A few years ago, I walked into my condo after a hard day of work and was completely stressed out, frustrated and upset with how the day had gone, and I wanted to stuff my face. Ironically, I can’t remember what happened that day at work, but I can clearly remember how the rest of the night went. I heated up an individual serving of whatever meal I had cooked for supper that week and sat down to eat it in front of the news.
When I finished eating supper, I wasn’t even close to feeling satisfied. I had no idea what I wanted to eat, but I had an overwhelming urge to keep eating. I knew I was not physically hungry and that this was probably a desire for emotional eating. It got to the point that it was too strong to resist, and I ate a bunch more food.
Lying back on my couch staring at the TV after I stopped eating, I knew I shouldn’t have eaten any more food. I wasn’t hungry. Before I let myself get completely disgusted and mad with myself, I noticed this wonderful feeling. My stomach felt comfortably full, and I could feel this comforting warmth spread from my stomach to the rest of my body. It was very peaceful, soothing and relaxing. It seemed to melt away the stress from work.
I knew enough about eating problems and emotional eating to recognize that this feeling was not necessarily a good or healthy thing. I remembered reading a comment a celebrity with eating problems made in an interview about how she overate because it felt like she was hugging herself whenever she did so. I never understood what that meant until I noticed what I was physically feeling after that eating binge. That was the feeling the celebrity wanted when she overate. It made me understand more what I was trying to achieve whenever I overate.
I had known for years at this point that I probably had a problem with emotional eating. I’d been very overweight or obese for more than 10 years, and I had no underlying medical cause for it. There had to be some emotional causes. I could even recognize at times when I was eating for emotional needs and not for physical ones. I just had no idea how to “fix” this problem and stop my emotional eating, and nothing I tried seemed to work.
Fast forward to the beginning of 2009 when I decided to give my all to my latest attempt to lose weight in the upcoming year. I knew that I’d have to try to figure out how to combat emotional eating at some point over the next year if I wanted to succeed, but I also knew it would not be easy. I had no idea how to start. In some ways, that helped. I gave myself permission to start out concentrating on doing what I could do right away – join Weight Watchers, buy healthy food, fix healthy meals, start keeping a food diary – and just let the question of how I could stop my emotional eating rest at the back of my mind for the immediate future.
I did this for months. Once I started to feel a bit more comfortable with my daily efforts to lose weight and had a little success behind me, I started thinking about what to do with my emotional eating. I listened for any of the tips fellow Weight Watchers members had to share at meetings and made note of the ones I thought would work for me. I did some reading. I observed how I behaved and tried to note when I was eating for physical reasons and when I was eating for emotional ones.
I started to develop tactics for myself to employ to stop my emotional eating, and by the end of the year, I felt like I had a real handle on that problem. I’m not perfect, and I do still eat for emotional reasons occasionally, but not nearly as much as I did in the past. All ten of my healthy guidelines are tactics and strategies I’ve developed to combat my emotional eating, but I can break it down into short-term or immediate tactics and long-term strategies. For the next month or two, I'll write more about how I started to combat successfully my urge to succumb to my desire for emotional eating or eating for reasons that have nothing to do with physical hunger.
Do you have any tips for how to combat emotional eating?
Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at http://twitter.com/healthywrtr