Emotional Eating and Weight Management.

Aoife Ryan gives tips on combatting emotional eating

Using food to suppress or sooth negative emotions is known as emotional eating. Sometimes, eating is a distraction, which allows you to temporarily escape from your problems. Some people, for example, might have a bar of chocolate when they are feeling sad or make a pizza if they are feeling bored. Emotional eating very commonly leads to over eating or binge eating on high calorie foods, which may lead to a feeling of guilt and add more stress. This cycle of emotional eating is one that needs to be overcome in order to maintain a healthy mind and body.

  1. Before you eat, make sure you are actually hungry

Have a glass of water, sometimes thirst is masqueraded as hunger. If you still feel like eating, wait twenty minutes before you do so. Does your stomach still feel empty? Are you experiencing hunger sensations? If so, go ahead and eat. Eat your food slowly and enjoy it, taking sips of water in between. This will give your body time to let you know when you are full, preventing you from eating to a point of discomfort.

  1. Practice mindful eating

Mindful eating is eating with the intention of caring for health, both physical and mental. It is also paying attention to what we are eaten, by noticing and enjoying food and its effects on the body. Choosing foods for the right reasons is the key. The main reason we eat should be to fuel and to nourish our bodies, but it is important too that we enjoy what we are eating. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of our eating patterns and to identify emotional triggers. Knowing what these emotions are makes it much easier to avoid using them as triggers for emotional eating.

  1. Find other ways of coping

Instead of eating when negative emotions arise, find other ways of easing them. Talking to a friend about how you are feeling or going for a walk are good examples of positive coping mechanisms. Using positive outlets will provide a longer lasting feeling of ease. Negative feelings are much more likely to re-surface when food is used to sooth them.

  1. Be physical

Exercising regularly can help to keep you focused on your body as well as your mind. Eating as a response to emotions rather than to ease physical hunger will cause the connection between mind and body to weaken somewhat. Keeping your body active keeps this connection strong. Taking up a relaxing activity like yoga or pilates may be particularly beneficial if the trigger emotion for eating is stress because they were designed to combat it. Dopamine is released in the brain when we exercise, which is why we feel so happy and relaxed afterwards. Exercising often will increase the body’s production of dopamine, making negative emotions fewer and further in between.

  1. Snack healthy

Snacking on sugary foods may improve your mood for a while, but eventually you are likely to feel a low again. Instead of a snacking on crisps or sweets, have a piece of fruit or some nuts. These foods release energy slowly and will keep your mood improved for

IBS – Tips to combat stress

Stress can aggravate IBS symptoms…check out these tips by Aoife Ryan BA (Hons) Psychology

As stress is thought to be one of the contributors to the inflammation of IBS symptoms, it is very important that those who suffer from IBS learn to manage and ease stress. Exercise, diet, and sleep are crucial when it comes to managing stress. Finding some time to both relax and escape from the stresses of everyday life are also extremely important when managing stress levels.

Do something enjoyable: In order to keep a clear head it is a good idea to take some time to do something you enjoy. Listen to some music, go shopping, take a class, read, or meet up with friends.

Relaxation: When stressed, your muscles tense up and breathing becomes shallower/rate increases as the body attempts to get more oxygen. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualisation help to ease stress responses, and in turn, reduce tension that may inflame IBS symptoms.

Deep breathing:

1. Find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. Make yourself comfortable.

2. Close mouth and breathe in naturally through the nose.

3. When comfortable, begin to breathe in deeply and slowly (inhale slowly – count to 3 – exhale slowly).

4. Continue until you feel that your muscles have relaxed and your breathing has slowed down to a natural rate.


1. Find a quiet place and make yourself comfortable. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.

2. Create an image in your head of a happy/worry-free place (eg. Imagine you are on a beach in a hot country/sailing down a river).

3. Imagine as many details as you can think of (smell/touch/ can you feel the warmth of the sun?/ can you hear the sounds of the river? Etc.).

4. Practice this image often. If stress strikes, you will be able to bring the scene alive with minimal effort.

5. It may be helpful to listen to soothing sounds as you visualise.

So what is a Dietitian?

Dietitians are experts in prescribing therapeutic nutrition. All dietitians have completed a 4-year Bachelor Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics or a 3-year Science Degree followed by a Master Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. Most dietitians work in hospitals with the HSE and within private hospitals although some work privately. In some Irish hospitals dietitians are called clinical nutritionists.

What is the difference between a dietitian and nutritionist?

A Nutritionist has studied nutrition. While a Dietitian has studied the application of nutrition to help prevent and treat conditions and diseases. As the term nutritionist is not protected nutritionists may vary in knowledge base. There are some qualified nutritionists, who have completed a 3 year degree in nutrition and there are some who may have completed a short course. However nutritionists do not have any professional practical training, and therefore they should not be involved in the diagnosis and dietary treatment of any diseases.

The differences in more detail…

  • A Dietitian will use the science of nutrition to enable people to make informed and practical choices about   food and lifestyle, in both health and disease.
  • A dietitian will have trained in both hospital and community settings as part of their degree.
  • Only Dietitians or Clinical nutritionists can register with the Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute (I.N.D.I.).
  • Dietitians have studied the nutrients in food, how nutrients are used by the body, and the relationship between diet, health and disease.
  • Dietitians interpret the science of nutrition into practical evidence-based advice for people and their advice is not based on personal opinion.
  • The title ‘dietitian’ will soon be protected by law In Ireland. However it is a protected term in other countries like the UK.
  • Always check that your dietitian has the letters M.I.N.D.I. behind their name as that means they are fully qualified to help you and that you will be able to claim partial cost back from your health insurer too.

Eating Disorders….

What is an eating disorder? An eating disorder is an umbrella term for an illness which can have a variety of different unhealthy eating and weight control behaviours. These behaviours can become obsessive, compulsive, and/or impulsive in nature and include extreme emotions and attitudes.

How many people does this effect? It’s difficult to get statistics specifically relevant to Ireland but the Department of Health estimates that up to 200,000 people (and their families) in Ireland may be affected by eating disorders. With an estimated 400 new cases emerging yearly, this is cause for concern. Unfortunately eating disorders claim the life of 80 people each year. Frighteningly, every year the death rate among females aged 15-24 years associated with anorexia is more than 12 times higher than the death rate of all other causes combined. These figures are frightening but hopefully encourage action.

Who is at risk? Eating disorders are most prevalent in females in the 15-40 age group. According to a study that was conducted in 2007, 1.2% of Irish girls may be at risk of developing anorexia nervosa and 2% at risk of developing bulimia nervosa. Although eating disorders generally affect women, it’s estimated that 10% of cases of anorexia and bulimia are male and this appears to be increasing. Eating disorders like these often result in treatment within hospitals, accounting for 18% of paediatric psychiatric admissions in Ireland in 2008. Although your child may not have an eating disorder, one study of secondary school pupils showed that over ¼ of girls and over 1/5 of boys had engaged in either bulimic or anorexic behaviour.

What are the signs to look out for?
Anorexia: Some signs include weight loss in a short space of time, loss of periods in women, food restriction, abnormal behaviours and food rituals, mood swings, perfectionism, insecurity, rigid and obsessive behaviour, preoccupation with appearance, and occasionally avoiding company.
Bulimia: Some signs include frequent changes in weight, sore throat, tooth decay, preoccupation with body shape and weight, vomiting and use of laxatives, increase in exercise, fear of weight gain, low mood, tiredness, hair loss, extreme emotions regarding weight change.

Can nutrition input help? A holistic, all round approach to helping someone with recovery is important. Nutritional therapy and nutritional education are integral in helping to create a greater understanding as well as more control over eating and food-related behaviours. Additionally diet is central in helping to repair the body after a period of time with a nutritionally insufficient diet.

Can a special diet help my child with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a common developmental disability. It affects the way in which your child communicates and relates to others around them.

A commonly used diet by some people in an attempt to improve these behaviours and mental function is a ‘gluten and casein free diet’. This involves removing casein (a protein found in cow’s milk) and gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, oats and barley).There is some evidence that a gluten and casein free diet may help some people with Autism. However, there isn’t enough evidence to suggest that it will help everyone with this disorder.

It’s important to note that when you avoid foods, you are more at risk of nutrient deficiencies that will effect growth and development. Plus, children with Autism may find change upsetting. Therefore, it is important to seek advice and to avoid implementing this diet without medical help.