Heartbreak is bad. You feel betrayed and lonely, your self-esteem suffers and your emotions are raw. In addition to all that misery, you just can’t stop eating potato chips and ice cream!
Heart or Head?
Though the name of the situation is heartbreak, a command to eat fatty food comes from your brain. Your brain reacts to an emotional distress as it would to any stressful situation. Research shows that the area of your brain which is responsible for stress reaction is also responsible for food cravings and other addictions. In difficult times your brain releases a lot of stress hormones (cortisol and norepinephrin) to create the famous “fight or flight” reaction. That makes your body ready for a fast action. Your muscles are pumped with blood, your awareness is high and your digestive and immune functions are suppressed.
However, in case of a heartbreak the situation cannot be resolved by a fast action, and stress hormones cause more harm than good. Besides obvious physical discomfort, the overabundance of stress hormones shuts down the production of other brain hormones (serotonin and dopamine), which are responsible for the feelings of happiness and contentment.
Human bodies are programmed to use fat for energy more than any other foods, especially in stressful situations. Those foods stimulate production of serotonin and dopamine which make you happier almost instantly, so when you feel stressed your body naturally turns to fatty foods for survival.
What to Do
With an understanding of the brain chemistry, it is easier to fight those fatty cravings. The main idea is to naturally increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, but not by eating ice cream.
The best thing to do is exercise. Exercising helps ease the effects of stress hormones on your body, since those effects are supposed to make you move. It also increases the levels of serotonin in your body. Some of the best exercises in this situation are aerobics, deep breathing (yoga) and stretching (Pilates).
Getting involved in your favorite activities will also help you increase the level of “happy” hormones in your brain. Pick up your long forgotten hobby or find a new one. Do you like to do jigsaw puzzles or cross-stitching? You will get so involved in it that you will forget to eat. Do you like to walk in the park? Get a friend to go with you. You will get your aerobic exercise and a support you need all at the same time. Try something different such as learning a new language or painting.
Limiting consumption of coffee, soft drinks and alcohol also helps control levels of brain hormones. Keep in mind that your brain is already overreacting in the area controlling addictions and cravings. Overindulgence in addictive substances will not help you, but will make the situation worse.
It is important to understand that fats are essential to your health. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recommends getting 30% of your daily caloric intake from fats. The best sources of healthy fat are fish, seeds, nuts and olive oil.