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Emotional Eating About More Than Just Self Control

Emotional Eating About More Than Just Self Control

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You know the drill. You’re feeling down — maybe a bad day at work or a fight with your significant other — and when you finally get home, you decide to treat yourself to something sweet. The jar of Nutella in the cupboard looks promising. So you have one spoonful, then another, and another, and suddenly, you’re staring at an empty container, wondering, “What in the world is wrong with me?”

According to a study just published in PLOS One: nothing. Researchers Petra Platte, Corenila Herbert, Paul Pauli, and Paul A. S. Breslin collectively investigated whether our sense of taste is affected or altered by our state of mind, and it turns out, it is.

Hypothesizing that the way we feel impacts the way we eat, the study first manipulated participants’ moods by showing them “sad,” “happy,” and “neutral” video clips. Afterward, participants took a taste test in which they were asked to rate respective levels of sweet, umami, sour, bitter, and fatty.

Results showed that “people with mild subclinical depression were not able to rate fat intensities according to concentrations after either the positive or the negative mood induction.”

So the next time you feed your feelings with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, don’t feel too guilty: There is a biological explanation. Though, perhaps in explaining emotional eating, the research can serve as inspiration to avoid it. After all, if you can’t fully appreciate all the fatty goodness in ice cream, what’s the point?

Emotional Eating: 12 Ways to Recognise and Control the Behaviour

If you are looking to dial up your nutrition credentials this January, then it's worth taking a moment to reflect on if emotional eating does, sometimes, curtail your efforts.

Of course, soothing yourself with food after a stressful day is a very normal thing to do &ndash according to the eating disorders charity Beat, enjoying food as a reward or pick-me-up from time to time is standard. But, if you regularly eat your feelings then it's a behaviour that you need to take note of.

'Perhaps 20% of women are affected,' says clinical psychologist Sara Gilbert. 'But that&rsquos only taking into account those who admit to emotional eating.'

Turning to food to relieve stress or help alleviate sadness, loneliness, or boredom is not a new topic. In fact, in the past few years 'mindful eating' has been talked about as a cue for helping to recognise physical hunger over emotional hungover.

How to Target EFT Work for Emotional Eating

EFT can be a powerful tool to help resolve emotional eating. An understanding of emotional eating and its driving mechanisms is needed for this process to work optimally. As a client, you can use EFT to help yourself heal from this frustrating pattern. Please seek professional help if you have a prolonged history of emotional abuse or trauma. I am sharing three strategies below for working with emotional eating.

First strategy

The first strategy involves working with negative beliefs. Here is an example of how I may work with a negative belief: “

I will never get over emotional eating, it’s impossible.”

I ask client to rate this belief, and they say it is 9 out of 10. When I ask when the client felt this way, they say it was the last time they saw themselves in a mirror. I tap through when they saw themselves in a mirror, then another event comes up and we tap through it too. At this point I re-rate the belief:

I will never get over emotional eating.”

The rating of belief dropped to 6. In subsequent sessions I keep track of intensity of this belief and ask for more situations for us to clear up that are connected to this belief.

Second strategy

Another method I use is to tap on all things that occurred before client began to emotionally eat for the first time. Was it stress, a negative interaction with a friend, an illness, a romantic disappointment, a work-related problem? How did it make them feel? Drill down to specifics and ask what, when and where. Tap through all aspects, and surprising and amazing connections can be made as a result.

For example, I began to emotionally eat after my toddler had a particularly bad temper tantrum. I was very angry then but had to maintain a calm exterior with my child. There was a strong urge to eat ice cream. I gave myself permission to indulge in that ice cream, an entire quart of it.

If I were to work on myself with the above example, I would go back to that initial binge episode and preceding tantrum and tap on my suppressed anger and then my urge to eat ice cream, thoroughly tapping each down to 0.

Third strategy

My third strategy is to explore possible benefits of the emotional eating the client is holding on to. It may be a strategy that keeps scary or unsafe emotions at bay, or keeps them safe from the envy of others if they were to attain their weight loss goals. I tap on their ambivalence about change in the following way:
Set up phrase:

Even though part of me is frustrated (or another feeling) with this behavior (emotional eating), another part of me is hesitant to give it up. I deeply and completely accept both parts of myself.”

Part of me feels this, part of me feels that.”

I credit my mentor Craig Weiner with giving me this strategy to use.

Emotional eating traps us in its cycle via several beliefs and processes. If we identify and target these with EFT, with patience and persistence we can change the way we relate to food, our body and our emotions.

Masha is an Accredited Practitioner, who specialises in working with Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Complex Issues

Appetite Essential Reads

The Role of Food in Grief, and How We Can Help

Hunger: The "Proverbial" Emotion?

Emotional eating is a powerful and effective way to find temporary relief from many of life&rsquos challenges. If it didn&rsquot work so well, no one would do it. In order to stop this cycle of emotional eating, you have to make a commitment to reach deep inside yourself to find a place of grit and strength, and hopefully the above reminders can assist you in your journey.

How to Eat Intuitively on Thanksgiving

Thanks to diet culture, Thanksgiving - a holiday that’s supposed to be about gratitude, abundance, and let’s be honest, stuffing and pecan pie - has been taken over by food anxieties, “healthy” swaps and diet talk. Read this post to learn tips for how to eat intuitively on Thanksgiving.

By Losing, I Gained! Gained my self respect back!

When I was a little girl, I lived with my Mother, she is an alcoholic. I do not remember MOST of my childhood, but what I do remember was not what a child should remember. It was not easy. We lived in and out of hotels most of the time and I don’t even remember most of the schools I went to just because we moved around so much. I have been told by a therapist that I have purposely forgotten my childhood. She said that I don’t want to remember and that my mind chooses to only remember the good times.

I was very skinny as a child, but gained the weight later on. I remember having to take care of my Mother all the time. Having to clean after her drunken mess and making dinner for myself. For the most part it was always just her and I. I didn’t like living in this environment, so I wanted to move out as soon as possible. As a kid, I don’t remember thinking about consequences much, all I knew is I wanted out. So I ended up getting pregnant with my first serious boyfriend, at the age of 14 and moved out as soon as I became pregnant.

I had my first child at 15 and with a new baby came the weight. I started to gain the weight little by little. Didn’t take care of myself and let it all go. I was in a very abusive relationship that made me hate myself even more and with that I gained even more weight, because after all I didn’t feel good enough anyways so I didn’t care to gain the weight. I lived 4 yrs in this dreadful relationship, well I cant say lived, I survived 4 yrs.

HOW DID YOUR WEIGHT AFFECT ANY ASPECT(S) OF YOUR LIFE? My weight has affected my life in so many ways, I hated to take pictures and I rarely likes to go out and dress up. I didn’t feel confident at all with myself and this self doubt made me get into relationships that were not good for me. I allowed emotional/mental abuse because I felt like I was not good enough to be with anyone else. I didn’t feel self worth. I felt like that was what I deserved.

WHAT WAS THE “TURNING POINT” THAT GOT YOU STARTED ON YOUR WEIGHT LOSS JOURNEY? I was constantly having back pain and spasms. There was a couple times my back was so bad I couldn’t walk or move. I literally had to have an ambulance come to my house and help get me up because I couldn’t move. The Dr. told me it was because of my weight. All the pain I was having was because of me being overweight. It was then I decided enough was enough. I could no longer be heavy and unhappy. I could no longer live in pain. I knew I had to do something.

HOW DID YOU GET STARTED? I tried diets after diets, you name it and I’m sure I tried it. I would fail and feel discouraged and eat more. I spent maybe 2 yrs like a yo-yo. Lose 5 lbs just to gain 10 back. I felt like I was on a roller coaster with no brakes! I went to my Dr. and this is when my life changed!! He recommended I get Gastric Sleeve Surgery to lose the weight. I agreed with him, but he also told me it wasn’t going to be easy. I would need to go through a weight loss surgery program for 6 months first. I was ok with this because I was ready.

HOW LONG AFTER YOU STARTED DID YOU BEGIN TO SEE RESULTS OF YOUR WEIGHT LOSS EFFORTS? I started seeing weight loss almost right away, but actual results, like actual physical well being, healthy, toned results came about a year later, which is when I started my fitness journey. Once I started to workout, I felt my skin getting tighter and my body started to get toned.

WHAT WAS THE HARDEST PART? Like I said before I hated to workout, so getting me used to working out and actually like it took some times. It was about a year after surgery that I finally started to workout.

DID YOU EVER WANT TO GIVE UP? WHAT KEPT YOU GOING? I had tons of motivation. I joined Facebook groups that helped keep me motivated. My family helped motivate me by always telling me that I can do it. Each time I dropped a size in clothing I felt that much more motivated. Each time my kids would tell me how good I looked, that would motivate me. I have lost 98 lbs and I no longer have back pain. I can now do things with my family that I was not able to do before. But mentally I am a changed person. I NOW love myself. not because I look skinny, but because I know what sacrifice I had to make to be healthy and I NOW appreciate my body to a whole new level. On this journey I have learned so much and I am forever grateful. As I said before its a working progress. Everyday I work on it. Everyday I have to look at myself and appreciate the process.

DID YOU HIT ANY WEIGHT LOSS PLATEAUS? HOW DID YOU OVERCOME THEM? With weight loss surgery there is always what we call , stalls. This happens to all of us. I have had many of them and actually I am at a stall at this moment. We will go through periods of time that we will not lose any weight at all. What I do to get out of the stalls is go back to basics. I go back to meal prepping, back to portion control, back to making sure I’m not eating to fatty foods and not grazing on unhealthy snacks. Making better choices in my eating habits. Switching out different foods.

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO LOSE MOST OF THE WEIGHT? It took me about 8 months to lose the weight. I Got to my lowest weight of 128 lbs, but have gained some weight back. I am currently at 146 and would like to lose 10 more lbs

DID YOU HAVE ANY NON-SCALE VICTORIES? I had so many non scale victories, actually I think most of the victories were non scale. The scale, to me, is not all the story! It doesn’t show you muscle weight or inches lost. I dropped sizes! I went from size 18/20 to a size 6. I am able to go in to any store and not worry if they have plus size or not. I know I will fit into the clothes.

WHAT DOES YOUR DAILY DIET LOOK LIKE COMPARED TO WHEN YOU WERE HEAVIER? My eating habits before were horrible. I would eat everything on my plate, even if I was full. I felt like I had to finish it. When I was sad I would eat, if I was happy I would eat , I would eat when I was bored. I felt comfort in food and eating and felt happy when I would eat. It was the one thing in my life I could count on.

HOW DOES YOUR PHYSICAL ACTIVITY COMPARE TO WHEN YOU WERE HEAVIER? When I was heavy, I would NEVER workout and when I mean never, I mean NEVER! I never walked or any physical activity at all. I would park the closest to the stores as I could so I wouldn’t have to walk far. I would get winded just walking up a flight of stairs. A shower would get me tired because it was too much movement and I was not active at all. I hated to workout. It was a major chore for me. Now I am taking classes to become a Certified Personal Trainer, I love to workout. I actually find it to be my safe haven. I workout almost everyday because i love the energy I get from it and the feeling of accomplishment that I get from a good workout.

What can you do when you start feeling the cravings?

Personally, when I get hungry, I immediately ask myself when the last time I drank water was, and how much water I’ve had to drink that day. More often than not, my body’s signal of thirst is mistaken with snack cravings so I reach for a glass of water instead of a snack. Many times, I have found that the simple glass of water took away my snack craving. If I still felt hungry after the water, I know that I’m physically hungry so I can make a meal at that point.

Did you know that water can taste delicious? If you struggle with drinking enough water, I’ve found that making fruit and herb infused water is a great way to start enjoying the act of drinking water. In fact, I now find myself reaching for water even when I’m not thirsty, simply because the water tastes so good!

Depending on your reason for emotional eating, choose to do something else instead of eating. This is a good way to learn how to attend to your emotions without the use of food. If you can control that, you will be able to control your eating habits over time. A healthy lifestyle is a combination of applying nutritional knowledge and willingness to manage your eating habits.

Yes, stressed is “desserts” spelled backward but in order to stop your cycle of stress and emotional eating, it’s important to find other fulfilling ways to satisfy your emotions. Sometimes you may feel an overwhelming craving for something unhealthy, but this is where willpower has to kick in. The important thing is to take it step-by-step, especially if you are accustomed to snacking and stress eating. For example, what do you usually snack on? Junk food and desserts? It’s best not to snack in between meals. but you can take a baby step by opting to replace the “junk” with something better.

“If you take away something in your diet or lifestyle, be sure to replace it with something better.”

Incorporate healthier snacks like fruits, hummus, healthy bars, etc. From there, begin to decrease the frequency of your snack time. You’ll notice that if you consume wholesome food, your palate will change, and the cravings will decrease. There are foods that contain addictive properties that make it hard to control your portions and bypass satiety. Learn about them here.

The 10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating is based on 10 principles, which I will describe below. Note that these are principles, not rules. There’s no wrong or right, just basic principles you can incorporate into your life at the pace that suits you and your healing.

Intuitive Eating Principle 1: Reject the Diet Mentality

The first principle of intuitive eating is all about rejecting the idea the system of dieting, and the diet mentality that fuels it. YOU are not the reason diets have failed, it’s simply a flawed paradigm. There is not a single bit of research suggesting more than a small number of people can lose weight and keep it off permanently. Yes, there are a bazillion weight loss studies, but almost all are less than a year, and most are less than 6 months. Yet one third to two thirds of weight is typically regained within a year, and almost all is usually regained within five years. In fact, you are more likely to gain weight with dieting, as approximately 60% of people who diet gain back more weight than they lost.

This is a place where I feel tempted to throw in a lot of statistics and research (and if you’re interested in that, check out Health at Every Size or this TED Talk on why dieting doesn’t work), but instead I’d encourage you to reflect on your own dieting history. Has dieting ever helped you sustainably improve your health? Live a life in line with your values? Or, has it set you on a spiral of dieting, restricting, giving in to a craving, shame and guilt, binging, and then starting all over Monday?

Intuitive Eating Principle 2: Honor Your Hunger

This principle focuses on learning to feed your body adequately throughout the day with energy and carbohydrates. Firstly, your body simply deserves to be fed adequately, and functions best when it is. But also, underfeeding often results in a primal hunger that fuels a drive to overeat, as well as impulsive choices around food. Feeding your body adequately may sound super simple, but it’s also a game changer! In my practice, I’ve had many clients notice eating concerns or digestive issues almost completely resolve simply from fueling more adequately. This principle also teaches you how to identify the more subtle signs of hunger. Years of suppressing hunger through dieting and restriction can make hunger cues a bit wonky, so intuitive eating includes practices to get back in touch with those cues.

Intuitive Eating Principle 3: Make Peace with Food

Making peace means giving yourself permission to eat all the foods you enjoy, including those that may have been off-limits. Telling yourself you can’t have a certain food just leads to uncontrollable cravings. When you do eat the forbidden food, eating might feel quite intense. We call this Last Supper eating, and it usually results in eating larger quantities or in a way that feels checked out/disconnected because you’re not sure when you’re going to be allowed to eat that food again. Intermittent access to foods does not allow for you to gain the skills to eat them like a normal human being, and by bringing these foods back in you can begin to gain experiences that help you make peace with them.

After bringing off-limits foods back in, it’s really normal to experience a bit of a honeymoon period, where you might be eating a lot more of those foods than normal, and maybe eating isn’t quite so nutritionally balanced. This period can last for a short time, or a long time depending on your unique history with food. It’s ok! It’s really important to go through this period because it allows for you to experience habituation, when those foods start to lose their “special” and become less exciting.

Intuitive Eating Principle 4: Challenge the Food Police

I like to contrast this principle with “Make Peace with Food.” Making peace with food is all about giving yourself physical permission to eat all foods, while challenging the food police is all about giving yourself the emotional permission to eat all foods. With this principle, you’re learning to challenge that voice inside your head that tells you that you’re being good for eating certain foods, and bad for eating others. It helps you take the morality out of eating choices.

Part of challenging the food police is nurturing more helpful self talk. You’ll learn how to neutrally observe, and speak to yourself in a more nurturing parent voice. By chipping away at the food police, you’ll begin to be able to look at nutrition in a more helpful way that’s rooted in self care, rather than punishment.

Intuitive Eating Principle 5: Respect Your Fullness

What’s that point where you are satisfied, but not stuffed? That’s a great place to stop in a meal! There is a very good reason why respect your fullness comes after honoring your hunger and making peace with food - if you’re not sure if you’re ever going to get a food again, or if you’re sitting down to a meal feeling ravenously hungry, it’s going to be challenging to honor your hunger. This is a place where mindfulness skills are helpful.

Intuitive Eating Principle 6: Discover the Satisfaction Factor

Pleasure should be a goal of healthful eating. Other cultures value pleasure above health and actually have better health outcomes. And regardless of physical health, everyone has the right to enjoy the food they eat. Enjoying tasty food enhances mental health and is part of the human experience! We were designed to connect with others over food - and I can’t imagine connecting with others over a bowl of boring salad with diet dressing!

Also, by intentionally choosing pleasurable food, you’re less likely to overeat or experience binges. That might sound counterintuitive, as many people fear they won’t be able to stop eating a food if it tastes good. In actuality, by eating enjoyable food and eating more mindfully, you’ll start to notice when a food stops tasting good, and be able to stop eating.

Intuitive Eating Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions with or Without Food

I made a little edit to the original principle by adding “with or,” but in reading Evelyn and Elyse’s more current works, and in doing individual training with Evelyn, I’m fairly confident they’re cool with the edit! You see, food is a coping mechanism. It can provide comfort, or distract from uncomfortable emotions. But it’s not the most effective coping mechanism, because food rarely helps us deal with the root cause of that uncomfortable emotion. And often, emotional eating can make you feel worse, especially if it leads to a shame spiral. But alas, it is one way to cope, and there are certainly more maladaptive ways of coping with intense emotions! Plus, sometimes food really can make you feel better - think about decompressing after a tough day at work with pizza and beer with friends, or making your favorite mac and cheese recipe from scratch to cheer yourself up when you’re feeling depressed.

Buuuuut, we also need to have other coping skills too, because when food is our only coping skill, that’s when it becomes a problem. So that’s where IE comes in handy, teaching you how to identify the difference between physical hunger and emotional hunger, ways to cope with emotions without food, and how to emotionally eat in a more helpful way.

Intuitive Eating Principle 8: Respect Your Body

Body diversity naturally exists. It’s part of the rich tapestry of human existence. If you fed 1,000 people exactly the same food in the same amounts, moved their bodies exactly the way for the same amount of time, you would still have 1,000 different body shapes and sizes, and some of those sizes would be fat.

Just like we couldn’t diet our feet down to fit a smaller shoe size, we can’t expect our body to permanently stay in a smaller size than it’s genetic blueprint wants it to be. For all that you hear about BMI and ideal weights, there’s no way to predict what weight you’re supposed to be. Instead, intuitive eating focuses on behaviors vs. the scale. When you’re feeding your body adequately and appropriately, moving it semi-regularly, getting good sleep and managing stress - basically, when you’re being a good steward of your body - your weight will settle in the range it’s supposed to be in, which may be smaller, bigger, or the same size that you are right now.

Note that the authors use the term “respect.” You don’t have to love your body to treat it with respect. Body positivity isn’t a command, and no matter what barriers you face in accepting and loving your body, you can still start to treat it with more kindness and respect.

Intuitive Eating Principle 9: Exercise - Feel the Difference

This principle of intuitive eating is all about uncoupling exercise (or movement as I like to call it) from weight loss. When exercise becomes wrapped up in weight control, it often results in overexercise to the point of harm as one tries to militantly burn calories, or exercise avoidance, as exercise becomes a chore. Most frequently, it results in cycling between the two. With intuitive eating, one learns the art of pleasurable movement - moving your body for fun for purposes of self care, not punishment!

Intuitive Eating Principle 10: Honor Your Health with Gentle Nutrition

See, nutrition is part of intuitive eating! It was created by two dietitians after all. There’s a good reason gentle nutrition is the last principle - because it’s important to heal your relationship with food first, otherwise gentle nutrition can quickly become wrapped up in diet mentality. Gentle nutrition is all about taking a birds-eye view to eating habits. One meal or day of eating won’t make or break health, so zoom out to get perspective on eating over time, and consider things like how food makes you feel, and your personal health goals.

Emotional Eating: 9 Ways to Stop It and Lose Weight

If you respond to any emotional situation—happy or sad—by overeating, and you want to stop, there are solutions. But you’re not going to find them in your refrigerator, on a pastry cart, or in a restaurant. You’ll have to look deeper. First step: Learn to recognize and acknowledge emotional overeating for what it is so you can start eating to satisfy real hunger, and not give in to a habit of using food to distract yourself from dealing with feelings.

Look at the Way You Eat

How you eat can be more important than what you eat. The total amount of food you eat, your attitude toward food, how you balance your meals and snacks, and your personal eating habits can play a much bigger role in emotional overeating than the specific foods you choose to eat. Take time to analyze your eating patterns, learn more about normal eating vs. emotional overeating, and develop new self-help strategies to address both your emotional and physical relationships with food. Practice saying “no,” not only to unhealthy foods, but also to emotionally-charged situations that sabotage your efforts to develop better eating habits. (Photo: Unsplash, Ella Olsson)

  1. Hebebrand J, Albayrak O, Adan R, et al. “Eating addiction,” rather than “food addiction,” better captures addictive-like eating behavior. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 2014. 47:295-306
  2. Madjd A, Taylor MA, Delavari A, et al. Beneficial effect of high energy intake at lunch rather than dinner on weight loss in healthy obese women in a weight-loss program: a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. August 31, 2016 104(4):982-989.

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Liberating from Food and Eating

Looking back at my emotional eating years, it is obvious how much I had struggled with food, how much of my life had revolved around food, and how all of that was entirely unnecessary.

The thing was, while I was living in the bubble, I thought this spectrum of emotions with respect to food was normal. Just like how some alcoholics or drug addicts see their addictions as under their control, I couldn’t see the problem since I was living it. It was after resolving my food issues that I realized it really wasn’t normal at all. That there is a better way, a more conscious path, one that doesn’t involve food nor eating.

Just because everyone has the same problem doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. It doesn’t mean it’s okay either. It just means that everyone is stuck in the same situation as you. Don’t let the norms of the society cloud over your better judgment. The solution shouldn’t be to live in the problem, but to resolve it consciously.

Emotional eating doesn’t have to persist. Just like me, you can break free from the chains binding you and food. And I will share with you how in the next part.

Continue on to part 5, where I share the first steps of tackling emotional eating: How To Stop Emotional Eating, Part 1: Tackling the Causes of Emotional Eating

Get the manifesto version of this article: 12 Signs of Emotional Eating [Manifesto]

This is part 4 of a 6-part series on emotional eating, the perversion of food in our society today, and how to overcome it.