Susan is 4 days into her diet and everything is going great. She is been doing really well. In fact she is actually finding it easy to stick to. She is really excited about it. She has never been as motivated or determined. This time she is going to do it. This time she is finally going to lose her weight after 10 years of trying. Nothing is going to stop her now!
It’s 5pm. Another great day nearly done! The scales this morning showed nearly 2 lbs gone! She has been 100% with everything, weighing, measuring and resisting all break outs. What amazing willpower! The phone rings. It’s Susan’s husband. He is going to be late home again. This happens all the time. Susan is really fed up but she says nothing. She tells him she will keep some dinner and will cancel her planned walk with her friend so that she can mind the kids.
When Susan comes off the phone she is very angry. Before she even realises it she munches through 4 chocolate biscuits and a bag of Taytos. This all happens in about 2 minutes. She doesn’t even enjoy the taste. It is literally, chew, chew and swallow. She wasn’t even hungry 2 minutes ago! Now she feels terrible. She checks the calories and realises she has eaten 800 calories in the 2 minutes. Now she thinks she has ruined the diet. There is no point in even going to the scales. She can feel it in her stomach, it’s very bloated. She feels bad now, really bad and guilty too! Now she feels so low she thinks ‘what the heck’ I have ruined it already so another few biscuits won’t hurt. After them she feels even worse. She thinks she is a real failure. This has happened so many times in the last 10 years!!
Are You An Emotional Eater?
Emotional eating is a huge part of many people’s lives. In fact it is one of the most common reasons people fail at weight loss or lifestyle change. This can happen no matter how motivated they are. Emotional eating is triggered by some negative event or feelings and is characterised by:
- Intense fast eating
- Often you don’t even realise it is happening
- Normally you choose a comfort junk food
- There can be a huge amount of food eaten – it can be a real binge sometimes!!
- You are not really hungry in the first place – it is phantom hunger!
- You don’t even taste the food properly
- There is terrible guilt afterwards
Getting To the Root Cause
Are you an emotional eater? If you are an emotional eater it is very hard to succeed at dieting or lifestyle change unless you fix it. Emotional eating is an incredibly powerful force that is too strong for any willpower or motivation. The good news is that you can conquer it. Your first steps begin here.
Emotional eating always has more than one layer to it. As is the case of Susan above, the anger she felt isn’t the real problem. The real problem is that Susan doesn’t assert herself a little more. This is rooted in her upbringing. She is afraid of rejection and of hurting others and so never seeks to get her needs looked after. She needs to explain to her husband that she isn’t happy with last minute cancellations. Unless Susan sits down and asserts herself a little more and discusses this with her husband, this cycle will re-surface and repeat itself over and over again.
That is the secret to success. Behind the event or feelings that cause your episode of emotional eating there are nearly always deeper issues. You may not even be aware of them. Much of your current emotional health is based on past experiences and influences often beginning from childhood. You need to stop and think about this. Simply accepting this fact is a giant step forward. It gives you back some control. Then trying to identify your root cause is another giant step forward. You then have something that you can really work to improve.
What Is Your Root Cause?
Here are some of the most common root causes of emotional eating. Every person is different and will have a slightly different angle on these but the purpose here is to give you some examples and to get you thinking and to focus in on areas that will ultimately lead you to your own personal answers.
- Are you responding to social pressures?
- Pressure to be slim which creates a cycle of severe dieting and the inevitable break-outs and comfort eating that follows
- Self sacrifice. Pressure to give all of yourself to your kids, family, parents or friends and the feelings of resentment, anger and frustration that can build up from not looking after yourself and getting to do the things you really like.
- Have you unresolved emotional needs?
- Dissatisfied with your career and where you are in life
- Unfulfilled romantic life. Not having a relationship or being unhappy with the one you have.
- Lack of a social life?
- Are you hiding behind your fat?
- Being fat means you have no pressure to perform. People won’t expect anything from you.
- Being fat is your way of rebelling against someone e.g. domineering parent or keeping your partner away!
- Being fat means feeling safe not being ‘eyed’ up. This can happen for many reasons but is often the result of the trauma of sexual abuse
- Are you still following programming you got as a child?
- Waste not want not (association of guilt with food)
- Clear the plate before you can play (food used as a source of reward)
On probing you may not even be ‘consciously’ aware of the answer but your ‘unconscious’ brain will know. After you have an episode of emotional eating sit back and channel your energy into analysing it and thinking over it and finding out the real reason you felt those emotions. What is it in your life that is the cause of this emotional reaction? What is the deep seated problem? What is the reason behind the reason? But in the mean time…….
6 Steps to Breaking Free
Right let’s start making real change straight away. Keep working on trying to identify your root cause or causes but here are some great strategies to help you get back some control. They will also help you with the search for your root cause too. Be absolutely clear that these steps work. I use them with clients all the time. They work but you must work them! Practice a little everyday!
Step 1: Commit to making some change! Commit to taking some steps forward. Taking even small tiny steps everyday isn’t painful but really adds up to great results. Commit to working on the steps that follow!
Step 2: Build your desire to change by repeating to yourself the mantra ‘I want to change, I will change’ several times a day. I cannot stress enough to you how powerful this becomes. Mantra’s can be more effective than hypnosis!
Step 3: Practice being assertive. Most emotional eaters are very passive people. This is often based on past conditioning. Examine your home life, your social life and your work life and see where you need to change. Where do you need to start looking after your needs? Where do you need to start asking for what you want? Assertive behaviour means asking for what you want in a firm but polite way. Assertive behaviour means looking ahead to awkward situations and being ready for them with the response you really want to make. Assertive behaviour sometimes means politely turning down the night out you really don’t want to go for or the dinner with the in-laws that will really upset you!
Step 4: Let go of past guilt. Emotional eaters often carry past guilt. Maybe you didn’t get on with a parent who is now dead? Maybe you left someone down? Maybe you have guilt over a failed relationship? How long will you punish yourself for? What is this punishment doing for you? How is punishing yourself hurting those around you? The past is the past. It is time to box it and move on!
Step 5: Track your emotional eating episodes. This is a fundamental and very powerful tool for breaking free. Record the day, time and the trigger of your emotional eating and make notes about the possible root causes of you feeling this way. This log will also help you implement step 6 below.
Step 6: Use distraction to avoid an emotional eating episode. This really works. You can use one or both of the following. Have a healthy treat that you really like readily available in your kitchen. When you get the urge to eat choose the healthy treat first. Secondly have a pre-planned distraction task e.g. taking a walk around the block, listening to some music or phoning a friend and go and do it. You will nearly always find the urge for comfort food subsides very quickly. Record in your log every time you win! Every victory is a huge step forward and gives you more and more power for the future.