Emotional Eating

Our dieter Rose has a very stressful situation coming up this week and so we spent a lot of today discussing emotional eating and strategies for not falling prey to it. Lots of dieters are like Rose. They feel entitled to eat when they’re distressed. “If I’m upset, I should be able to eat.” Often, they feel as if they don’t have a choice. “If I’m upset, I have to eat.” It’s important for them to recognize that people without a weight problem usually do not turn to food when they’re upset. They try to solve the problem, turn to others for support, distract themselves, or simply tolerate the feeling.

These are the strategies that Rose needs to learn. But first, she needs to label her experience. “I’m not hungry. I just want to eat because I’m upset. But if I eat, it will only be a temporary ‘fix.’ I’ll feel so much worse afterwards.”

Ultimately, we want Rose to learn that she doesn’t have to do anything when she’s upset. Negative emotions won’t harm her and they’ll subside even if she does nothing. But as an intermediate step, we advised Rose to make a long list of things she can do to comfort or distract herself, such as taking a walk, checking her email, calling her best friend, writing in a journal, listening to a relaxation tape, and taking a hot bath.  We asked Rose to try at least five things every time she feels upset. We told her she needed to have about 20 experiences in a row of not eating for emotional reasons in order to really feel confident that she has broken the habit of turning to food for comfort. 

What are some of the things you do, other than eating, when you’re upset and have an uncomfortable urge to eat?

12 replies
  1. Ginger
    Ginger says:

    This is a timely entry, because I am really having trouble with this one right now. First of all, I’ve hit a plateau after losing 15.5 pounds. I ultimately have 18 more to go (I know, I know, I should only have a goal of five pounds at a time), so weighing in at the same weight for the third week in a row is pretty demoralizing. In reality, though, I’m really lucky that I’m not GAINING weight, because as I look back over my diet notebook from the last couple of weeks I see that I have almost as many off-plan days as I have on-plan days. Today I tried to list all of the stressors in my life right now, and there are many. For one, I am a teacher who started this diet during my summer break. The first few weeks of school went well, but now reality is setting in as I feel I am getting behind on grading, parent-teacher conferences are approaching, and state-mandated high stakes tests are underway. I generally do well with my eating plan all day long until the evening when a little voice says, “You are under so much stress! You need to EAT, girl! You deserve it!” Then the little voice says, “You can always get back on track tomorrow…” and I go have a big bowl of ice cream and cookies. Arghhh!!! I appreciate the advice on trying five different things before turning to food. Any other suggestions out there?

  2. Belle
    Belle says:

    Oh Ginger! I have been there, girl. You need to go back and re-read Day 7 – Arrange your Environment. First, get rid of that ice cream! Stock fruit and veggies that are all cut up and ready to grab in an emergency. Put your special snacks in a separate cupboard, separate refrigerator bin, and only allow yourself to use those locations for snacks.

    The bigger issue here is to figure out a way to reward yourself for making it through another day of educational chaos that is not food-related – “My day was so nuts that when I get home I am going to go to a quiet place, lay down and put a cool gel masque on my face and listen to classical guitar for 15 minutes.” Whatever works for you – just not food-related. For myself, I need to work really hard NOT to associate food with a reward of any kind…or I will always be overweight.

  3. Helene
    Helene says:

    Hi Ginger,
    First a little background, then I’ll let you know what’s working for me.
    I gained about 25 pounds through emotional binge eating over the last 3 years. I had just about given up trying anything, and was at an all time high weight, when I read about the Beck solution in O magazine. I bought the book, started following it and joined weight watchers for the second time on April 27th. I had lost 21.2 pounds as of September 14th.
    BUT as soon as we got back from vacation a couple of weeks ago, the problem started again, and immediately I started gaining weight back. I have a crazy work schedule with back to back student appointments all day, a very long day, and we are going through some very tough things on a personal level. IO’m getting control back and this is what has been working for me over the last 4 days:
    1) I am re-reading certain earlier chapters of the book
    2) I pulled out My Cravings Ratings Chart, and made duplicate blank copies. I am focusing on tracking the cravings and monitoring them, so I’m forcing myself to at least think for a second before I run for the chocolate and cookies at the bookstore in the building.
    3) I created a card from the book, which I have propped up on my desk, facing me:This feeling is just a craving. It’s uncomfortable and intense, but like hunger, its not an emergency. Get over it! I’d rather be thin. NO CHOICE -NO EATING
    4) This card is sitting directly under my little weight loss graph I created and printed out on my PC, where the 4 pound spike up in the line is facing me. On the page with the graph, I inserted a clip-art picture of two arms wrestling (reflective of the giving-in and resistence muscle), with the caption “Which one will win?”
    I hope some of this helps and I’d love to see other’s suggestions.

  4. Cindy
    Cindy says:

    I’m only on Day 6 of the program, so I’m no expert. But what about taking pictures of the outfit you hate the most — the one that makes you feel fat and frumpy — and the outfit that always makes you feel gorgeous and sexy (or the one you want to fit into again)! and keeping copies where you can see them when you feel the urge to overeat? Or a picture of you at your worst, next to one of you at your best?

  5. CBT fan
    CBT fan says:

    Great blog post…20x is a great number to shoot for, as many times we defeat ourselves by doing it 1x or 3x, and expecting change. Or we think it will take HUNDREDS of times, so we don’t bother.
    But if we shoot for 20x, and TRACK IT IN WRITING, then most of the time the habit will stick around 10x. Sometimes it takes more.
    I kicked a few food habits, and those took about 7-15 times each, which is not much.
    But for chocolate, that has taken dozens of times, and its better, but still needs more work.

    So far, I have lost almost 40 pounds using parts of the Beck Diet Solution book (not even all of the book), and have almost completed the process.

    For Emotional Eating, I use….
    -Food Substitution, eating some celery, or no-fat popcorn. (not the best).
    -go for a walk.
    -do some Visualization

    But I think the most BEST is to do “self-soothing” which is a type of Visualization where you make yourself feel better using your emotional imagination.
    You can also have some fun with it, and even “give yourself a hug”!! Sounds goofy, but try it! Physically give yourself a hug!
    That can be related to things like “soothing your inner child” emotionally, NOT with food.

    I wish Judith Beck could write an entire chapter or Blog post on “Emotional Self-Soothing”, even using internal images of the so-called “inner child” as a metaphor.
    That stuff sounds so 1980’s, but it can work extremely well.

    Instead of soothing with food, like so many parents condition children to do, we soothe ourselves DIRECTLY using our Active Imaginations.
    This also works for those who soothe themselves with a bottle of booze, or worse. Emotional Self-Soothing on demand, I believe, is one of the most important skills a person could ever learn. Its a bit of a large topic…

  6. Suz
    Suz says:

    I LOVE the idea of taking a hot bath… I’ll have to add that to my list! 🙂

    Some other things I do:
    – make a cup of tea and sit down with my knitting/crochet
    – watch my fish (sounds corny, but very relaxing!)
    – go to the bookstore and browse
    – learn a new hobby (that’s how I started running!)
    – play with the dog (good exercise for both of us!)

  7. Phyl
    Phyl says:

    This may be an odd thought from someone who has a longterm weight problem (though the book is helping me greatly with that) who really likes to eat but food is not that great. It’s just easy to get. It is pleasurable and has a kiind of soothing effect but I tell myself I lack imagination if eating is the best way I can think of to reward myself. Because ice cream in front of the TV is not one of life’s great adventures. Ginger, you do deserve a reward but you also deserve great health and the body you want. Can you give yourself something better right now or maybe put money away for a great vacation or something you really want a lot as a reward for hanging in there at work? What are your dreams? Can you get yourself a great CD or a ticket to a show or something you can have now that is uplifting and wonderful? Maybe you don’t find teaching that exciting and longterm need to find some work you’d enjoy more? Promise yourself a really generous reward when you lose the next five pounds and maybe think of what you can do even before that that you’d really love to do. I may be projecting my own stuff as a teacher who has cut her teachng load down quite a bit and is working to develop a new career. But it may be if you are eating to make something in your life more tolerable, that you need to think about how you can change that something.

  8. amandafay
    amandafay says:

    Hey everyone, I started out so good on the Beck diet solution, help, Im feel like I may be slipping a bit. Ive lost 21 lbs + scince August 9th or so. But I need to focus and focus hard. I made some mistakes and now Im feeling a little discouraged, I am having PMS right now. To lose weight I need to teach myself to diet even when I dont feel like it, right?

    A couple setbacks are discouraging me. I will not let this get me down. Sucessful dieters are those who know they must make changes over the long term and not get discouraged by setbacks.

  9. Belgian girl
    Belgian girl says:

    I can identify so much with that ‘I have to eat, need to eat, deserve to eat’ feeling, especially at the end of a bad day. I end up walking in and out of the kitchen, taking deep breaths, talking to myself (haven’t yet tried the hugging, but you never know). But I am now trying this: we have a field behind the house and I have begun trying Walking Up the Field everytime I get a craving. These are now my WUF moments. When things get tough, boots on, call the dog and WUF away. I’ll let you all know if it works!

  10. Andrew Walen
    Andrew Walen says:

    I find that the hardest part for staying on track with my diet is motivation. Motivation comes for me in the form of positive feedback. I have lost 26 lbs in the last three months using tools I’ve learned from the book and workbook and I get great compliments from co-workers like “you’re melting away!” or my wife telling someone “look at my skinny husband!” But I never seem to give myself credit. I am trying my hardest to get better at this as I can’t rely on others to make me feel good about my efforts. For the most part, you have to do this for yourself, and if you’re doing it for yourself, you have to give yourself the credit for the success be they small, medium or large. For me, that’s how I keep going. But I also had the idea that in order to conquer those cravings that make following my difficult, I need to follow my diet 100 percent. And to do that, I need to battle to defy my craving 50 times in a row without fail, then it will feel like I’ve broken the cycle. Today’s task for myself is to write the numbers 1 through 50 on a pile of Post-It notes and each time I defy my craving, I’m going to peel one number off and throw it away. It has a very psychologically and physiologically satisfying feeling to do something like that. Hope some of this was helpful. Shalom!

  11. stephanie
    stephanie says:

    Though I just started the program, reading the different comments made me realize that I used to have healthier reactions to my emotions, when I was younger. This worked for me (and probably will work again):
    -call a friend or familly or go out, be around people you feel good with and speak out about whatever bothers you, even if it sounds stupid at first.
    -go swimming or take a yoga class or meditate, even just a few minutes just to go back to your breathing, go directly to the gym without going home first after work if your job stresses you.
    -let go of your pride and cry if you need to
    -read something funny(better than TV)
    -take your evening and watch ‘Bridget Jones’ in your pyjamas
    -spend time with pets or young kids (they haven’t forgoten yet that life is good and really simple)
    -have a pedicure or a facial
    -have a nap (I get very emotional or tense whenever I am tired)
    I remeber that I used to be more aware when I was tired or emotional or PMSing or pissed off or craving affection, now I just mistake all those feelings for hunger. I think I will allow myself to feel what I feel rather than try to compensate and stuff myself and go on pretending I am Wonder Woman !!


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