In order to achieve permanent weight loss you need avoid emotional eating and eat only when you are hungry. Said another way, you need to change the way you think about food and your relationship with it.
Emotional eating has become one of the primary reasons you overeat. You react to emotional or situational cues to eat, not to your body’s signals. Changing this will require first identifying your emotional triggers. This page outlines some of the common reasons for emotional eating to assist you in recognizing them.
Do you mindlessly munch while watching TV? When you find yourself at home alone do your thoughts turn to the quart of chocolate fudge ice cream in the freezer or the bag of potato chips?
When faced with a task you dread like cleaning the house, do you sit down and eat first? You go back for seconds at a family gathering even though the food isn’t that good and you are no longer hungry. If you can identify with any of these situations, then chances are boredom is one of the triggers for you.
If we are bored, eating will at least satisfy some of our senses and give our hands something to do. Eating while watching TV is one of the most common forms of emotional eating.
There are two solutions to this problem – first, make it a rule not to eat while watching TV. If the TV program is not adequately engaging, watch something else, or find something else to do. Second, if you feel like eating while watching TV is not something you want to give up, then at least eat a healthy snack like carrots, an apple, or soy yogurt.
If you are often bored, then for long-term success you need to find some new more engaging activities. What works for you will depend on your particular circumstances.
If your boredom is more likely to strike at home in the evenings or on weekends, then maybe you need some new activities. Try a hiking group, book club, tennis lessons, or call a friend and suggest a movie. Take a class at a community college.
Volunteer at the local animal shelter. Whatever it is, breaking old habits will take initiative on your part. Stretch out of your comfort zone and find new, fun things to do.
Are you perhaps using food to fill the emotional void you feel due to a lack of meaningful relationships? Often the first step in overcoming loneliness is believing you are worthy of love. It is common sense that we must first love ourselves to find love in others.
You may need therapy to overcome deep emotions preventing you from loving yourself. But if you are willing to try on your own first, I recommend Louise Hay’s book You Can Heal Your Life as a start.
Helping others is one of the best ways to infuse your life with meaning and meet new people in a nonthreatening situation. Find something you are passionate about and volunteer. Visit this page for ideas to Volunteer.
New exercise regimes are another excellent way to meet new people who share your healthy lifestyle. Try something new, or rediscover a sport you enjoyed as a child.
If you are lonely due to an estranged relationship with family, then it is likely you will need to resolve these issues before you can achieve permanent weight loss and overall good health. If necessary, get counseling.
Is your loneliness due to a desire for romantic love? Are you suffering from serial failed relationships? There are no easy answers. I’m sure you’ve heard it all so I will not insult you by suggesting pat solutions. But I believe that there is someone out there for each of us, and if we continue to believe that, eventually we will find each other. In the interim, seek out and enrich the relationships you have with friends and family, not food to fill the void.
Do you eat unhealthy food when you come home from work or in the middle of the afternoon? This might not be emotional eating per se, but could be fatigue disguised as hunger. Our bodies crave sleep, but if sleep is not possible, then we look to food for a jolt of energy. The only way to break this cycle is the obvious: get more sleep!
Our culture seems to think sleep is for wimps, but studies have shown that we need 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. People who get less sleep are more likely to be obese. If you can’t manage adequate uninterrupted sleep at night, taking a nap during the day is very beneficial.
If your sleep is not restful, try a new mattress, a white noise machine, or varying your pre-bedtime routine. For instance, read a novel (not a scary one) before going to bed instead of watching TV or working, and don’t eat within 3 hours of bedtime.
Suppressed anger is one of the most common reasons for emotional eating.
Are you turning to food as a means of putting off a confrontation with someone you are angry with? Is food a delaying tactic for you to avoid facing a situation that makes you angry? Acknowledge you are craving food or eating because you are angry, not because you are hungry.
The long term solution for dealing with anger is to take some action to change the situation. You might also try to see the humor in it if the circumstances warrant. If you are angry with another person, write a script on how you will confront the person about their action or behavior. Visualize yourself delivering the script calmly, and getting an apology from the person.
Finally, forgive the person. I know this might seem impossible, but if you are to move forward emotionally, you have to forgive. Emotional eating and other destructive consequences of anger will not cease until you allow yourself to forgive.
Is your emotional eating due to unresolved guilt? Often we feel guilty after binge eating, but cravings that result from guilt may be difficult to identify. Often guilt is so deeply buried that we don’t even know it is there.
The only long-term answer to guilt is to redirect your thoughts. This takes a lot of practice. Guilt can be very powerful.
One strategy to try is acknowledge that we all make mistakes and move on. No matter what you are feeling guilty about, others have done far worse things than you.
If an apology is called for, then apologize. There is nothing more purifying than a heartfelt, sincere apology. If an actual apology is not possible (for instance the person has passed away), then often visualizing an apology works just as well.
Your visualization should include the person forgiving you.
Chronic stress is extremely destructive to your overall health. Emotional eating is a common reaction to systemic stress from a job or difficult home environment.
Exercise should be your first coping solution. Regular exercise will improve your ability to handle stress. The increased oxygen from breathing deeply and the beneficial brain chemicals released during exercise are natural antidotes to the powerful physiological changes that take a negative toll on our bodies from chronic stress.
If you are still experiencing significant stress even with consistent exercise, then add meditation or other relaxation techniques. There is no right or wrong way to practice relaxation or meditation. Some people choose tapes for guided relaxation. Some choose a hypnotist or other professional to help.
For me, adding yoga to my regular exercise regime was the solution. Most YMCA’s have low cost yoga programs you can try.
Emotional eating often stems from reward behavior. You feel unappreciated for a significant achievement, or just for doing the multiple tasks you do every day to run an efficient household. Often stay at home Moms or people who run a business from home are inundated with requests from the spouse to do additional errands or tasks. The other partner may feel that the person working outside the home has no appreciation for how difficult their day to day lives are. If you feel this resentment, you may turn to food as a reward.
It’s perfectly fine to enjoy a delicious, healthy meal. The emotional eating as reward behavior manifests itself when you turn to a quart of ice cream or a bag of chocolate chip cookies because you “deserve” a reward.
There are two steps to breaking this cycle. First, toot your own horn a little. Brag about your accomplishments. If you have a loving relationship with a spouse or friend, he or she will likely give you some of the recognition you are craving.
Second, find other ways to reward yourself that don’t involve food. Buy yourself flowers or a magazine to read. Take a bubble bath. Get a massage or facial or pedicure. Rent a funny movie. For the really big accomplishments, plan a long weekend out of town or a family outing. Know that you are special, your accomplishments are worth rewarding, and choose experiences that you enjoy.
Depression/Hopelessness/Feelings of Lack of Control
These causes of emotional eating are obviously more serious and require intervention by a mental health professional. Get the help you need and deserve. Your long term health depends on addressing these issues proactively. While I believe you will benefit from the lifestyle changes described on this site, you need more to achieve your full potential.