Emotional eating is more complicated than most people realize, and the typical advice – “just don’t do it” – is far from helpful. In this series, 5 Things Anyone who Struggles with Overeating Needs to Know about Emotional Eating, I’m covering more information – and case studies – about emotional eating and what you need to know (and do) to break free.
The series so far:
In part one I shared how emotional eating can operate outside your awareness and shared what to do if you can’t stop eating. Part two covered the toll that emotional eating can take – even if you are not overweight. In part three you learned why willpower is not the best strategy for getting results, how it can even make struggles with food worse, and what you can start doing instead.
Today we’re going to cover an essential action step for ending your struggles with emotional eating and overeating – one that packs a powerful punch, even if you do it imperfectly.
The fourth thing you need to know about emotional eating (and how to take action):
Diets (and even drastic measures like weight loss surgery) don’t give you the tools to stop emotional overeating.
Emotional eating happens for a reason.
Whether you are eating for comfort, stress eating, eating to numb your feelings, or using food as a distraction, emotional eating is an attempt to cope with something.
To break free from emotional eating you need strategies to address the REASONS you overeat.
Success requires knowing what to do instead of eating. When you know how to take care of what’s triggering your hunger without turning to food, the whole game changes.
That bag of chips actually loses its power when you know how to feed the “hidden hungers” that are triggering emotional eating.
Diets don’t help you with what to do instead of eating and even something as drastic as weight loss surgery doesn’t affect the reasons that food is so powerful in your life. If you haven’t addressed the reasons, food will still call to you like a siren. Even people who have had their stomach size surgically reduced continue to struggle with emotional eating, and often experience “head hunger” or emotionally-driven cravings.
Taking the time and getting the help to develop strategies to feed these non-food hungers pays off. NOT doing so, costs big.
Darla can testify to this. She lost more than one hundred pounds after having gastric bypass surgery only to gain it all back. She regained the weight because she didn’t know what to do instead of turning to food to cope with her emotions. Even though it was uncomfortable to overeat, food was the coping strategy she had for dealing with certain situations. Without new strategies and tools, she slipped back into old patterns, despite how badly she wanted to change.
Linda is another woman who was stuck on a hamster wheel because she lacked a new approach. She was a chronic dieter who was in the same boat as many women I’ve worked with over the years. She “excelled at weight loss.” She had willpower and discipline to spare, and she’d learned what she needed to do to lose an extra ten or twenty pounds. It required a lot of work, but she knew how to do it.
Unfortunately, she didn’t have the tools she needed to stop overeating for good. The weight that Linda lost always came back when her busy season started at work and her stress increased and losing weight becomes a full-time preoccupation.
Are you an emotional eater? Here’s what you can do now (and you don’t have to get it perfect):
Take the time to explore the reason that your emotional eating is happening. Then, focus on addressing these reasons (sometimes called “triggers”). Experiment with new strategies – and keep experimenting. It’s okay if your results are imperfect. Learn from what works and keep adjusting your new strategies until they fit you.
Of course, there’s more to solving the emotional eating puzzle, but please don’t underestimate the power of this essential first step.
Take good care,