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Get your feelings out of the fridge

November 25, 2016

Emotional Eating : how often have these feelings led to these consequences –

 

Angry + lonely = ice cream.

Hurt = chocolate.

Bored + cookies = guilt.

 

We've all let our feelings overrule our appetites and then regretted it.

 

Many of us have, at one time or another, eaten beyond our hunger—and I don't just mean at Christmas. Millions of people regularly turn to food during times of stress, sadness, anger or frustration. They eat in response to their emotions instead of their appetites. And once they get used to dealing with their feelings in this way, they find it almost impossible to remember what true hunger feels like.

When I first meet with a client who appears to have some issues with food, I usually ask her to draw a pie chart with each segment representing an important area of her life - such as health and fitness, family, friends, career, spirituality. Then I ask her to cross off the areas she feels are going pretty well.  The segments that aren't crossed off represent the parts of her life in which she might be feeling unfulfilled— and no matter how much pizza and how much chocolate a person eats, food simply won't fill the void.

I'm not saying we shouldn't enjoy eating (though emotional eaters rarely do). We are really off track if we try to minimize how important food is in our lives. A meal can represent a joyful social gathering, a source of energy and nutrition, or a truly sensuous experience. Overcoming emotional eating isn't about depriving yourself; it's about comforting yourself in a way that helps relieve the real problem.

Many women are social eaters: They overeat when they get together with friends. They talk and laugh and order lots of food. Now, I wouldn't suggest that social over-eaters deny themselves conversation and laughter. Instead, I would encourage them to get together with friends and emphasize friendship rather than food. After all, what social over-eaters usually want is the camaraderie; at some point in their past, that love of being together was expressed through food. Maybe the family bonded at the dinner table, over heaping platters of turkey and gravy and mashed potatoes. As adults, these women need to separate the fun of hanging out from the meal itself.

Of course it's even easier to overeat or eat badly when you're alone. For women who travel a lot on business, that's much of the time.  After a long day of meetings, when you’re tired and it's easy to buy snacks from the hotel snack machine when you stays in at night. You know you’d be better off visiting the hotel gym but it can feel so boring sitting alone in your room and not wanting to move. I know what a drag it can be to go down to the hotel gym if there is one, but is that the only option? Are there letters you could write? Could you meet with friends (or friends of friends) in the towns you travel to? Could you explore the city's opera house or the nearest multiplex? Boredom is a surface emotion: Sometimes it means you're just not aware of, or willing to do the work necessary to maintain a balanced life. I promise you, the more active you are, the less you'll be satisfied spending your time with a couple of cookies.
 

The other extreme—having too much to do—also inspires bouts of emotional eating. On particularly stressful days at work it’s easy to go home, sit down in front of the computer or TV and eat biscuits, cakes, fast foods or ice cream without even realizing it.

One of the most common mistakes I see is women who put one aspect of their lives ahead of every other. They've convinced themselves that in order to be successful at that one thing, another aspect of their lives—such as their health—might have to suffer.

 

Some women stop eating when they're stressed or overwhelmed. This may sound like a totally different problem, but it's not. They also let their emotional states override their appetites (and often overeat after depriving themselves). This response to stress will make you simply ignore the hunger signals, but when you can better manage these feelings, you can tune in to what your body really needs in terms of food.

I would encourage these women to look more closely at their lives—past, present and future. Some will discover that they are using food to deal with painful, others acknowledge that they're not happy being single, they've gotten stuck in a rut at work or they've sunk into full-blown depression. If they can't figure out the root of that unhappiness they need to explore this issue further.

With all my clients, once they've had a “light bulb” moment—the instant they find out what is fueling their emotional eating—that's when the hard work begins. Everybody says it's tough to exercise and eat right, but that's nothing.

 

What you have to remember is that changing your eating habits is a process of recommitting to your goals each and every day. Anytime you lose sight of that and start focusing on what's going wrong, you'll take yourself away from the life you want to lead.

The key to overcoming your eating problem is to remind yourself that at least you're taking today or this afternoon or this hour, to move toward your goal. That's the trick of the 10 percent of those who manage to overcome this problem.

Emotional eating is a powerful and unhealthy coping mechanism, but you can overcome your tendency to binge when stressed, angry or frustrated. If you can recognize what's missing in your life and work toward a more fulfilling future, you'll find it so much easier to make the right choices when it comes to food. Even if you slip up after a hectic day at work, try to learn from the experience.  You have an unlimited number of ways to improve your life—and unlimited opportunities to go backward.

It helps to remember that every time you put something in your mouth, you are making a decision about the way you want to treat yourself. Your aim is to be good to yourself and to know what fulfills you—not simply what fills you up.

 

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