Is your eating driven by emotional hunger?

If you’re like most of the people that attend my seminars, workshops and classes on Emotional Eating, you’ve tried all kinds of diets, fasts and exercise regimens to take off the weight.  Perhaps you’ve even tried pills, shots and surgery, all to no avail.  You’ve lost weight many times but always seem to gain it back.  You may already be suffering from health conditions, like diabetes and hypertension, related to your weight. 

You’re probably frustrated and feel somewhat hopeless about ever losing the weight.   Perhaps you believe you overeat “just because” you love food and eating.  Or you’re overweight because of bad genes.  Maybe you believe that you lack willpower and label yourself as lazy or undisciplined with respect primarily to eating and exercise. 

Most likely your overeating is driven, in part, by emotional, rather than physical hunger.  It has helped you cope daily with unpleasant emotional states like anxiety and depression and self-doubting thoughts.  Read through the list below to see if your eating has an emotional component.

As an Emotional eater you “use” food to:

1)  dull the pain of unpleasant emotions like sadness, anger, depression, rejection, hurt, dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and powerlessness.

2)  soothe and comfort when feeling anxious, afraid, worried and overwhelmed.

3)  to fill up an inner emptiness and loneliness.

4)  to distract from a sense of powerlessness to change your self or your life circumstances.

5)  to make up for the deprivation of the past by having no limits today.

6)  to procrastinate and put off unpleasant or difficult tasks, including growing up.

7)  to stuff down the pain of limiting, negative, self-defeating thoughts.

8)  to rebel against powerful others from your past and assert your independence.

9)  to avoid taking risks and protect yourself from further disappointment. 

10)  to avoid dealing with sexuality–using your weight as an excuse not to date or be physically intimate; keeping yourself overweight to limit sexual attractiveness.

The truth is, if you regularly eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re already full, or if you regularly choose to eat unhealthy comfort foods, the bulk of your overeating is not just because you love food and enjoy eating, have bad genes or are lazy and undisciplined.   Your overeating may be a sign that you are lacking the self-care skills needed to resolve your emotional issues and put an end to overeating.

The good news is that you can stop emotional eating by addressing these unresolved issues and learning the missing or poorly developed self-care skills.  It will take time to do this but truly, there is no rush.   You didn’t become an emotional eater overnight and your overeating will not be resolved overnight. 

Start with a small baby-step today, as follows:

The next time you feel like eating when you’re not physically hungry,  go inward for a moment, connect with yourself  and ask yourself:  “What am I truly hungry for?”   “What am I longing for?”  You might be surprised by the answer.  You may not be able to meet this need immediately, but remind yourself that overeating won’t get you any closer to your goal either. 

In this moment, is there some other way you could take care of yourself?  The moment when the urge to “use” food is strong is an opportunity to practice and build new self-care skills.   Yes, you may feel somewhat unfulfilled and a bit uncomfortable, but think about how uncomfortable you already are with the extra weight and self-disappointment. You’ll feel better about yourself if you push away from the food and nourish yourself in some other way.   Just take it one baby step at a time.

Posted by Julie M. Simon, MA, MBA, MFT.  If you have a question or topic you would like to see addressed in this blog, go to http: //www.overeatingrecovery.com.

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