The pressure of work is making you batty. Your kids have you climbing the walls. You’re worried about your daughter’s new relationship and are even more stressed about the fight you had with your partner last night. You slip into the break room, or your kitchen at home and scan the vending machine, or peruse the pantry. You may think that King-sized Snicker’s bar looks good, or that leftover lasagna from last night is calling your name. You wolf down your food of choice even though, less than an hour ago, you just had a healthy lunch. Suddenly, the good feeling you had while chewing has swallowed you up in feelings of guilt, shame, and failure. Your work, your kids and your stressors are still with you, but so are those extra 300 calories that you just consumed.
It’s no surprise that food is often our go-to drug when stress, anxiety, or worry get the best of us. Research has found that humans produce opioids, in response to digesting excess sugars and fats, that have the same chemical structures found in addictive narcotics, like heroin and morphine. Furthermore, brain imaging proves that when given food, the same dopamine receptors light up in the brains of obese people, as they do in the brains of drug addicts when given their drug of choice. Another study showed that the visual cue of simply seeing pictures of certain foods can evoke the same dopamine response in some food addicts (Werdell, 2009).
By understanding that our sense of sight is powerful enough to alter our brain chemistry, it makes sense to surround ourselves with images that can comfort us and combat our desire to overeat. Creating a positively visually stimulating environment is very simple and inexpensive, and most of us already do it to some extent. The key is to not only have visually pleasing things within your range of sight, but to also mindfully focus and give attention them when a stressful situation or a food craving hits.
Some suggestions for using visual cues for self-soothing would be to:
- Identify, and surround yourself with colors that are relaxing to you
- Place items that you enjoy, like a vacation souvenir, a religious symbol, or pieces of art, in your home or workplace
- Hang up pictures of people, places and things that bring you joy
- Frame inspirational quotes, poems, or religious verses and place them where you can easily see them for inspiration.
- Walk outdoors and observe the beauty of nature
- If it’s evening when a craving hits, look at the starry sky
- Keep a photo album of loved ones close by
- Light a candle and watch the flame
- Get a manicure and look at your lovely nails
- Read a favorite book or magazine (just not a cookbook or cooking magazine!)
- Watch a funny movie or TV show
- Set up a small aquarium or fish tank in your home or office (watching the aqua life is so relaxing)
- Buy fresh flowers to put in your home or work space
- Peruse the internet for clothing that you’ll soon fit into, if you continue on your weight loss path
- Go to your mirror and put on makeup or fix your hair
- Look up fantasy vacation spots or dream homes on the internet
- Check on your pets (Your cat probably needs something!)
- Look through the photos on your phone
- Take a selfie and remember that you are your most important person!
What are some other ways that you could use your sense of sight to calm yourself in times of stress?
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.(2006). Weight Loss Tips.
Coping and Self-Soothing Techniques.Psyke.org
Mahoney, Elizabeth. Pleasurable Activities List. SouthTampaTherapy.com.
Werdell, P. (2009). Physical Craving and Food Addiction: A Scientific Review. Food Addiction Institute