10 Tips to Control Emotional Eating

Emotional eating is not about food. It’s not about hunger. Emotional eating is a coping mechanism employed in times of emotional conflict, stress, and daily hassles. Eating Disorders Anonymous defines emotional eating as “episodes of binge-eating, grazing and/or eating when not hungry to soothe feelings.” Binge-eating is unrestrained eating that is swiftly followed by feeling guilty and ashamed. Contrary to popular beliefs and stereotypes, not all emotional eaters are overweight, and not all overweight persons are emotional eaters.

According to Eating Disorders Anonymous, emotional eating is characterized by: food obsession, awareness that binge-eating is not normal, fearing the inability to stop on your own, feeling out of control, self-depreciating thoughts, depression, eating very little in public or in front of others, hiding to eat or hiding the evidence of eating, cyclic dieting, bingeing, and remorse, labeling certain foods as good or bad, frequent weight fluctuations, body image preoccupation, self restricted activities because of embarrassment over weight or eating habits, out of touch with feelings and needs, intense avoidance of anger or conflict, impulsiveness in other areas, and using food for a reward or nurturance.

Some issues that are associated or strongly linked to emotional eating are: low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, imagining being happier or more outgoing if you were thin, fear of rejection because of weight, increased social withdrawal or self isolation, putting off activities or life changes like going back to school or changing jobs until you are thin, being tormented by eating habits, attributing professional failures to weight, and making weight the main focus of life. Not everyone will experience all of the symptoms or associated issues with emotional eating that are listed here.

Social Support

Social support is so important, particularly for the persons who tend to isolate themselves. Just having someone who will lend a sympathetic ear when you need to talk about the issues you are facing is sometimes all it takes to get a handle on your emotions. Social support can take many forms: family, co-workers, friends, or online support groups. In times of great emotional distress, it is imperative to know you are not alone, that you have those people who love and support you, no matter what. If you do not have a social support network, be pro-active in changing that. There are so many places to meet people who share the same interests as you and with whom you can develop a personal relationship with.

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Positive Self-talk

I have a little Devil-Angel (complete with red suit, tail, and pitchfork) who sits on my shoulder and whispers in my ear all sorts of negative things about myself. I have managed to silence her for the most part, but she does show herself from time to time to let me know that she is still there. I’m referring to the negative self-talk that many of us engage in, that if not deterred will destroy your self esteem and self efficacy. So, how do you shut her up when she is so dang persistent? You talk back! (Although maybe not out loud, unless you want to be the recipient of some strange looks.)

“You have something completely unique to contribute to the world!”

“Your life does have value!”

“You are beautiful!”

You get the idea. Whatever your little devil tell you, tell yourself the opposite. Through persistence, you will silence her more and more, until she only pops out occasionally instead of sitting there constantly. Will you ever be able to get rid of her completely? I don’t know, but I am sure trying to find out!

Physical Activity

Yes, believe it or not, being physically active helps in treating emotional eating both physically and mentally. Physically, exercise releases endorphins. What are endorphins? Endorphins are chemicals released within your body that make you feel good. Endorphin is a contraction for endogenous morphine; endogenous means developed internally, and we all know what morphine is. Mentally, exercise makes you feel better about yourself; it increases your self-esteem. Even 20 minutes of exercise a day is beneficial. Honestly, who can’t tolerate exercise for 20 minutes?

Healthy Eating

Okay, I know this sounds like an oxy-moron, but consider this…Many people think that following a diet fanatically will help with eating disorders. Well, it doesn’t; if anything, dieting keeps the vicious cycle spinning. Just like your car needs the right type of oil to run smoothly, so does your body. Instead of dieting, eat healthy, for life.

If you don’t know how to eat healthy, check out the USDA’s MyPyramid Plan, the web link will be provided at the end of this article. On the MyPyramid Plan, you enter your height, weight, gender, and age and choose whether you want to maintain your current weight or reduce your weight at a healthy level of weight loss. Once you have done that, the website will tell you how many calories and how many servings of each food group you need to eat daily. Now, for the significantly overweight person it tells you to see your doctor. You don’t need to see a doctor to eat healthy, but if you want to lose weight and are significantly overweight you should discuss this with your doctor. That said, to get the nutritional information from the USDA’s MyPyramid Plan instead of entering your current weight, enter the healthy weight for your height (Your doctor can help you figure out a healthy goal).

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*As an aside note, you can also enter the information for your child and get detailed information about what he or she should be eating daily as well; nutritional and caloric needs for children are different than adults.

Grocery Shopping

The simple fact is: you cannot binge on something that isn’t there. The MyPyramid Plan gives you the guidelines for building a shopping list. Stick to the shopping list and avoid buying your specific comfort foods. This way, if you do have a binging episode, the damage to your healthy eating plan and your health is minimized. What is there to feel guilty about when you are binging on carrots or other vegetable or fruit?

Face Your Emotions

Recovery from an eating disorder requires that you face your emotions and deal with them through respect and honesty. There is no easy way to do this. It takes a lot of hard work and responsibility. You are used to shoving emotions down, pushing them away. It is time to feel them. Emotions can be overwhelming at times, there is no denying that! But, feeling emotions or feeling emotional does not mean you are weak. I refuse to apologize for my emotions or the way I feel!

Last Minute Intervention

I often refer to my binges as a mindless, out of control, feeding frenzy. It sneaks up on me, I don’t see it coming, and it runs me over like a freight train. At least it used to! I have note cards in the cabinets and fridge, anywhere that there is food. The note cards ask me, what I don’t ask myself when I want to escape my emotions. Are you really hungry? How do you feel right now? Has anything happened that is making anxious? It may sound corny, but it works! It makes me stop and think before I grab. If I am not physically hungry, I grab some water and go do something else like clean the house, exercise, call a friend, or write. I do something that allows me to work though the emotions that I am feeling.

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Write it Out

It is called emotional eating for a reason. Some of us are so out of touch with how we feel that we do ourselves a great disservice. I write about everything in my journal, but especially, I write about how everything makes me feel. If you don’t want anyone to see it, put it on the computer and password protect it or lock it away in a box that only you have a key to. You have to feel secure enough to be brutally honest with yourself. Truthfully, I write things I do not want anyone else reading, but if someone does read it, so what! These are my feelings, they are not irrational, and I do not have to validate them to anyone, but myself.

Take Care of Your Needs

SO many of us are caretakers. We take care of everyone else’s needs, while neglecting our own. Who is going to take care of everyone else’s needs when you are no longer able to? This will happen eventually, if you continue to neglect yourself. You have needs, everyone does. There is nothing wrong or selfish about making sure you get your needs met. That was the hardest concept for me to grasp.

Seek Professional Help

Sometimes we need professional help to overcome the damage we have done to ourselves. This can take the form of a therapist or support group like Eating Disorders Anonymous. There is nothing wrong or shameful about asking for help; the real shame lies in not reaching out and accepting the help that we need.

An eating disorder did not appear overnight, and it will take time and quite a bit of work to recover. But, it is possible, if you make the effort. You have the power to change your life!


Eating Disorders Anonymous www.eatingdisordersanonymous.org

USDA’s MyPyramid Plan www.mypyramid.gov