Posts Tagged ‘emotional eating’
We all have done it. We decide to start eating better, exercising regularly or taking better care of ourselves, yet despite our good intentions we don’t have much success in sticking with these changes.
Our Food & Fitness Behaviors Are Driven Subconsciously
It doesn’t seem like it should be that hard to do what we say we want to do or to make healthier changes we know would make our lives better. As one woman said to me recently, “I am smart, I know this is important, and I’m in control in other areas of my life, so it doesn’t make sense that I can’t be more successful with eating well and exercising.” The truth is that our behaviors around food and fitness aren’t driven by rationale; they are driven by subconscious beliefs and emotions that are intertwined and multi-faceted.
Cocktail Party Sabotage
Imagine being at a business cocktail party that has plates of appetizers being offered around the room and a banquet of pastries, salads, meats, side dishes and desserts. You don’t know many people there and you aren’t very comfortable in these types of situations. You are also out of town and traveling on a tight budget. When you get to the event you buy a glass of wine and look for people you might know.
You don’t see anyone familiar, and while you stand there you are offered some appetizers. You take one, and then as you are approached by others with trays of more appetizers, you take another and another. You try talking to a few people, but don’t really connect to them. Next thing you do is head over to the buffet tables. You fill a plate, and when that’s done you go back for more. You still don’t see people you know, but you do see lots of people talking and having a good time. You go for another glass of wine and talk briefly with a gal who clearly is looking for someone else. You also find yourself eying the dessert table. Soon you are filling up your plate once more with lots of wonderful little cakes and chocolates. You could stand there all night enjoying those rich desserts, but you decide you’ve had enough and go back to your room. You feel sick from all the food and wish you hadn’t had so much. It’s a familiar feeling, and you don’t want to think about it, so you just go to bed.
Uncovering the Real Issues
For a client of mine, who had this experience and is willing to let me share this with you, she finally came to understand what was driving her to over indulge at events like this. As we talked through what happened, she realized that she was feeling a lot of anxiety because she doesn’t know how to approach people who are already talking and then isn’t sure what to say. She was also feeling vulnerable because she’s overweight and believes people automatically assume the worst about her. And she was feeling unwelcome, because she was never welcomed at school parties or events as a kid. And that led to her feeling ashamed of who she was because she was never thin enough to please her parents.
She was surprised by the depth of emotion she was experiencing and could see how using food was a way to push these feelings away at the business event. By talking about them, she was getting a way to validate the feelings and start to get them out, instead of keeping them repressed and turning to emotional eating. She also got insights about what she needed, such as tips for networking and approaching people. There are books and programs for this, which would give her more confidence. She also needed to change her belief that people assume the worst about her, and she had plenty of examples where this wasn’t true. And she could see that she had anger towards her parents for judging her body, when in fact she wasn’t that overweight as a child. They just compared her to her ultra-thin sister and considered her the fat one.
She also realized as we talked, that for her a banquet of free food shouldn’t go to waste, especially since money was tight. She often overate when food was readily available and she hated to see food go to waste, even if it was food she didn’t even like. As a result, she often overindulged, only to feel really sick afterwards and nearly pass out from getting so full. She said this really affected her productivity at work and some days she didn’t even go in because she felt like she was in a fog. I asked her how much that was costing her, and she had an ah-ha moment. Maybe it was costing her more to eat all that food than to simply let it go to waste. Not only did it cost her at work, but it cost her more in healthcare costs and having to buy larger and larger clothes. And it cost her in low energy and poor self esteem. Not only that, the heavier and worse she felt about herself, the harder it was to feel welcome walking up to people at business events.
Creating Easy Resolutions
As you can see, her behavior with food that night at the cocktail event was being driven by many different emotions and beliefs, some of which dated back to her childhood, that she couldn’t see for herself. Yet once she was aware of them and began to address the feelings, change her beliefs and get networking guidance, she found she could attend any event without turning to food as her crutch. She finally felt free and relaxed, and to her surprise she discovered she loved networking and now goes to events frequently.
When you can peel back the layers and understand what is driving your behaviors, you may be surprised yourself to find that what is really going on is more complex than you might expect and may have nothing to do with food. Fortunately, once you know the underlying drivers of self-sabotage, whether they are related to food, fitness or any other behavior, the real issues are usually fairly easily to resolve.
Clair prides herself on being really good when she diets, until she isn’t. And then she is really really bad. She can’t seem to help herself. The moment she gets derailed and succumbs to food she knows she shouldn’t have, she is taken over by an insatiable desire for all the foods she’s been denied the past few weeks. The pattern is always the same.
Then there are people like Betsy, who are really good during the day, only to leave work and find themselves unable to stop their desire for fast food, ice cream, chips or cookies. Betsy would head to the closest convenience store after work, where she loaded up on cookies, an ice cream bar and candy, and then hurriedly ate it all on her commute home. Mike did the same, always stopping for some candy.
Nancy never stopped; she would go straight home, but then raid her cabinets for any junk food she could find, feeling as if possessed by a demon. Why she would ask me, as the others did, am I so bad at night after being so good during the day?
For the same reason dieters go on a binge the night before their diet starts or right when it ends.
I call it restricted rebellion. You can also call it the deprivation-binge rollercoaster. When you have been restricted or deprived of foods you want, you want them all the more. And then when you get your hands on that food, you feel compelled to eat as much as you can while you can, knowing you are bad and it has to be the last time. That self-imposed belief that you should and will be restricted again creates an emotional need and child-like rebellion against that very restriction.
In addition, eating food you believe you shouldn’t have creates guilt, anxiety and a self-loathing that is soothed by eating comfort food, temporarily relieving the feelings with a dose of happy denial. Another name for this is emotional eating.
The answer is to give yourself permission to have all the foods you love as part of your diet. You can call it cheating, but that only recreates feelings of being bad and guilty, which drive emotional overeating and bingeing. Instead, cheating only works when you don’t believe it is cheating.
Cheating suggests there are bad foods you shouldn’t have, and that if you have them you are bad and will either gain weight or not be able to lose weight. That is simply not true. You can eat any food in moderation, particularly if it is part of a healthy balanced diet. This is what Clair, Mike, Tiffany, Nancy and Betsy learned. By eating more of the foods they wanted during the day in a healthy way, they no longer felt deprived or in need of rewarding themselves for being so good in the evening or when their diets stopped.
They also discovered something they would never have believed. They no longer wanted to overindulge in their “bad” foods once they had permission to eat them. They were finding they were easily satisfied by less and that overeating and bingeing wasn’t enjoyable. Nancy couldn’t believe it when she actually threw away half her big cookie, because she really didn’t want any more of it. “Was that the real me?, she asked.”
It was. She was no longer being driven by her inner child rebelling for more or by her need to stifle her guilt. Now she could actually focus on tasting her food and being fully satisfied with less of it.
When you don’t let yourself have what you want, you will eat excessively in an attempt to gain that elusive satisfaction. Better to go ahead and cheat, and let yourself have the food you love. You will have less of it and have greater success with achieving and maintaining weight loss.
Have you ever noticed that when you aren’t satisfied by the food you are eating, you eat even more in an attempt to get satisfaction?
Maybe you are settling for food you think you should have, instead of what you really want. Or maybe you think you want a food because it is supposed to be good or once was, so you eat it expecting a certain experience. I see this happen a lot with my clients who overeat out of a desire to feel good only to end up feeling disappointed, full and wishing they hadn’t eaten so much. They don’t even recognize this pattern because it is subconscious and they aren’t paying enough attention to how they feel physically or emotionally.
In our culture where dieting rules, we aren’t taught to value the importance of eating for satisfaction. In fact we are taught the opposite. We take on the belief it is virtuous to avoid the food we love, feel badly if we succumb to foods that are really good and assume that any food we really want is a bad food. We proudly deny the need in ourselves to enjoy food and feel satisfied, believing we are being good and will be rewarded on the scale. Sometimes that works, but very often it doesn’t.
Satisfaction is a genuine need that a part of you (often your inner child) craves and will do anything to get. Instead of resisting this desire to enjoy certain foods, give yourself permission to have the food and fully appreciate it without any guilt. If you are afraid of overdoing it, which is a valid concern at first, be strategic as to how much of your favorite food you can access at one time. If what you really want is Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, see if you can get just one Ben & Jerry’s ice cream bar in your favorite flavor. If you love a certain type of cookie or candy, find a way to get or create packages of just a couple at a time.
What so many of my clients have discovered to their amazement is that once they have permission to have their favorite foods and to experience the pleasure of satisfaction, they don’t want to eat all that much of it. When they pay attention to how good it tastes, they don’t overeat. Instead they may have just one of the two cookies they put on a plate, just one slice of pizza with a salad or just a few bites of a rich yummy dessert. That is all they really wanted, and they are amazed that by giving themselves what they really want they are intuitively and naturally in control. There isn’t any struggle or resistance.
It is when you deprive yourself, you give the food control over you. You obsess about it, eat it when no one is looking, eat too much of it or eat everything else in sight. It’s as if you are helpless to control yourself, and you are when you are unaware of the subconscious need to be satisfied that is driving your behaviors.
The same thing happens when you think you are allowing yourself a favorite food but still carry the diet mentality, believing you really shouldn’t have it and feeling guilty about it. When this happens, you can’t fully experience satisfaction. Instead the guilt feeds emotional eating, which causes you to overeat and create more fear about being out of control around this food.
When you stop judging foods as good or bad and allow yourself the pleasure of eating what you really enjoy, you discover it doesn’t take all that much to be satisfied. Even three bites can be enough, which is why some people go by the three-bite rule for yummy foods that aren’t highly nutritious, such as desserts and appetizers. I personally love dark chocolate and have two bites (1/2 square of bittersweet Bakers) with my lunch and dinner most days of the week. It does the trick and I can have chocolate in the house without overindulging. You can too.
This month, pick a food you’ve denied yourself that would be satisfying. Find a way to start off with just a bit of it in a controlled way, so you don’t scare yourself or experience overdoing it while you are still susceptible to the good/bad mentality and subsequent guilt.
Many people believe they are addicted to sugar, simple carbohydrates or other specific foods, because they crave them all the time and then seem to go crazy on a binge when they gain access to them. There is a good argument to support this belief in Dr. David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating, which puts the blame on the food industry for developing foods specifically to create this uncontrollable preoccupation and compulsive eating.
Yet, having worked with many people who struggle with cravings, binges and a belief they are addicted to certain foods, I know the issue is just as much driven by subconscious factors as bio-chemical ones. I also know you don’t have to give up these foods to be in control of them, as he strongly recommends.
Dr. Kessler’s research findings conclude the reason people crave specific foods is the combination of fat, sugar and salt often used in those foods to stimulate dopamine in the brain, which feels really good. Once you’ve had a food with this combination that stimulates arousal, you’ll want it again and again. This is certainly an important breakthrough in understanding why people are irresistibly drawn to food that isn’t healthy and struggle to stop eating even when they are full. No doubt, the food industry has taken full advantage of this potent combination, putting them in processed and fast foods where you’d least expect to find them, to keep people coming back for more and boosting their profits.
One approach to dealing with this is to simply stop eating all types of desserts, packaged and processed foods, fast foods, and most restaurant meals, and replace them with healthy whole foods with no sugar, fat, salt or emotional triggers. And that will indeed eliminate the cravings, for a while.
But like dieting, very few people can stick with eliminating foods they enjoy long term without feeling deprived. While Kessler acknowledges this problem by suggesting you rewire your circuitry by creating unappealing images of the food, this doesn’t address the real issue of deprivation backlash and the need for food satisfaction.
A better way to address foods that are designed to trigger cravings is to incorporate them into a healthy diet, so they are balanced with other foods to create satisfaction. Satisfaction is an important element of eating, and you are just as likely to overeat in an attempt to reach satisfaction as you are when you are over-stimulated by too much satisfaction.
6 ways to control cravings and binges without giving up favorite foods,
1. Pay attention to how hungry, satisfied and full you feel. If you don’t know when you are satisfied physically or when you are full, you won’t realize you are overeating or appreciate how unpleasant it feels to get full.
2. Identify the food for what it is instead of calling it a bad food. Most highly stimulating foods, like cookies, are primarily a simple carbohydrate with saturated fat. It is harder to tell if it has much salt.
3. Balance this food with other foods that have complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats and lean protein. If you want a cookie, then the trade off is to not have simple carbs or saturated fat in the rest of your meal or snack. When most of what you are eating is really healthy, having a little less healthy food doesn’t throw off the balance or make it unhealthy.
4. Give yourself permission to have this food in moderation when ever you balance it with healthier foods. When you eat food you think you shouldn’t, it creates a feeling of guilt and reinforces the belief that you should be deprived of it. This fuels emotional and rebellious eating, giving the food power over you. To take back your power, you have to stop seeing the food as a guilty pleasure or a forbidden food.
5. Really taste this food to see how much you enjoy it. When you aren’t over-stimulated or concerned about being deprived, you can more easily focus on tasting the food you crave. Most people find it isn’t as good as they thought and that healthier foods actually taste better.
6. Focus on creating satisfying meals with healthier foods. The more you remove the charge of highly-stimulating foods by allowing them in balanced moderation, the more likely you’ll gravitate to choosing healthier ways of being satisfied without feeling forced or deprived.
This approach, which is the basis of Intuitive Eating, addresses the emotional and bio-chemical cravings for foods designed to get us hooked. The less we eat of these foods, the less the food industry profits from them.
Do you binge, but don’t purge? Do you overeat at night on a regular basis? Do you eat when you are stressed or to cope? Do you eat in secret? Do you feel like a sugar or carbs addict? Do you eat lots of junk food?
Are you good during the day, but bad with food at night? Do you overeat forbidden foods before or after a diet? Have you been on multiple diets, yet still can’t seem to make healthy food choices or stay in control around certain foods? Or do you have restrictive eating and cheat days?
If you said yes to any of these, you have an eating problem. That does not mean you have an eating disorder, but you may be heading for one if you don’t change the way you eat and your relationship with food. Those with eating disorders are diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia or binge eating disorder, which are severe enough to put one’s health in danger.
Julia never worried about having an eating problem. She’d done about ten diets by the time she was 30, and she knew she could always diet to get into her favorite little dress when she needed to. But as her work got more stressful and her boyfriend began needling her about losing weight, she started skipping meals during the day and bingeing at night, often alone. She couldn’t seem to control what it said on the scale, and this scared her. She didn’t want to lose her boyfriend, so she starting purging after dinner and weighing herself constantly to ensure she was losing enough weight. Soon her routine became the norm, until she landed in the hospital weighing under a hundred pounds. She was stunned to realize she had taken things so far. She never intended to become bulimic.
It is likely that more than half of all adults in the US have an eating problem, but it goes undetected and unreported. No one talks about overeating, night eating, stress eating, emotional eating, sweets or junk food eating as a serious problem, but those who have these food patterns know it isn’t healthy and often carry feelings of shame about the way they eat. Many are also at risk, like Julia, of shifting into eating disorder behaviors.
Sadly, dieting contributes to the problem, yet dieting is the primary solution people are given to resolve eating issues by well-meaning physicians, nurses, coaches and nutritionists. In research conducted nearly twenty years ago, it was determined that 35% of those who dieted became pathological dieters, and a fourth of these people would progress into eating disorders. Very likely those percentages are much higher today, which explains why specialized eating disorder treatment centers are seeing such an increase in patients.
So what are the signs you may be heading for an eating disorder?
1) You are continually obsessed with counting calories, your weight, or what type of food you are (or are not) eating.
2) You get on the scale multiple times a day to check your weight.
3) You believe you are never perfect or thin enough, and you must control yourself with more restrictions and diligence to reach that state of perfection.
4) You exercise excessively to compensate for eating or to punish yourself for eating too much.
5) You hate your body, no matter how thin you get.
6) You are ashamed of the way you eat and often eat in hiding.
You don’t have to progress into an eating disorder to get help. More dieticians, coaches like myself, and a growing number of psychologists are now skilled in treating eating problems, particularly emotional eating, binge eating and body image issues. It is far easier to resolve these issues before they become life-threatening, but you have to be willing to reach out for our help.
The good news is, eating problems are fairly easy to resolve. So don’t wait to get help if you think you have a problem, no matter how small you think it might be. You can eat normally, and you can be free of the shame you carry about your body and yourself. I know, because I used to carry that shame and struggled with eating issues for most of my life. I wish I had gotten help sooner. So does Julia.
Does it make you uncomfortable to throw out food these days, compelling you to eat it instead? Did you grow up hearing that kids are starving in Africa, to always clean your plate or that throwing out food is no different than wasting money? Many of us did and it hits home during an economic recession, but that doesn’t mean those beliefs warrant eating food that you don’t need or don’t want. Instead, it may be time to reconsider the benefits of wasting food rather than eating it.
If you stop and think about it, whether you finish eating something or you don’t will not save you money, and having a clean plate as an adult is really a habit and doesn’t serve any real purpose. To address these beliefs requires a change in thinking and some techniques to change your habits.
It starts by looking at these beliefs and deciding if they still serve you or not. If not, what belief would make more sense for you now, such as “before I get full, no matter how much is on my plate, I will stop eating and determine the best thing to do with the remaining food.” Sometimes the best thing is to save them as leftovers, mix them with new ingredients for another dish, or ask for a doggy bag. Or you could throw the rest of it out, if none of these are possible.
Throwing food away is more challenging for most of us. It really does feel like money is being wasted, but this needs to be put in perspective. If you can’t see a way to save it, then you are faced with two options. Eat it or toss it. The cost of tossing it may be far cheaper than the cost of eating it – if you take a long term view rather than an immediate one.
Let’s look at the cost of wasting it versus putting it on your waist. Often this issue comes up at dinner time, which is the most expensive meal of the day. If the meal costs $16 and there is 25% more than you need, then the amount you don’t eat is worth $4. If this happens five times a week, and you can’t find a way to reuse the food three of those times, the total cost for the week is $12. Or perhaps you didn’t eat half of the food on some of those occasions, so the total cost is $20. How often do you spend $20 a week on things you don’t really need? Could you buy smaller portions of food, split portions with others or put less food out on your plate to begin with to avoid the extra expense?
Now consider eating all that food instead. If you eat a few hundred more calories than you need or than you burn off, you are putting on weight. As you gain weight, you need larger clothes and you will likely contemplate starting a new diet. Both can be costly. How much have you spent in the last year doing a diet or on buying new clothes – either from gaining weight or yo-yoing down and back up?
In addition, this weight gain often gets added around your mid-section, and this fat is the leading cause of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, and the need for medications. What are you spending in co-pays for doctor visits and medications related to these conditions?
And there is one more thing to think about. Overeating affects your energy level, your mood and your self confidence. What is it costing you to feel lousy and dragged down? Probably more than you think.
While wasting food is not ideal, it is better to look at your options than to carry a black and white belief about waste. The next time you find yourself with more food than you need or want, consider what your beliefs are, if you think they make sense, and what would be better. You have the power to challenge and change your beliefs around food if you stop and look at them. This week, take the opportunity to see what your beliefs about wasting food are costing you.
This is the time of year when every where you turn there are sweets, parties and holiday networking events. It is hard to stay in control and avoid indulging, particularly when you are stressed or trying to fit so much into your schedule you can hardly find time for a decent meal. Yet you probably don’t want to find yourself in January unable to zip up your pants and wishing you had found a way to control yourself.
The good news is being in control is much easier than you may have thought. Here are 3 steps to avoid weight gain during the holidays so you don’t find yourself a size larger in the new year.
1. Notice What Your Body is Telling You
You can’t change your behavior if you aren’t really paying attention to what you are doing at the time you are doing it, and few people are conscious when they put food in their mouths. Eating is something we do without being aware of whether we are even hungry, if something other than physical hunger is driving us, or even when we have already gotten full and are beginning to feel sick.
Most likely you are eating without even knowing why you are doing it, and the only way to be in control is to start noticing the difference between physical and non-physical hunger. It starts by noticing every single you time you start to get full, and to notice with interest – not judgment. Once you start doing that, you may find you don’t like the way it feels. You can also notice each time to reach for food if you are actually hungry and in need of that food. You may also find in many cases that you aren’t eating for physical hunger. So what are you eating for?
2. Get Curious About Why You Are Really Eating That Food
If you aren’t eating because you need the food, something else is driving you to eat. That doesn’t make you wrong or bad. It just means that your behavior is being driven subconsciously, which makes being in control very difficult when you aren’t aware of what is driving your actions.
The most common drivers during the holidays are Mindless Excess, Ravenous Response, Restricted Rebellion, Emotional Repression and Subconscious Beliefs. These are five of the eight common reasons people overeat that I address in my book Inspired to Feel Good.
3. Choose to Eat What Feels Best
The most important thing you can do for yourself during the holidays is to avoid dieting, which is a trigger for rebellious overeating when you inevitably blow it.
Instead, eat because you are hungry and then choose foods that leave you feeling good physically without feeling deprived emotionally. If you pay attention to how your body feels, you will know when you need food, when you’ve had too much and when food doesn’t really agree with you. You may even discover foods you thought you enjoyed don’t actually taste all that good.
Give yourself permission to have foods you love without getting full, and ideally pair the sweets and “>holiday treats with a balanced meal or snack. That way you will avoid getting sugar rushes and feeling sick. You will also keep your blood sugars and metabolism better balanced, and you will be able to feel the difference. Focus on eating what leaves you feeling good physically and emotionally, and you will be surprised to see you may naturally gravitate to healthier choices and combinations.
Have a great holiday feeling free to enjoy yourself without the guilt or the weight gain!
Maria Menounos is one of many celebrities with a weight loss success story, and I happen to see yet another story about how she has learned the secret to staying slim and taking care of herself. So I am re-posting an article I wrote a few years ago when she first put out her book about it.
Her story is intriguing – not by all that she did to lose weight, which was creating a healthy lifestyle, but by the way she changed how she saw and treated herself.
I first came across her story on the Huffington Post, called Maria Menounos’ Secret Weight Loss Trick. A great title but not representational of what she did for herself. She is like a lot of young people who have been athletic growing up and then stopped being so active when they started working as teenagers, while preparing for college and trying to excel and please everyone around them. In her case, working nearly 20 hours a day 7 days a week, fueled by junk food and pastries.
As she indulged in her new diet, she knew she was having foods she shouldn’t have and felt guilty. As she began to get heavier and criticized for her weight gain, she turned to more food. When others were indulging, she would indulge with them. And the worse she felt about herself and her choices, the more she ate the forbidden foods she knew she shouldn’t have. Sound familiar?
She refers to her struggle with food as emotional eating, after she finally realized that she turned to food to avoid her feelings, how she felt about her body and her need to please others at her own expense. As she began to find ways to care about herself, she began to love herself. And the more she loved herself, the more she took care of herself. And that is just how it works.
The less you like yourself or the more ashamed you feel about your body or your choices, the less you feel deserving of taking care of yourself. On the flip side, the more you care about yourself, the more self-esteem you gain, and the more you want to do things to take even better care of your body. This is only possible when you stop the judgment of your choices and have empathy and compassion for yourself.
Judgment leads to self-criticism, self-loathing and self-destruction. And that becomes a spiral that spins out of control, pulling you deeper into a place of denial and excessive eating. When you judge yourself, you can only see your failure, your inability to be perfect and your shame. You can’t see anything else, and you remain stuck in the belief that you are unlovable, unworthy and undeserving – even if you don’t know you belief this. In that place, food is comforting and a means to minimizing the pain and loathing. It also proves that you are as bad as you believe you are, and it feeds on itself.
Maria talks about how being a people pleaser and working insane hours led to malnutrition, a forty-pound weight gain, and poor health. She struggled to care enough about herself to do anything about it. Fortunately a loving, compassionate friend helped her to start making positive food and life choices. And the more she began to be good to herself and feel better, the more she appreciated herself and her struggle. And the more compassion and love she had for herself, the more she began to take better care of her body, make healthier choices and remove herself from negative relationships. The better you feel emotionally, the less you turn to food for emotional comfort. And that is what helped Maria break free of her struggle with food.
Maria learned through her journey that the key to being in control with food is to be in touch with your own physical and emotional needs without judgment. And that is indeed the key to success. It is the first step to having compassion for yourself without apology, listening to what your body needs and wants, and honoring yourself. In the process, you begin to shift into a healthy lifestyle and from that a healthy and sustainable weight loss follows. You also shift your emotions about your weight and your body, which reduces your stress and the hormonal production of fat that occurs when stress is present. It isn’t really a trick, yet it is the secret.
You know you shouldn’t have that piece of cake, the Girl Scout cookies or the candy that is calling your name, but you just can’t help yourself. You just have to have some. The next thing you know, you’ve eaten more than you wanted and now you are feeling a bit full and guilty. Once again you just couldn’t seem to stay in control around food. Has this happened to you recently – like over the holidays?
Feeling out of control around food can happen to the best of us, and right now it is happening to a great many people who have tried so hard to stick to their New Year’s resolutions and are giving in to their forbidden foods. Succumbing to what isn’t on a diet is inevitable. The more you try to force yourself to resist something you want and believe you shouldn’t have, the more you rebel against that restriction. Have you ever noticed that when you are deprived of something, you want it all the more?
Rebelling is a valid emotional reaction to being deprived of your needs and wants. It isn’t just “what you resist, persists,” although that universal law certainly plays a role. It is the battle between your inner voices, where one part of you is determined to enforce the restrictions you believe are necessary, and another part of you rebels against that enforcement and doesn’t frankly care about your rules.
You can almost hear your inner child or rebel’s voice when you go for that cookie or candy saying, “I don’t care; I’m going to have it anyway. You can’t stop me”. That emotional part of you drowns out your parental enforcer voice that is strongly reminding you not to eat foods believed to be on the forbidden foods list. In fact, the louder and more controlling your enforcer gets, the more determined your “rebelling child” is to get what it wants. In the end, your rebelling child almost always gets the cake, cookies or candy, and usually in large quantities.
You may be thinking that the only way to control your behavior around food you shouldn’t have is to give your enforcer a bigger stick, but that only causes your rebelling child to act out even more and leads to bingeing. You’ve probably tried getting tougher on yourself to behave. Yet as hard as you may have tried, most likely your “good” behavior didn’t last and you succumbed and gave in. The more you beat yourself up for being “bad”, the more likely you continue that “bad” behavior.
The reason is emotional. If you harshly judge yourself and feel bad or guilty for eating what you shouldn’t, you will eat to push away the bad feelings, to prove yourself right that you are bad and to find a way of feeling good.
The way to be in control around food is to stop judging your behavior and foods. Instead of believing any food is bad, recognize that it is the quantity of a food that becomes problematic. If you love a certain type of cookie, give yourself permission to have it with a balanced meal and enjoy it. By giving yourself permission, you are taking care of your inner child’s needs and giving yourself satisfaction and pleasure. There is nothing wrong with that. In fact, by giving yourself permission to have any food you want whenever you want it, you will find you don’t really want all that much of it. You’ve removed the power of the food and the enforcer’s role of trying to control you.
It is when you are depriving yourself that you are emotionally compelled to make up for being deprived. This is true whether you think you should be deprived of ever having the food again, will surely be deprived because of an upcoming diet, have just been deprived having stopped a diet, or were deprived in your past. Many people are overeating foods they were once unable to have, even as far back as fifty years ago. An older man in one of my audiences wanted to know what he could do about overeating desserts every night. It turns out he grew up in the depression when sugar was rationed and he seldom got desserts. He is still compelled to make up for having been deprived of the desserts he wanted as a kid.
This week, pay attention to the foods you are trying to restrict and notice how this affects your behavior. Then try giving yourself permission to have that food in moderation and see if you really want all that much of it.
Katharyn knew she was eating because of stress, but she wasn’t able to stop herself from going through her cabinets and eating one thing after another until she was sick to her stomach. She is not alone. Most adults are overeating at night, and the primary reason is stress. Are you one of them?
Stress is now such a big part of everyone’s life, and the more we put up with, the less we notice how stressed we are. As a result, you might not even realize that what is driving you to overeat, crave sweets and carbohydrates, or turn to food when you aren’t even hungry is chronic stress. You may be under yet another tight deadline, feeling overwhelmed, dealing with negative people, making do with less, anxious or concerned about things outside your control, or trying to do too much each day. And that is for starters. Extreme levels of stress are no longer determined by whether there are major upheavals in your life, but by the cumulating daily stressors that add up without being defused.
Once Katharyn was able to review what was happening earlier in the day from a neutral perspective, she could see very clearly the causes of her stress and that she felt deserving of a reward when she got home. That need to be rewarded for putting up with the stress is often how the overeating starts. It is easy to justify pacifying yourself with food when you have been put upon or had to tolerate an unpleasant situation. And once the eating starts, the food becomes a way to avoid thinking about what happened and to further repress the emotions of the day. Very often stress eating becomes emotional eating, where food becomes the coping mechanism and a way to avoid dealing with how the stress makes you feel or your unmet needs.
There are 5 simple steps to stop stress eating, which Katharyn used to stop bingeing when she got home after a long and often challenging day.
1. Become Aware of When You Do Stress Eating
One of the things Katharyn realized is she wasn’t fully aware of what or how much she was eating on the nights she snacked until she couldn’t eat any more. She couldn’t even remember what she had eaten, if she had enjoyed any of it, or when she started to feel full. It was a blur and a way to zone out and forget her problems.
If you aren’t aware of what you are doing at the time you are doing it, you have no ability to stop or make a different choice. Instead you are on autopilot and out of control. So the first step is to actually notice you are eating unhealthy foods, too much food, and getting full. Once you can really see this, you can also start to look at what happened during the day, which is driving you to eat this way. And you can start to notice how you feel physically after a night of eating poorly.
2. Don’t Judge Yourself
The point of gaining more awareness is not to harshly judge yourself. When you feel judged, you will actually eat more to push down those feelings. There are good reasons for why you are stress eating, and the only way to really identify and understand those reasons is to be objective and have some compassion for yourself. By standing back and being a neutral observer, you are more willing to get curious and start to see what triggers you to eat.
3. Observe Your Eating Patterns
With that curiosity, you can begin to see your patterns. You will begin to notice when you eat because you feel stressed, and if you pick different types of foods or beverages for different types of stressful events. Maybe you turn to soda at work when you are irritated or frustrated, but you turn to sugary foods when you feel let down or unable to do as you planned. Maybe you automatically want a drink after work to deal with your anger or frustration, or maybe you get home and binge out of habit and exhaustion.
4. Get Specific about What Triggers Your Choices
The more you observe without judgment, the more you can see exactly what is triggering you to turn to food or a beverage. It may not always be because of stress. There are 8 possible reasons for being out of control with food and drinking, and stress can be a factor but not always the full cause. For example, one common reason for overeating or making unhealthy choices is being mindless, and stress can keep your mind so busy that you don’t pay any attention to what you are eating or drinking until you have overdone it. Another reason is having unconscious beliefs, like you deserve a reward for working hard or having to put up with things. When you feel stressed, you may also be eating or drinking something unhealthy to reward yourself. A third common reason is distracting yourself from how you feel by eating or drinking something, which is classic emotional eating.
When you stop to really see what you are thinking or feeling, you can start to see what is actually triggering your food or drink choices, and you can also begin to notice if those choices leave you feeling all that great after you have had them. Most likely, you feel worse not better. You also probably haven’t solved the real issues that are making you feel stressed.
5. Create Strategies to Deal with the Stress Differently
Now that you are more aware of all the different things that are driving your choices, you can start to think of strategies to reduce the stress and get your needs met without using food or beverages as the crutch.
Katharyn realized that she needed to take breaks during the day, so she could get some down time and make sure she got balanced snacks and meals to boost her energy levels. She also noticed that if she remained calm when things were hectic, instead of snapping at people when they snapped at her, that everything seemed easier to manage. And she could see that a better reward when she got home was a cup of tea and playtime with her dogs, followed by a nice dinner and the promise of some time to read. When she did these things, she reduced the stress at work and at home, and she got more sleep and felt better able to handle whatever she had to deal with in her day. As a result, she no longer binged when she got home.
When I first met MaryLou, she said her biggest issue was emotional eating. She ate frequently when she wasn’t hungry and felt compelled to eat junk foods when things didn’t go well. That certainly suggests emotional eating, but it could also be the result of other eating issues or subconscious triggers.
Emotional eating is often used as a catchall for any eating that isn’t based on a physical need, such as overeating, eating when you aren’t hungry or eating lots of unhealthy foods. Yet there can be many reasons for these things, and until you have a clear understanding of the real issue you can’t solve it.
The most common reasons that tend to fall under the emotional eating category are
- emotional repression,
- emotional deprivation (or restricted rebellion),
- perceived pressure and
- unconscious beliefs.
MaryLou was taught at an early age that junk food was bad and that she could only have it for special occasions, like when she had a good report card or on her birthday. On those days, she could have anything she wanted and as much as she wanted. She remembers those events vividly, because she gotto indulge in lots of chips, candy, cake and ice cream, and then she often got sick. But it was always worth it to her. Unconsciously, she believed that going on a binge as a reward for doing something well or on special holidays was her right and that feeling terrible afterwards was to be expected. Of course, as an adult, she got to decide what was a special occasion or worthy of a reward, and instead of a few times a year she overindulged a few times a week.
This is a form of eating driven more by a belief than an emotion, although it can trigger emotions as I will describe with restricted rebellion. Other unconscious beliefs that drive food behaviors include: eating everything on your plate, not wasting food, getting your money’s worth, leftovers are bad, healthy food is too expensive, healthy food doesn’t taste good, and many more. You can probably add a few of your own to this list.
MaryLou’s belief about junk food created a dynamic that led to another type of eating, where she felt emotionally deprived on the days she wasn’t being rewarded or celebrating. As she enforced the rule that she couldn’t have the food she craved except under certain conditions, another part of her rebelled against this rule. That part of her wanted the cookies, chips and chocolate all the time, because it wasn’t sure when the next reward was going to be and felt deprived and restricted by her strict belief. So when she finally did give herself permission to have these foods, she went on a greater binge to make up for feeling deprived between binges.
This rebellion against being restricted of food or specific foods is one of the most common forms of emotional eating. Whether you feel should be restricted by the beliefs you carry, were recently restricted by a diet, was restricted as a child or anticipate being restricted by an upcoming diet; you have a high likelihood of having an emotional reaction and overeating that food or foods to make up for not getting your needs met – whether you really want or like the food or not. You won’t be able to help yourself.
MaryLou had thought her biggest issue was eating when things didn’t go well, so discovering that she was out of control with food when things went well as a reward had been a huge eye-opener for her. Yet her reward eating had a common relationship to the times she ate to cope with challenging or upsetting situations. In both cases she had a lot of emotions, but she wasn’t acknowledging them. Instead of feeling deserving and celebratory when things went well or feeling angry and frustrated when they didn’t, she turned to food and pushed those feelings down into her body unexpressed. This is classic emotional eating. And then because overeating and eating junk food made her feel badly about herself, she then ate more in an attempt to avoid feeling ashamed for what she was doing. Again, this is typical with emotional eating.
When you repress either positive or negative emotions by turning to food to feel good, you lose the ability to really feel and express your feelings or to get your needs met that are associated with those feelings. In MaryLou’s case, she wanted to feel rewarded for the things she was proud of, and that is a valid feeling and need. But overeating junk food didn’t fill that need. Instead it made her feel worse and unfulfilled. She also had valid emotions when things didn’t go well, but the more she repressed them the bigger those emotions became so she was easily triggered when the littlest of things went wrong. She also hadn’t resolved the situations that upset her, so she felt more and more out of control and more often turning to food.
To MaryLou’s surprise, as she got to observe her eating patterns working with me, was how often she ate to please other people. She had no idea that was happening. There were many times during the week when she met people for coffee, lunch, dinner or went to networking events. Often she ate when she wasn’t hungry or had already become full, because she felt she needed to. If the person she was with wanted to share a pastry or dessert, she felt she had to say yes. If others were still eating, and she was done, she felt she had to eat more so they wouldn’t be uncomfortable that she was not eating. If she was offered an appetizer, she felt she had to have one so the waiter felt appreciated. If she didn’t eat everything on her plate, she worried the chef might think she didn’t like the food. Or if she wanted to order a light salad and others asked whether she wasn’t going to get more, she felt she should get something more substantial. In the end, she almost always overate and ate something she didn’t want.
Yet the people around her probably didn’t even really care what she did or didn’t eat. She was creating her own story about what these people were thinking and then tried to meet what she perceived were everyone’s needs but her own.
Belief- & Emotion-Driven Eating
As you can see, emotional eating is a mix of beliefs and emotions that subconsciously drive eating patterns, and everyone has their own unique set of beliefs, emotions and needs. Because everyone is different, I have only touched the surface as to the many ways these can appear for someone.
The trick is to be able to see what is really driving your own eating choices and behaviors without judgment, and then to change the specific beliefs, feel the specific feelings and get your real needs met. If you simply call everything emotional eating, it will be much harder to detect what is really driving you and how to finally address the exact beliefs, feelings and needs.
Recently I was eating breakfast at a restaurant with some friends, and across from us were a group of people who were quite overweight and eating huge piles of pancakes and waffles dripping in butter, syrup and whipped cream. One of my friends commented about these people’s choices and wondered how they could be so stupid to eat so much and make such poor choices when they clearly needed to lose weight.
It is so easy to judge people who are obese for not taking responsibility for their weight problem, but until you’ve walked in their shoes you have no idea what the real problem is. It might appear obvious if you see them eating huge portions of food or eating things that aren’t healthy, but these behaviors are a symptom of a greater problem that is not well understood or obvious – even to them.
The problem usually starts with dieting. Everyone who is obese has dieted at least once if not repeatedly throughout their lives. Restrictive diets all have two things in common: they are short term and they restrict what you can eat – usually most everything you love. Once the diet ends, whether as planned or because it was too hard to stick with, there is an insatiable desire to eat what wasn’t allowed and to overeat it out of a reaction to the deprivation. When you’ve been deprived, you have an emotional need to make up for that deprivation and a deep-seated fear of not getting this food again, because you know you shouldn’t have it.
In addition, the feeling of failure in not being good and in control after a diet ends errodes self-esteem and self-confidence. When someone feels guilty, incapable of success or a failure, they are even more likely to give up on being good and turn to emotional eating, especially sugary comfort foods, and tune out their awareness of what they are actually doing.
These aren’t conscious choices. They are subconscious triggers of behavior that lead to food obsessions, cravings and bingeing. You can know what to do and not understand why you can’t seem to do it, and this is particularly true when it comes to unhealthy eating behaviors and overeating.
In addition, most people are stressed out, working long hours, juggling many responsibilities and putting themselves last. This isn’t an excuse, but a reality. Instead of judging people for their poor eating choices and lack of activity or unhealthy lifestyle, the answer starts with empathy for their situation.
The next step is to help them take a look at these choices and come to understand what is driving them from an objective perspective. It is nearly impossible to take a closer look when they are self-critical and self-loathing. In fact, that is what leads to denial, because it is often too painful to deal with those feelings.
Instead, by being curious of eating behaviors without judgment, then it is easier to see what is sabotaging their choices and becomes a way to identify and address the subconscious thoughts and emotions triggering those behaviors. In doing so, they can regain control, be in touch with how they feel, and discover an easier way to create and maintain healthier decisions for the long term.
Christina Aguilera has been attacked for being too skinny and too fat, and she no longer cares what people think. In fact, she’s tossed out her scale and learned how to love her body no matter what size she is. She no longer obsesses about her weight or compares her self-worth with the numbers on the scale. And she’s not alone. Many celebrities have stopped using the scale, including Portia De Rossi, Valerie Bertinelli, Queen Latifah, Martine McCutcheon, Kyra Sedgwick, Jessica Alba, Maria Menounos and Jennifer Love Hewitt. They feel liberated and are looking better than ever.
Read the rest of this post at YourTango.com.
This week the topic was on subconscious eating and how to address those times when food seems to have all the power and you just can’t stop yourself from losing control. While everyone is feeling more in control with food choices and portions, they are still prone to over indulging and eating when they aren’t hungry from subconscious triggers. By knowing more about them and how to deal with them, they will be better prepared and more easily avoid getting triggered to eat out of control.
Your Behavior is the Tip of the Iceberg
It is so easy to judge your behaviors as good or bad, yet it is never that simple. When you over indulge, for example, the behavior may appear bad but that misrepresents what is going on. It is not a matter of being good or bad, but instead of understanding what drove you to have that behavior. Your behaviors stem from your subconscious thoughts, beliefs and feelings, most of which you aren’t even aware of. All you see is the behavior; not all that lies beneath it. To change your behavior, you need to expose what is driving it, and that is what I spent the session explaining how to do.
The Behavior Chain of Events:
Situation —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —Beliefs —Thoughts —Feelings —Behavior —
When something happens during your day, your thoughts about the situation are determined by your beliefs (most of which you absorbed from others you thought knew best as you grew up but may not necessarily be in your best interests) and these thoughts often create feelings about what is happening, whether you realize they are there or not. If you are like most people, the next thing you know after experiencing a trying situation is you are eating something you don’t really even want or losing control around foods you know you shouldn’t have. That then triggers beliefs about your eating behavior, which leads to negative thoughts and emotions, which drives you to eat even more.
For example; if you experience something that you believe is unfair, your thoughts reflect that and you begin to feel annoyed or upset. But seldom is there an opportunity to express those feelings, so you find yourself turning to food to avoid those feelings and to feel better. But you know that isn’t good and you shouldn’t do it, which leads to feeling even worse and continuing to eat out of greater frustration, shame and guilt. This is classic emotional eating, which I refer to as emotional repression since it works to keep you calm and your feelings under control – as in pushed out of consciousness. The problem is the emotions are still there, unresolved and ready to be triggered again.
As I shared with the groups, emotional eating is a term people use to cover many different aspects of subconsciously-driven eating behaviors, and it helps to separate eating driven by beliefs from those driven by emotions or to recognize when it is a combination of both.
Dealing with Beliefs Eating
If you overeat because you subconsciously believe you must finish everything on your plate, this would be a type of beliefs-driven eating behavior. There is no emotional component to it. Another example is eating food because you don’t want to throw it away or you want your money’s worth. Very often the beliefs you carry are those you got from other people or the media, and when you really stop to evaluate those beliefs will find they don’t serve you.
Does it really make sense to eat until you are sick to get your money’s worth or to skip meals to save your calories for dinner, which creates blood sugar lows and usually leads to night-time bingeing? Or does it make sense to overeat or eat food that makes you feel sick to take care of someone else’s feelings? Just because you perceive pressure to eat, doesn’t mean you have to eat or that the other person cares as much as you think.
You can change your beliefs once you identify the ones that don’t work for you. You can decide to create a new belief, like if you are done eating and can’t keep food as leftovers that throwing away food may be the best option.
Dealing with Emotional Eating
There are two primary types of eating that are driven by emotions. One is emotional repression, as I mentioned earlier. The other is when your emotions represent a reaction to having been or currently being deprived of food you want. This I call restrictive rebellion, where one part of you (the inner parent – holder of beliefs) enforces your dietary rules and the other part of you (the inner child – holder of emotions) rebels to get its unmet needs addressed. As most of us know, our emotions usually win one way or another, and often it is by going out of control with food.
The way to address these is to understand what it is you are feeling and what it is you need (to address those feelings) that don’t involve food. So if you are angry about something, determine what needs to be done to address what created that anger and allow yourself to acknowledge the anger, instead of repress it. And determine if there are additional emotions beneath the anger that need to also be addressed. The idea isn’t to dig up the past, but to identify what you feel and need now. In my book that goes along with this program, I go through the exact steps on how to do this.
Read What the Participants Have to Say
Learning about subconscious eating and specific examples of belief- and emotionally-driven eating was eye-opening to people in the groups. As several of them said, they now had greater insight about themselves and their relationship with food, and it all made more sense.
Find out what else the participants learned from this topic, which they usually add the week after this post goes live. Please feel free to add your own comments as you follow along.
To participate on your own or in a group (3 more groups starting soon), check out the contest website for details and tools at www.aHealthyLifestyleWorks.com/contest.
Have a fit and healthy week,
Rudy, Danny, Liz and Amada are the final four contestants, and their last challenge was going home for 60 days and preparing to run a 26 mile marathon. One of them will be voted off this coming week.
What they realized in going home was how much they had changed – and not just physically. At home they came face to face with some of the issues that led to their obesity in the first place. While at the ranch, they focused on physical changes and discovering how much they had let themselves go. Back home, they were seeing that it isn’t just the physical that has to change in order to really succeed. They have to address the underlying subconscious mental and emotional issues that drove their unhealthy behaviors and overeating in the first place.
While this episode was going on, a former Biggest Loser winner, Ryan Benson, failed to return to the reunion show held last week. He had regained most of his weight back and admitted to extreme fasting and dehydration during the show in order to win. And just a couple of weeks earlier, Daniel Wright, who has done the show twice, went home. Daniel now admits he struggles with binge eating and kept that hidden during the show. Most likely it was even worse when he got home, having been severely deprived for the past 10 weeks. Overeating or bingeing after extreme dieting and deprivation is normal, and no doubt many other contestants have found themselves over-indulging once back home. This may explain why half of the Biggest Loser contestants have regained most or all of their weight loss.
Programs, like the Biggest Loser, are failing to address the underlying drivers of obesity that each of their contestants will deal with after the program ends. This is a disservice to those who put their trust in the trainers and dieticians, as well as to those watching the programs. It simply isn’t a matter of extreme diet, exercise and weight loss to be a success and maintain weight loss. If it were, obesity would have been solved long ago.
What drives our behavior are subconscious thoughts, beliefs and feelings, and when it comes to food and exercise these are complicated and unique to each person. Binge eating, for example, can be driven by a subconscious rebellion against food restrictions, an unmet need that is soothed by food, a means of keeping unresolved emotions repressed, or a reaction to not getting enough food and being compelled to make up for that deprivation. The triggers for dysfunctional eating can come from nearly anything, and without understanding how to be aware of them, how to resolve them and strategies to limit them, they will continue.
Rudy, Danny, Liz and Amanda all hope to go home the next Biggest Loser winner, yet they also share a concern about their ability to maintain their weight loss when the show ends. They have every reason to be concerned, because they haven’t been given the tools and experiences they really need to change their relationship with food and fitness from the inside out.