Sandra Gentleman is a registered dietitian working in Port Alberni, B.C. (SUBMITTED PHOTO)

ACTIVE LIVING: Uncover your triggers for mindless eating

Port Alberni registered dietitian Sandra Gentleman writes about health issues


Special to the AV News

Do you consider yourself an emotional eater? Do you have cravings for certain foods at certain times?

Many people who have a love/hate relationship with food may make more than 300 decisions (the majority are unconscious) about food in a day. Chronic dieting, weight cycling and/or overeating are hallmarks of people who may have an unhealthy relationship with food.

Everyone has emotional reasons for eating, as food adds pleasure, connection and comfort to our lives. The problem of emotional eating happens when the balance of eating and thinking about food is thrown off. Feeling guilty about eating can aggravate the problem, as this can cause a trigger for repeating the offending behaviour. A cycle of “eat-feel guilt-repeat” can worsen things.

When food is used for distraction to disconnect from feelings, eating may not be happening for hunger reasons, but emotional reasons to fill a hole. This type of distraction provides a temporary relief and feelings surface again and again to cause another mindless eating episode.

Learning to identify the underlying reasons for eating is the first step in helping to break the cycle and change the outcome.

Cravings for sweets is common and there are a couple of reasons that people identify sugary foods as their weakness. Diet culture (including health and wellness) has deemed that sweets are “bad,” even though they add pleasure to our lives. From a young age, people are taught to feel guilty for wanting and eating sweet foods. This is a powerful driver of “eat-feel guilt-repeat” behaviour that cycles again and again.

Secondly, reaching for sweets when you’re frustrated, lonely, tired or bored helps to smooth over the rough feelings and discomforts of life temporarily. The feeling of “deserving this sweet treat” adds to the cycle. Eating sweets is not the problem, this may only be a symptom. Continuing to label food as “bad” only gives more power to food over you.

Identifying reasons for eating, such as time of day, state of mind and emotional triggers will help to bring about mindful eating. Making a decision to choose to eat a certain food consciously helps bring more control in the situation.

Recognizing the freedom that can come from breaking free of this negative cycle (that keeps people trapped in a life focused on food but not really finding pleasure with eating) is key to improving your relationship with food.

Sandra Gentleman, RD, is a Port Alberni-based registered dietitian. Her Active Living column will appear every few weeks in the Alberni Valley News and online at

Alberni-Clayoquot Regional DistrictHealth and wellnessPort Alberni

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