Today I want to continue our conversation about the nervous system (If you haven’t checked out the first part of this convo, you can do so here!) by further demystifying it and talking about 6 steps you can take to start regulating your nervous system to support overcoming emotional overeating.
To start, we must first understand the difference between emotional overeating and binge eating. Emotional overeating is a type of overeating that is triggered by emotional factors. So that can be factors like stress, boredom, anger, sadness, or even positive emotions. The key is that it’s eating in response to emotion when you’re not physically hungry and using food as a way to cope or distract yourself.
Binge eating is characterized by episodes of excessive food consumption in a shorter period of time. So people who binge eat typically large amounts of food and they feel this sense of a loss of control over their eating during the binge episode. The difference with emotional eating and binge eating is that binge eating might not necessarily be triggered by uncomfortable emotions. It may occur in response to physical hunger or any other type of factor. But both emotional overeating and binge eating can be symptoms of nervous system dysregulation. So when we start to kind of approach healing from a holistic lens and we include nervous system regulation as one of the puzzle pieces, it can be a huge game changer in the progress that we make.
So, 6 steps to start regulating your nervous system:
1. Engage in stress reducing activities
This can look like movement, engaging in hobbies, or getting outside and being in nature. All of these things can be really powerful because what they do is they help activate our parasympathetic nervous system and decrease the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is what promotes a state of relaxation and calmness and it helps to counteract the effects of the sympathetic nervous system (a.k.a. fight or flight).
2. Prioritize getting adequate sleep
Sleep has a major impact on our nervous system as well as our eating behavior. When we’re sleeping, our body is resting, recovering, and the nervous system is actually able to reset itself. So prioritizing getting better sleep, getting more sleep is crucial for healing our relationship with food. Poor sleep actually leads to an increase in hormones that are responsible for appetite, which can stimulate cravings for more sugary foods or more highly palatable foods. A great place to start is to just say no to scrolling on your phone before bed!
3. Focus on body-oriented techniques
To support our body’s nervous system, we want to think about supporting our body through engaging its five senses. We can do this in a number of different ways. When you understand what type of nervous system dysregulation you are in, hyperarousal or hypoarousal (originally explained here), you can use different techniques to support that specific type of dysregulation.
4. Laugh it off
Laughter truly is the best medicine. It is a great way to support our nervous system because it helps by stimulating our parasympathetic nervous system. When we laugh, our bodies release all different kinds of hormones. It releases endorphins, which are natural mood elevators that can help counteract the effect of stress hormones. Laughter helps relax muscle tension and promote states of calmness and joy. It helps improve blood flow and oxygenation to our brain and body, which then helps improve mental clarity. So watch a funny movie, watch a stand up comedy show, read a funny book, or spend time with friends who make you laugh!
5. Participate in nature therapy
This is also called forest bathing or eco therapy and it’s as simple as it sounds. It’s about spending time in nature. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can help increase our feelings of happiness, reduce symptoms of depression, and can improve overall quality of life. This can be as simple as taking a walk, taking your dog for a walk, going to the park, or sitting outside on a bench. Enjoy the scenery and let your skin have some vitamin D. Allow yourself to be fully present in the moment, to connect with the environment, look at the trees, look at the sky. Let your bare feet get grounded in the dirt, sand, or grass. Having bare feet connect with the earth can be a very supportive experience that has a really positive impact on our body and our mind.
6. Seek support
You don’t have to do this on your own. There is support out there for you. Whether that’s from a mental health professional or a medical professional. Whether that’s through the Food Freedom Online Program, or that’s talking with a trusted friend or a family member. These things can actually help you cope with stress. We’re not meant to do life alone. We’re designed to be supported and to give support, to be in connection, to be in community, and to have people around us – that can be so grounding for the nervous system.
See which of these 6 steps you can begin to take and implement change in this week! Understanding and regulating our nervous system becomes such an empowering experience because we begin to take control back over our lives and we begin to support not only our mind, but also our body.