We know that following sensible eating guidelines will relieve us of certain symptoms and will help us lose weight but what if we can’t stop eating because we use food for pain relief? Is it helpful to instruct someone to stop eating sugar when the sugar is managing uncomfortable feelings? This has been my own painful reality; damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It is called emotional eating, and most of my clients struggle with it.
Here are some of the methods I’ve tried to control my eating: eating an apple, eating celery, not having cookies in the house, not buying popcorn, working out like a fiend, restricting for as many days as I can bear, taking a walk, taking a shower, taking a bath…sound familiar?
So, what is the solution to emotional eating? Well, here is what I’ve learned since running workshops for emotional eaters. Emotional eating is not about food. Emotional eating is a tool we use to feel better. It is a tool to stuff our uncomfortable emotions. Emotional eating is how we soothe ourselves when we are stressed. Our terrible beliefs about ourselves, which remain unchallenged, feed our thoughts leading to painful emotions; these then lead to overeating, the overeating causes more negative thoughts and that fuels further overeating – it truly is a vicious cycle.
You may read articles advising you to replace emotional eating with taking a shower, going for a walk, anything to take your mind off food. These tactics may work for non-emotional eaters that are trying to lose weight, but in my experience as a Dietitian, these suggestions do not work for emotional eaters.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix, but there are things you can do today to begin to make the change. Here are my top 5 suggestions to help you make emotional eating into a thing of the past.
- On a daily basis, stop weighing yourself because you know exactly what your mind is going to do with that information, and it’s not kind and loving.
- Since negative thinking leads to uncomfortable emotions, be on the alert for mean and nasty judgements you make about yourself.
- Join and commit to going to a support group to help you through emotionally tough times. Examples: Bereavement groups, 12 step groups, women’s support groups, Craving Change™ group.
- Find a buddy that you can share your feelings with when you do overeat. (By help, I mean help you reframe the situation so you don’t beat yourself up about it.)
- Understand that if you are in the middle of an overeating episode you can make the choice to stop and call a friend for support.
We heal emotionally when we are given the opportunity to share our perceptions in a safe setting, when we can talk without fear of judgment or ridicule. If you are like me there comes a time when you cannot live anymore with your destructive behaviour but you can’t live without it either. For me, joining a group where I felt accepted and nurtured was the best thing I ever did and the reason I continue to offer these groups to my clients. Please come and join us if you are one of the many who struggle with emotional eating.
And for those women who can control their eating but just can’t lose those stubborn pounds, join me for my next Why Weight? workshop.