Health

Understanding Emotional Eating

Have you ever come home after a stressful day and ended up eating a pint of Chunky Monkey?  Or maybe you’ve mindlessly eaten a bag of chips at your desk willing the workday to go by faster?  Both of these examples are types of emotional eating:  eating for reasons other than hunger.  While eating when you’re  hungry addresses a physical need (providing the body with food in order to function), emotional eating uses food to satisfy an emotional need.  Some common causes of emotional eating include stress, anger, boredom and loneliness.    Emotional eating can affect your diabetes management because often the foods eaten are high in sugar, fat and calories.  This can raise blood sugar and make it hard to lose weight.

So how can you tell if you’re eating because you’re hungry or because you’re stressed out?  Physical hunger comes on gradually and can be satisfied by any type of food. You stop feeling hunger when you have eaten enough to feel full.  Emotional “hunger” comes on very quickly and is focused on a strong craving for a particular food, taste or texture. Emotional eating is also often mindless and can lead to feelings of guilt afterward.

Now that we know the difference between physical and emotional hunger, here are some strategies to help manage emotional eating:

  • Know your triggers – If you know what it is that causes you to eat (e.g. boredom, stress), you can take action to prevent mindless munching before it begins. Use another activity to distract yourself from wanting to eat. Try going for a walk, talking to a friend or loved one, or listening to music.
  • Pause – Before reaching for the bag of chips, stop and think: am I hungry, or am I bored? Wait 10 minutes and see if you are still truly hungry.
  • Eat smaller portions –   If you wait 10 minutes and still can’t stop thinking about those chips, have a smaller, individual portion to keep you from overeating.
  • Practice mindful eating – Slow down and take the time to really enjoy the smell, tastes and textures of your favorite foods. Try not to multi task – make eating your only activity.
  • Seek help if you need it – Emotional eating can sometimes be a symptom of depression or anxiety.  If you feel this may be the case, talk to your healthcare provider, a diabetes educator or a mental health specialist.

Post content reviewed by Jen Searl, MLS, CHWC

Health

Depression as a Barrier to Diabetes Self-Care

By Christina Psaros, Ph.D
Department of Psychiatry

Depression is a medical illness characterized by pervasive feelings of sadness and/or the inability to experience pleasure or joy. Other symptoms of depression include feeling tired or without energy, reduced appetite, difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, and hopelessness. People with diabetes have relatively high rates of depression, which can interfere with their ability to manage their diabetes.

Effectively managing diabetes requires a number of complex steps that may include regular meetings with a health care provider, monitoring of blood sugar, taking medications, and adhering to diet and physical activity guidelines. Depression may interfere with some or all of these behaviors. For example, difficulty concentrating may make it difficult to remember to take medications. Feeling tired or without energy can make it difficult to engage in physical activity or prepare healthful meals, while changes in appetite may it difficult to eat healthful foods. Feelings of hopelessness can make people feel like giving up rather than continue with self-care efforts.

Help is available! Research shows that psychotherapy can help alleviate symptoms of depression and help individuals with diabetes better adhere to their self-care regimen. Antidepressant medications can help. Talk to your Certified Diabetes Educator or primary healthcare provider if you are struggling with your diabetes self-care or if you think you may be depressed. They may refer you to the Massachusetts General Hospital Behavioral Medicine Program, which consists of a team of psychologists specializing in helping individuals with chronic illnesses like diabetes. If you are interested in making an appointment yourself, call the Psychiatry Access Line at 617-724-5600 or visit our website.

Health

Caring for the Caregiver

By Eileen B. Wyner, NP
Bulfinch Medical Group

Eileen Wyner, NP

Living with diabetes is a full time job for the patient, but what about their loved ones and family members? How do they cope with this disease and all of its implications? I would like to address the concerns of the caregivers today and how everyone can work together successfully.

Many people living with diabetes are perfectly able to care for all parts of their disease independently. However people who are visually impaired, have arthritis (particularly if their hands are involved), the elderly, and people with impaired mental functioning may require assistance in managing their diabetes. Their caregivers may include family members with whom they live or people who come to their homes as needed. The patient may work with just one person or there may be a team of caregivers available to assist.

Allow yourself to think for a minute about all that goes into daily self-care for a person living with diabetes. There are glucometer checks, medications and possibly self-titrating of insulin, meal adjustments, and the chance of unforeseen complications like hypoglycemia or an illness. Now think how stressful and difficult these responsibilities may be for a caregiver, especially for someone requiring a high level of assistance. Just as the person with diabetes can get overwhelmed and fatigued by their daily care, so too can the caregiver. That is when the caregiver needs the care.

Hopefully, if there is a team of people pitching in, no one will feel overburdened. However, many times there is just one person closely involved with the patient and it may be more difficult to realize the caregiver is suffering. It’s important that all involved in the patient’s care, including the health care team, check in with each other to see how things are going. Try to pick up on subtle clues such as off handed comments by the caregiver(s) like “I don’t always have time to get everything done, there is so much to do” or “I’m so tired all the time.” Also try to be aware of any changes in demeanor such as being impatient or more withdrawn, possible signs of fatigue or depression.

Schedules are important as well, not just for the patient but for the caregiver. It helps to still do the things that are important in their daily life so that their health and well-being are maintained. It’s important for caregivers to know that it‘s perfectly fine to ask for help. It doesn’t mean that they’re doing a bad job or can’t handle the tasks — just the opposite. Providing the best care possible really does begin with a mentally and emotionally healthy caretaker. Having responsibility in someone else’s care is a difficult and stressful job. It’s important for all involved to realize this. Caretakers should feel able to discuss their feelings with the health care team. Referral to social services may be in order to assist with identifying what other community services may be available. Support groups in the area may also be a good outlet to help to cope with the situation.

Everybody needs a little help sometime. A clear channel of communication between all the parties involved will hopefully ensure a caring environment is in place for all.