbohydrates at every meal. Avoid going for long periods of time without food. Keeping your caloric intake steady throughout the day will allow you to avoid the sugar blues and mood changes associated with eating high-sugar foods.
Get some exercise! Go for a walk, do some yoga, or do any gentle movement that your body enjoys. Research shows that after exercise, the brain has increased levels of tryptophan, an amino acid that plays a part in the production of serotonin.
Get some exposure to bright sunlight. Researchers have shown regular exposure to bright light has a profound impact on serotonin production. In many countries where there is very little sunlight during the winter months people use bright sun lamps on a daily basis. “Light Cafes” have sprung up in Scandinavia and England to help those who are light sensitive, or who have seasonal affective disorder – a condition where people experience depression during the long cold dark winters.
Shift your mood by thinking happy thoughts. Believe it or not, it works! Researchers have also found that self-induced changes in thoughts and mood can boost serotonin levels. Whatever it is that makes you smile, and gives you that sense of gratifying joy, do it. It may be that watching a happy movie, reading an uplifting book, or article, or talking to a dear friend is all it takes to help you walk away from emotional eating and towards doing something more positive and rewarding for yourself.