How to stop emotional eating?
How come so many weight loss programs fail?
Unless the emotional issues causing the weight gain are resolved, the weight may come off temporarily but it will probably come right back on again, and then some.
Are you an emotional eater?
If you answered yes to more than 3 of these questions, chances are you are using food to suppress unresolved emotional issues and you need to learn how to stop binge eating.
It is essential to listen to our feelings, put them into words. Take the time to do this work. What is going on in your mind? What have you been telling yourself. Are you telling yourself that you're not good enough? That you will never be good enough? Write down the thoughts that arise.
Are you holding onto feelings from your child hood?
It's time to recognize them for what they are or were. A protection from pain. That is all. They are not true. They are no longer valid. They may have served you well at the time, but now it is time to let them go.
It may seem challenging to let go of something that has been such a big part of your life for so long when working on how to stop emotional eating. It has been your crutch, your safety blanket. Your only friend at times. And yes, change is hard, we can't just flick a switch, it takes time, effort and determination.
In letting these past thoughts go, you create the space for something new, more positive thoughts. Write down some affirmations that feel right for you, the opposite of the negative thoughts that came up.
This is a continual process. Negative feelings and doubts plague us all. But we can recognize them as simply thoughts, feelings and sensations that are often triggered from some long ago event.
It's usually not about what is going on here and now. It is not about the incident or the person we are angry at, it is a trigger, perhaps something that happened between you and one of your parents. At some point a long time ago you took a decision. You were hurt and in pain and you didn't know how to handle it.
Unconsciously you began to eat to assuage that pain. If you feel you can not do the work on your own to help you learn how to stop emotional eating, you can enlist in the help of a professional to help you.
As long as you live with emotional issues that are unresolved, it will be very difficult for you to attain emotional freedom and move forward in any area of your life.
First of all pat yourself on the back! Give yourself credit.
You have taken the first and most important step. You have acknowledged and realized that there is a problem. You are ready to take the next steps to work through it and resolve it.
Dr. Phil proposes a 5 step plan for healing feelings in his book, The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution, the 7 keys to Weight Loss Freedom.¹ I have simply used his headings as a guideline while adding in my personal input stemming from my 20+ years of working on and researching many issues and how to solve them.
You are the one who is choosing to react to stressful events or upsetting events in a certain way. Be aware of the manner in which you react to difficult situations.
John Kabat Zinn goes into detail about it, in his excellent book, Full Catastrophe Living. "The very first and most important step in breaking free from a lifetime of stress reactivity is to be mindful of what is actually happening while it is happening."² Learning to respond with mindfulness to a situation, rather than react on automatic pilot.
"Ok, here is a situation that is causing me to feel __________." I am recognizing that for what it is, and becoming aware of my response. This time I am going to try to choose a different method of coping with this, rather than slipping into my past patterns of perhaps overreacting or overeating. By using mindfulness and being aware as the situation arises I can choose to respond rather than react Each time I am getting better at learning how to transform the stressors into challenges and opportunities for growth.
How can you take charge and act in a positive way to what's bothering you? If you have a fight with your spouse holding onto anger and spewing out an angry hurtful response won't help, neither will shutting down and refusing to talk.
What can you do to take charge of your problems proactively as problems don't resolve themselves.
A friend told me that her being over weight was a matter of protection for her. She had been sexually abused when she was young so she put on weight as a means of protecting herself. This is true for many victims of sexual assault. As long as the shame and pain remain, weight loss will be difficult.
It is essential to listen to our feelings, put them into words. Take the time to work on this. What is going on in your mind? What have you been telling yourself. Are you telling yourself that you're not good enough? That you will never be good enough?
Write down the thoughts that arise.
What about these negative thought patterns...
It is so easy to slip into our past patterns of beating ourselves up for being a certain way. Realize that we live in a society where we are bombarded by advertisements constantly telling us that we are not ok unless we are perfect.
It is time to put the hammer downand stop banging yourself over the head with it. Realize that the decisions you made when you were very young served a purpose at the time but no longer serve a purpose now.
If you are working on how to stop emotional eating, When difficult situations arise, recognize them for what they are and try not to seek comfort in food. Learn to recognize your triggers and choose a better outlet. Do whatever you need to do to heal your feelings.
It is imperative to find an outlet for stress, whether it be taking a walk, a favorite hobby, exercise, yoga, meditation or learning to use stress management techniques and deep abdominal breathing during stressful times.
See also Stress and Weight Gain.
Do whatever you need to, to release the emotional trauma of your past. Whether it is confronting the person who hurt you, the parent who neglected you, or whatever your particular case may be, determine what you can do to release the past for good.
It's taken me years to work through what I call my "abandonment issues." My dad left for the first time when I was about 6 years old. He was confused and didn't know what he wanted, he left and came back 10 times over 3 years.
Showing sadness or upset just wasn't accepted. As the youngest, I was told that Daddy was on a business trip but of course that didn't fit. My 4 siblings and I had to act as if everything was fine. I became painfully shy in order to not let anyone close to me so that I couldn't get hurt. In college I partied away my pain.
It was only when I began practicing yoga at 30 years old that I began to delve deeper to work through the pain from my past. I practiced meditation, read many self help books, attended workshops, did therapy with a psychologist.
It took me a long time to become aware of my pattern in relationships, of choosing men who were emotionally unavailable (like my father) or becoming too attached and clingy early on and holding on tightly. This repeatedly recreated the same pattern. I realized my biggest fears of being abandoned again as each of my partners left when they felt smothered.
The book, Getting the love you Want, by Harville Hendrix, helped me to realize my pattern in order to be able to start to let go of it.
Of course there are an infinite number of self help books available. The most important thing is to find the one that helps you work specifically on your particular issue.
You might enjoy this article if you need to learn how to boost self esteem.
And you can do this self esteem building exercise.
I enjoy Catherine Ponder's example in her book, The Dynamic Laws Of Prosperity, in which a woman exclaims, "Lord, I humanly cannot forgive that man. But if you can, please forgive him through me." Which worked for her and her court case against the man was easily settled out of court a few days later.³
Here is an exercise that I did: Write down all negative thoughts towards any men (or women) in your past. Write in one sitting for as many hours as it takes, no breaks, no holds barred. Take all that you have written and read it to a friend and then burn all the pages.
We must forgive others, often they were only handling the situation in the best way they knew how, given their limited abilities.
And we must forgive ourselves.
Using these tools and working diligently you are sure to be successful in your quest of how to stop emotional eating and have success with your weight loss.
"It is only with the heart that we can see clearly" Gandhi.
1. McGraw, Phil, Ph.D. The Ultimate Weight Loss Solution, the 7 keys to Weight Loss Freedom (New York N.Y.: Simon and Schuster Inc. 2003) 91-106
2. Kabat-Zinn, John Ph.D. Full Catastrophe Living, Using the Widom of Your Body and Mind to face Stress, Pain and Illness (New York N.Y.: Bantom Doubleday, 1990) 266
3. Ponder, Catherine, The Dynamic Laws of Prosperity, (Marina Del Ray California, Prentice-Hall 1962) 46