Quick tips on ways to manage your irritability

When did you last eat? Irritability because you are hungry is common, but many people underestimate how important it is in managing emotion. Irregular eating habits, using caffeine/ sugar/ carbs to fill oneself up, and overeating when overly hungry can have a big impact on mood management.

Are you going through biological changes? Medication changes, alcohol use, dehydration, sickness, pain, smoking habits, caffeine dependency, and menstrual cycles all affect how we feel. Taking care of your biological wellbeing will help you take care of your psychological well-being. If possible, consider saving that “difficult conversation” for later- and not when you are at your biological worst.

How is your sleep hygiene? Get to bed at a reasonable hour, use the bedroom only for sleeping, and generate calming routines before bed. Don’t overestimate how irritability is more likely to s how up when you stay up extremely late or sleep all day.

Is the weather getting to you? Extreme temperatures can make people irritable. Get out of the cold or the heat. Make use of bright lights, warm temperatures, and potential social gatherings when it gets dark early.

When is the last time you did something you liked, enjoyed, or looked forward to? Doing things you enjoy will put you in touch with positive feelings, even if they are temporary. Do more of what you love, especially if you are in the middle of a crisis. Making time to do so is critical.

When is the last time you worked hard to accomplish something difficult? Building mastery and surviving challenges gives us a sense of accomplishment that can happen despite painful life circumstances.

When is the last time you had a tricky relationship situation and you feel proud of how you handled it? Remember that approaching situations with some element of acceptance can enable us to be more flexible; creating more options for the other party and making them feel less trapped.

When problems with eating isn’t just about the food

Here are some questions to consider if you are trying to change behaviors around eating habits and may need some additional help getting at the core of the problem. These questions may also help you determine if severe or extreme eating habits are related to extreme distress, painful emotions, or other psychological difficulties:

Is your eating behavior is a way to prove a point, get back at, or communicate something to someone or yourself? Is it a way to self-validate, keep a secret, empower you, or to protect you in some way? Does it prevent or block others from getting too close or getting to know you?

Does your eating behavior have anything to do with preventing feeling? Does it have a numbing effect? Does it block, thwart, or get rid of feelings? Or does it release strong, intense, or unwanted feelings?

Does eating large quantities of food soothe, take care of, provide, or fulfill psychological desires? Does it fulfill emptiness, loneliness, or aching? Do your eating habits have an immediate impact in reducing intense psychological distress or anxiety?

Do you have difficulty tolerating fullness, satisfaction, or contentment? Do you feel guilty if you feel “good”? Is feeling empty/full equated with punishment or success?

Does digesting food have anything to do with digesting your emotion? If you have a tendency to get rid of food through self-induced vomiting or other compensatory mechanisms, what would it mean to you feel full, digest food, or keep what you’ve eaten?

If you were to be completely honest with your eating habits, what would you have to risk? What would be the cost/ benefit of sharing this with someone who wouldn’t judge or blame you?

A guest blog post from Rachel Gargano: The food-mood connection

Rachel Gargano is a registered dietician practicing out of Stoneham, MA (www.rgnutritionandwellness.com). The following is a guest blog written by Rachel:

The Food-Mood Connection

Ever eat a meal or snack and end up feeling completely unsatisfied?  As though your stomach may be full but your mind is not? Contentment from food is linked to several things, including both what we’re eating and how we’re eating.  If we’re distracted.  If we don’t really want the food we’re eating in that moment.  If we’re with good friends or poor company.  If we ate just a bagel or a bagel with an egg. All of these factors can play a role in whether we walk away from the meal feeling great … or just ‘eh’.

Problem #1: Mindless Eating

Our society is so ‘go-go-go’ that many times we’re too rushed to pay attention to what it is we’re shoving into our mouths.  In reality, we simply cannot multi-task.  The brain can only handle concentrating on one thing at a time.  So when we focus on the computer or TV, our brain isn’t receiving the signals that we’re eating.

All of a sudden the food is gone and we’re left staring at an empty plate or bag thinking: “Where’d it all go?  I’m still hungry…”  And we may feel this way even though we’ve consumed all the nutrients and calories that our body needs.  Feeling so dissatisfied, we begin looking for other things to eat… chocolate things… or maybe salty, crunchy things. And so our cycle of overeating and guilt persists.

Solution: YOU Time

Even though we have bills to pay, work to do, emails to write, and kids to watch – there needs to be time in your day for you.  Because without a healthy you, nothing else matters. So give yourself 3 minutes when you want to eat a snack and 10 minutes (at least!) when it’s time for lunch.  Eat mindfully.  Turn away from the computer.  Turn away from work or chores.  Look at what you’re about to eat.  Smell it. Taste it.  Eat it slowly.  Enjoy it.  It’s only 3 to 10 minutes; give yourself the time you need to be satisfied.

During dinner, make the commitment to your family to eat at the table.  Enjoy the meal. It takes time to learn to eat more mindfully and slowly, but once you’re able to give yourself that time to enjoy your food, you’ll be much more satisfied and energized once you go back to your day.

Problem #2:  What to Eat?

Ever notice how when you eat that bagel for breakfast you get hungry again 45 minutes later?  That’s because carbohydrates will give you immediate energy, but they break down so quickly that all of a sudden you’re hungry again! When our blood sugar dips low, our body sends signals for us to eat.  The first things we crave are carbohydrates (bread, pasta, candy, sugar, chocolate, chips), which our body knows are broken down quickly to give us a boost.  The problem is that they also leave our stomach quickly – so we end up hungry again.

Solution: Combinations

Think of each eating occasion as a mini balanced meal.  You do want carbohydrates for that quick rise in energy, but you also want protein, fiber, and perhaps some healthy fats.  All three of these foods take much longer to break down, keeping us feeling much more satisfied.  They give us the lasting energy to make it through to dinner…. Or our next snack! To help prevent that dip in our blood sugar from making us ravenous, try to eat every 2 to 3 hours.

Here are some tips for choosing great food combinations:

  • When choosing carbohydrates, go for whole fruits and veggies first, then whole grains.  Quick, easy foods include apples, banana, oranges, berries, baby carrots, sugar snap peas, red bell peppers, whole wheat English muffins, and whole grains such as quinoa.
  • When choosing proteins, go for lean ones such as: low fat or fat free dairy (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, cheese sticks), eggs, nuts and seeds, peanut/almond butter, beans, poultry and fish.

Once you start feeding your body often with good food combination, as well as with kindness and mindfulness – you’ll start feeling much more energized and ready to tackle your day!

For people who overeat and binge eat: The Appetite Awareness Workbook by Linda Craighead.

Problematic eating can occur when people are heavily relying on external cues, such as disapproval, criticism, serving sizes, food availability, calorie counting, or food rules. When people rely on external factors to determine the amount eaten, they often fail to look at private, internal cues. This can result in ignoring or overlooking hunger and fullness cues. Sometimes binge eating is related to satisfying an emotional need, such as loneliness or emptiness. When people are ignoring what their body is telling them, it makes it increasingly difficult to listen to and trust one’s own experience.

One reason I really love The Appetite Awareness Workbook is because it encourages people to look at their own internal, private cues to identify and change eating habits. It’s about listening to one’s body and being in touch with physiological experiences of hunger and fullness. Mindful eating means tasting what is eaten, paying attention to the experience of hunger, and paying attention to the experience of fullness.

Here are a few tips from the book that have to do with healthy eating habits:

Don’t graze by eating throughout the day. Eat full meals so that your body can learn to anticipate when food is coming. Don’t let yourself get too hungry, as this can result in overeating. When you eat a snack, eat enough to keep yourself full for two hours. Make conscious decisions to stop eating when you feel moderately full.

The Appetite Awareness Workbook can be used as a self-help manual, as it is complete with psycho-education, worksheets, and instructions. It prompts the reader to fill out a hunger/ fullness log for each meal and offers a lot of feedback. I love this book because process for monitoring eating is intuitive and natural. It just makes sense.