If you struggle with overeating or emotional eating, a piece of the puzzle that you might not consider is the way that you treat yourself.
Food is a tricky little devil, and overeating and emotional eating crop up in all sorts of ways. We use eating as a means to take care of ourselves and to respond to feelings. Just like our behavior with our partner can make things better, or worse, the way we treat ourselves can make or break our relationship with food and our efforts to stop overeating.
Here are five relationship rules you might think have nothing to do with overeating – but when you apply them to yourself, they can make all the difference.
1. The 5:1 rule
Relationship expert John Gottman uses what he calls the balance theory of relationships to predict a couple’s likelihood of divorce. He finds that good relationships aren’t “perfect.” They include a mix of positive and negative, but in order for a relationship to work, there needs to be a ratio of five positive communications to each negative one. Consider for a moment the way that you talk and think about yourself. Would your inner soundtrack pass this test or is your self-talk (especially around food, eating, and weight) imbalanced with negativity, judgements, and criticism?
Constant self-criticism and negativity depletes your energy and your motivation. It restricts your ability to learn from, and create positive changes in response to mistakes or overeating. Negative self-talk affects your mood, increases stress, and may even be a trigger for more overeating or a binge.
Use the 5:1 rule:
You can start breaking free of repetitive cycles with overeating by training your brain to recognize progress. Instead of routinely noticing (and berating yourself for) the things that go wrong, look for ways to give yourself credit for your efforts and the things that do go well.
If you are feeling negative about a particular situation with your eating, use what psychologists call “bookending” to sandwich your negative thinking between two positives or compassionate statements. For example, instead of blasting yourself for finishing off the chips before you went to bed (“Melissa, I can’t believe you did it again. You ruined a perfectly good day of eating!”), acknowledge the negative and embed it in a positive context that allows you to use the situation to move forward (“Melissa, you had such a long day and you worked so hard. I know you were tired, but I really wish you’d find a better way to deal with it than to eat all that food. Let’s try to figure out an alternative. Tomorrow is another day.”).
In positive, strong relationships, respect is a non-negotiable. We strive to show respect – even when we’re angry or hurt or disappointed (and even though we don’t always get it perfect).
Knowing that we are respected and cared about – even while the other person might not be agreeing with our behavior or our choice – is a powerful (and empowering) thing. The experience of feeling respected allows us to risk vulnerability and to be open to other points of view or to change.
Are you showing self-respect in the way that you tackle your overeating and your relationship with food?
A lack of respect can lead to feeling guilt and even shame, and can exacerbate stress eating, emotional eating, and comfort eating.
Begin by acknowledging that you are a smart, resourceful person who achieves success in multiple areas of your life. Your struggles with food don’t mean you’re weak or lazy. They can be untangled, understood, and there is a solution. Respect the problem by acknowledging that even if you aren’t clear what it is yet, there’s a reason you are overeating. Respect your efforts, and practice talking to yourself the way you would speak to your partner or your best friend.
3. Be open and curious about the other person’s point of view.
Couples who get through challenges or disagreements successfully acknowledge that they often have differing perspectives and points of view. They find ways to be open to learning about their partner’s experience and are curious about understanding how the other person sees things.
How to use curiosity with overeating:
In a relationship, the phrase “Help me understand” or “Help me see it like you do” can be a game changer. The same goes for overeating and emotional eating. Focusing on “what” to eat and “how” to lose weight, and then getting frustrated because you can’t implement the “straightforward” plan that seems “so simple” is a recipe for repetitive cycles of yoyo weight loss or constantly starting the diet over again “on Monday.”
“Help me understand” is a powerful prompt that you can use respectfully to learn why things aren’t working. Instead of pushing harder to be successful, be open and curious to understanding why you might be struggling, what parts of the plan don’t work for you, what additional support you need, or where you fall off track. Use this information to build a path forward that works better for you.
4. Express your love and caring frequently, and not just on special occasions (small things matter)
In strong relationships, compliments, acknowledgements, and acts of love are an everyday occurrence. We aren’t always as good about making sure that we give ourselves the same loving care. And yet, one of the main reasons that smart, busy women reach for a treat is because of feeling that they “deserve it” or want a nice break, or because it’s been a very long day where they’ve taken care of everything else and just want a little something for themselves.
Food is often a substitute for self-care, self-compassion, and celebration or recognition.
Break the cycle of using food as a reward:
Make a list of do-able ways to treat yourself that aren’t food. Practice doing one lovely thing for yourself every day. Stop telling yourself you “don’t deserve” special things or that you “haven’t earned” it yet. Withholding kindness and expressions of caring doesn’t work in any relationship – including the relationship you have with yourself.
5. If you aren’t getting what you need, ask for it.
No one likes hanging out with a martyr. Well-working relationships are made up of people who are honest about what they need and are comfortable asking for what they need and want.
Respecting your needs instead of overeating:
A significant chunk of overeating and emotional eating happens when food is used as a substitute for something else – or to help block out feelings about needs that aren’t getting met. Many women notice that cravings diminish or even disappear when they begin to address the hidden hungers and desires that they using food to address.
If you aren’t comfortable asking for what you need, or if you notice a pattern of putting your own needs on the bottom of your priority list, it’s time for an overhaul.
Overeating and emotional eating don’t need to be ongoing struggles. The successful way to break free includes upgrading the relationship you have both with food and with yourself.
Take good care,