Friday, March 9, 2012

Stopping Emotional Eating

I used to think I wasn't an emotional eater. And, for the most part, I'm  not. I don't eat to stuff down negative feelings or to deal with the pain of abuse, for example. But I do tend to eat when I'm bored, which counts.

I think the "eating when bored" thing is something a lot of people do. Eating is stimulating, after all, so it does a decent job of snapping you out of boredom. It's just that it can set up a destructive cycle.

In the "50 Tips to Help You Succeed at Normal Eating", the last set are all about Emotional Eating and how to stop it. They are:

When you have the urge to eat when you’re not hungry, ask yourself what you might be feeling.

I think that's something we should ask ourselves any time we want to eat even if we think we're hungry. A lot of times I think I'm hungry when I'm not. I'm actually thirsty and the rest of the time I'm bored. So always questioning "Am I really hungry?" has been helpful to me.

The other times I eat for emotional reasons is to celebrate and that I don't try to change. I think having food as part of a special celebration is fine. After all, that stuff doesn't happen every day. If it does, you may want to redefine what you think of as "celebrating".

I also don't tell myself that I "deserve" the food, because I think that "I deserve it" gets trotted out too often as a way to ward off the consequences of our choices. I know I see people saying that whenever they want to do something they know is irresponsible, such as make a purchase they can't afford. But we all "deserve" the very best all the time. So "I deserve it" is meaningless. It's like saying "I should get that because I'm breathing." If you buy it when you can't afford it, you have to be willing to accept the consequences.

And food is the same way. If you decide to have cake and champagne for your 25th wedding anniversary, I don't see the big deal. But don't say "I deserve it" as if that means the calories don't "count" somehow. You still have to count them no matter how much you feel like you deserve them!

Keep a feelings log so you know what’s going on inside of yourself all day long.

Eh, I don't really want or need to know what's going on inside myself all day long. When I was doing Jenny Craig (and Nutri/system and Weight Watchers), they all wanted use to keep a food journal and I mostly did. But I got tired of writing "hungry" under "feelings" and so I mostly just wrote down what I ate and maybe what time I ate it. I found trying to figure out my feelings at the time rarely worked.

Not that I have any suggestion for what would work. I only figured out about the boredom eating by having an 'aha' experience.

Get to know what emotions trigger unwanted eating—boredom, loneliness, anxiety, shame, guilt, disappointment, helplessness—and then learn better ways of dealing  with them.


Remind yourself that feelings need a different response than food.


I put these together because they are basically the same thing. Step one is learning your triggers. Step two is learning different responses and reminding yourself that eating in response to feelings is not the best way to deal with them. The feelings are still there when you are done eating and now you have the added feelings of "why did I eat that?" on top of it.

Reduce stress which will lessen frustration, helplessness, and feeling overwhelmed.

Make sure you’re taking care of yourself as least as well as you take care of  others.


This is a biggie for me. I do think we accept Stress as Normal too much. Some people even seek out stress in order to cover up feelings or keep themselves from thinking about stuff they don't want to deal with. And lots of us do the same thing when it comes to taking care of others over ourselves. It's a way of not dealing with our 'stuff.'

If you find yourself eating when you’re upset, don’t be hard on yourself. Be compassionate and curious and consider your behavior a learning experience.

On a related note, we are often way too mean to ourselves. If you beat yourself up every time you eat something you regret, then you've just added more feelings to deal with into the equation. I believe strongly that first we have to survive. I see people with illness or deaths in the family getting upset with themselves because they are eating more junk than they should. I think that energy needs to be put into getting better.

I also think treating eating a cookie like it's a capital offense is a good way to add to the drama and to keep yourself in a place where you can't learn from the experience. It's hard to be analytic when you are donning a hair shirt and getting out the whips and chains!

Get help through therapy if you have a history of trauma or abuse, as there is a strong correlation between such a history and emotional eating.


Ironically, I didn't get abused until after I went on my first diet, so I was already on the yo-yo diet yourself up to obesity train. But I did deal with it at the time and I think that has helped me a lot in my life. I like to talk things out until I understand them. Which is probably why I'm a blogger. And haven't done any formal therapy.

Not everyone does this naturally though and some people find talking to a (relative) stranger much more helpful that blathering to anyone who will listen.

Be responsible for yourself and don’t blame others for your emotional eating.

Honestly, I don't know a lot of people who blame others for their emotional eating. Part of being fat is blaming yourself for everything, even stuff that's out of your control, it seems to me. But, if you do this, obviously you should cut it out!

Tell yourself that you can bear any emotion, practice doing so, and you’ll be amazed at the emotional muscle you’ll build.


I see Dr. Koenig saved the best for last. I do think in many cultures, people are afraid of emotions. They can be powerful and that can be scary. But I think we need to start with our kids and not teach them to be afraid of their emotions. After all, we can't really help what we feel. We can only control what we do in response to those feelings. Accepting all feelings as valid, is a good first step.

And, with that, we're done with the 50 Tips! Hope you found them useful even if I spread them out over more than two years.
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