Donald Trump’s undoubtedly a political lightning rod, but is it possible the 45th president’s an eating trigger, too?
Seeking comfort in food is a common way to deal with major change—but nutrition pros say that, since last November, they’ve seen a rise in the rates of patients reporting that they’re eating their feelings.
“It started the day after the election,” says New York City-based holistic health counselor and Super Size Me star, Alexandra Jamieson. “I got two phone calls from women I had worked with in the past, and they had so much fear and anxiety. The immediate reaction for [many] women is to calm themselves with what the body knows works, which is food.”
Since last November nutrition pros say they’ve seen a rise in the rates of patients reporting that they’re eating their feelings.
That was the tip of the iceberg. In Los Angeles, A-lister nutritionist Kelly LeVeque has noticed the same thing. Many of her clients are continuing to reach for booze and not-so-healthy carbs to soothe their angst around the current political sitch.
So what are you supposed to do if every piece of “oh-no-they-didn’t” news has you jonesing for an entire box of mac and cheese?
According to the experts, it’s important to understand why you’re being triggered in the first place—from there, you can take steps to prevent emotionally-induced cravings before they start. (Or, at least, upgrade your cookie dough habit to something a little healthier.)
Here’s what you need to understand about emotional eating—and how to deal if the current state of (political) affairs has you feeling triggered.
Politics and your plate: a complicated relationship
The emotional eating that’s being experienced right now is different from that sparked by day-to-day stress—like mindlessly munching on pretzels during a busy stretch at work. That’s because the 2016 election was really personal for many women.
“People have work and life stress, but a lot of times, emotional eating comes down to a relationship,” explains LeVeque. If you were deeply invested in another candidate and it didn’t go your way, she says, you may have experienced the loss like it was a breakup or the end of a friendship.
“People have work and life stress, but a lot of times, emotional eating comes down to a relationship.”
And just like any other kind of split, the impact can reverberate for months. “People are experiencing aftershocks—they’re getting upset again based on decisions being made politically,” says LeVeque. “It’s like ripping a scab off.”
For other women, however, the urge to self-soothe with food goes beyond disappointment. Jamieson says that her clients who’ve experienced sexual trauma are the ones struggling the most. “Women are saying they feel unsafe with this man in the White House, since there’s a lot of speculation about him being a sexual predator,” she says.
Overeating can serve as a protective mechanism in cases like this. “As women, we get looked at and it feels dangerous,” Jamieson explains. “It’s the [unconscious] idea of: ‘If I put on weight, I won’t be attractive…and I won’t be in danger.’”
The conversation around women’s health services—like the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood—is just adding to this feeling of unease. “There are all these aspects [of the health care debate] that are specifically directed toward taking women’s access to health care away,” says Jamieson. “That also makes us feel unprotected by the men who are in power.”
How to break the emotional eating cycle
When you’re inhaling brie and baguettes because of an emotional issue, it’s not about the food—it’s about the feel-good hormones that sugar, cheese, and carbs unleash within your body. That’s why LeVeque and Jamieson both recommend finding alternate means of getting a biochemical mood boost.
“Look for ways to release dopamine, whether that’s pulling out pictures from a vacation, laughing with an old friend, or getting in a good workout that releases those happy endorphins,” suggests LeVeque. Jamieson’s a fan of women’s circles—not only is it cathartic to talk about your feelings, she says, but group bonding sessions have been shown to elevate oxytocin, a calming hormone.
“Look for ways to release dopamine, whether that’s pulling out pictures from a vacation, laughing with an old friend, or getting in a good workout that releases those happy endorphins.”
Jamieson also suggests dialing up the self-care when you’re feeling triggered. That could mean booking a massage, doing something fun and physical (like a self-defense class), engaging in a little solo sex, or even just seeking out more hugs. “When we connect with how much pleasure we can experience, we start to feel good about being in our bodies again,” she points out.
And if you’re still feeling on edge, you might find it helps to take action against what’s stressing you. “Do the things that make the change you want to see,” says LeVeque. “If you feel like you want to make a difference, volunteer or go to a rally. Don’t just think about it and bury it in your body.” Who knows—you may just find that the next four years are the most personally empowering yet.
The Dalai Lama agrees that service is a great way to manage political stress. Plus, here are three concrete ways to make a difference right now.