Monday, June 7, 2010

Long Term Strategies to Stop My Emotional Eating

In previous posts I’ve discussed how I started to combat my emotional eating and some of the tactics I’ve developed to stop myself from giving into the urge to overeat or even binge. Another step I try to take whenever I feel like emotional eating is ask myself why do I want to do this. What emotions am I feeling that are encouraging me to overeat as a way to suppress them? Can I address these emotions? What is causing these emotions? Why am I upset? Can I figure out ways to address what is making me upset and work out those emotions? Can I change the situation? Can I change my reaction to the situation? Can I change my thoughts about the situation and eventually change my emotions?

I try to force these emotions to the forefront so I can figure out what they are, what is causing them, how and why they are affecting me, and how can I work them out. Basically, I have learned that unacknowledged emotions, particularly when they are negative, often drive me to overeat or binge. They’ll hurt me more long term if I ignore them than if I make myself go through the sometimes painful or uncomfortable process of acknowledging them, figuring them out and working them out. It is helpful to not judge myself through this process.

I do a lot of this working out of emotions by writing in my diary or writing blog posts for Healthy Writer. Examples of blogs where I tried to work out emotions so that I would not overeat include fear of success, the dark side of the holidays, can you take a break, what’s in a number, oh jealousy, is this for real, why can I still get so upset when I gain weight, and I still struggle at times...and that's ok. I also find it helpful to talk some of this stuff out at a Weight Watchers meeting or with friends or family.

In addition to learning how to acknowledge and work out my feelings, other long-term strategies I follow to stop my urges for emotional eating are guidelines 7 - 10 from my ten healthy guidelines for healthy eating and losing weight. Following these guidelines can literally stop my urge to overeat before it develops.

7) Develop Ways to Comfort Yourself Besides Eating

One of the ways I combat my emotional eating is to find other healthier methods to comfort and soothe myself so that I don't turn to food and overeat. Nature can soothe me. Escaping into a great book has always worked for me. Other ideas include knitting, exercise, meditation, listening to music, dancing around your living room to said music, attending church services, calling a friend on the phone, taking a bubble bath, getting a massage, and doing something social with friends or family.

8) Enjoy the Benefits of Exercise

In his book The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, David Kessler argues that the only feeling of reward close to the one you get from overeating comes from exercise, and you can literally rewire your brain to want the healthy version and not the unhealthy version. I have been trying to do this since May of 2009 and have had a lot of success with it. I've taken the time to figure out what exercise I enjoy and focus on the benefits I get from exercise as opposed to thinking of it as something I have to do to lose weight. I'm learning to really enjoy and appreciate regular exercise. I miss it, and the benefits it gives me, when I've gone too long between gym visits.

9) Determine Why You Started to Overeat and Address that Wound

I learned this guideline by watching The Biggest Loser. A set of questions that the trainers want the contestants to answer before they leave the ranch is: When did you start overeating and gaining weight? What was happening in your life at that time? How did you feel? It all builds to the question why did you start overeating. The trainers firmly believe that this is the most important lesson of all for the contestants. In order to reach their current state of being morbidly obese, these contestants had to have some serious emotional eating issues. They have to figure out why they started overeating so that they stop and finally conquer this issue. They need to face these emotions and work out some kind of resolution, or they'll just gain the weight back.

Realizing how and why the urge to overeat all started was an important step in learning how to stop or moderate this behavior. Once you know this original wound, you can heal it or at least face it and change your reaction to it. Forcing myself to go through this exercise has made a profound impact on my weight loss and my confidence that I'll be able to keep it off.

10) Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

The key to figuring out what a healthy relationship to food is may be realizing what it is not and what you can't look to food to provide. It won't fix your problems. It won't fill a void in your life. It won't heal an emotional wound you are trying to ignore. Any comfort, soothing or joy is temporary at best. It won't make you happy. Figuring out what will is a much better long-term strategy than overeating.

Do you have any long-term strategies that help keep you from emotional eating or other forms of overeating?


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Sally Kilpatrick on June 7, 2010 at 5:15 PM said...

Hey, Michelle, since I'm always missing the Biggest Loser thanks to Cub Scouts and my husband's addiction to old movies and HD programming, are those questions the trainers use in some of their books?

Also, I think the longer you stick with exercise and healthy eating, the more you miss it when you fall off the wagon. And that helps you to run to catch up and hop back on.

Michelle Butler on June 7, 2010 at 8:13 PM said...


I've never read any of Jillian or Bob's books. I've flipped through them at bookstores but not read them to see if the questions are there. It just seems like these questions come up season after season. They started to resonate with me, so I started to pay more and more attention. There was something to watching the same kind of arc for the contestants season after season that got me thinking what of that arc applied to me.

I totally agree about missing exercise/healthy eating when you fall of the wagon - especially if exercise/healthy eating has become the new normal. That's how I felt after the holidays and after I got back to the DC area after two weeks in CA. I was so sick of overeating and not exercising enough that I couldn't wait to get back to my better ways. Eating fatty "treat" foods didn't have the same appeal.

I've also noticed that the training to want exercise for reward instead of food for reward is strongest when you are already working out fairly regularly.

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