Avoiding Emotional Eating During These Difficult Times

It pays to have so many magazines in a therapist’s waiting room: One can never know where some useful information will be found. Take the recent edition of People magazine. This issue is focused on people losing weight. And on page 104 there’s a very short side bar about helpful hints to avoid emotional eating, especially during stressful times.

Emotional eating is a strategy to avoid feelings, usually distressing and troubling feelings. Rather than feel these feelings, a person attempts to replace them with some other feelings generated by eating. Feelings of being satisfied, full. Sometimes feeling high, altered, or numb. While it is an attempt to comfort oneself, the result is usually the opposite: afterwards one often feels guilty about eating that pint of ice-cream. And if there is some weight gain, one feels even worse. It is not uncommon that during times of stress, people will resort to such eating as a coping strategy (albeit an imperfect one).

The advice that is given in the People article is good and worth repeating.

  • Make a statement. Fill in the blanks: “I sometimes overeat when I feel _____”. But after I overeat I feel _______”. In this way, one is making an effort to observe one’s behavior: What was an unconscious process is made conscious and, thus, can be changed. One cannot change a behavior before becoming conscious of it.
  • Enlist allies. Recruit two people you trust to discuss your weight-loss goals and make a pact to call them when you’re tempted to binge or eat the wrong food. The 12-step programs, including Overeater’s Anonymous, have sponsors that people can call especially when experiencing cravings. I would add that it is usual to have a therapist, not only to talk to and deal with the overeating , but also to examine and address the underlying feelings that are so difficult to cope with.
  • Take a Pause. When you eat for comfort, it usually happens without thinking. Simply taking a deep breath and asking “What am I really hungry for?” can keep you from gorging. Good advice. One might find that one is hungry for something else entirely, for peace of mind or companionship – something better achieved in other ways.

Some useful advice from the waiting room.

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