By Carol Fredrek
Have you ever wondered what the difference is between emotional eating and an eating disorder?
It’s a matter of severity and frequency of eating issues. Eating disorders are what we most hear about – anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
As a Psychologist, I hear stories every day from women about how they “hate” their bodies, want to lose weight, feel such intense anxiety that they turn to food.
They tell me how distressed they are because they obsess about food and their body, and feel out of control. They want to live a happy and peaceful life. They want to like themselves. They feel lost. Just like you!
We are bombarded with messages of how we should look; thin, firm, sensual.
One of the hazards of Social Media is that we’re constantly comparing ourselves to our “friends” or the articles that they post. They tend to post images of themselves when they’re feeling positive, having fun, or with a partner.
Your old childhood messages are reinforced.
You’re not good enough, not thin enough, not humorous enough, or not interesting enough. Now you’re eating to cope with these uncomfortable feelings.
You have likely found yourself amid a cycle that you don’t seem to be able to escape from.
I have heard this from many clients who struggle with food, their weight, and their body. There are 5 stages in the Emotional Eating Cycle that you will likely identify with.
Feelings that keep you stuck in this cycle
- You feel inadequate
You feel that you can’t do anything right. You feel incompetent. When someone asks you what your strengths are, your mind goes blank.
- You fear abandonment
I remember the first time I felt this. My ex-husband was picking me up from a 3-day retreat and was late. But only 20 minutes late. I stood there waiting and felt alone. I truly wondered if he was going to come at all. When he arrived, I was angry. I had been afraid of being abandoned. This feeling of abandonment can show up in many ways.
- You feel you aren’t “good enough”
When you feel that your aren’t “good enough” others can push you around. If someone tells you that you lack self-awareness, you begin to question if you do or not. When you begin to question yourself, this is a sign that one of your core beliefs might be “I am not good enough”.
- You feel powerless & helpless
Eating or not eating, dieting or bingeing, or controlling your weight are ways you feel a sense of control. You may be asking “Why do I need to feel in control?”. Probably because you feel powerless and helpless. Feeling in control is a much more powerful feeling than helplessness.
- You have a fear of conflict
You may avoid conflict because if feels overwhelming. You may feel that you don’t have the skills to deal with conflict. It is important to come from a place of “I”. I feel _____, when you _____, and I need ______.
- You don’t feel safe
If you don’t feel safe, it may be because you had an experience(s) that wasn’t safe. You might have felt that you could be hurt if you didn’t behave in certain ways. These are messages that may have come from childhood, but may also have come from your adult experiences as well.
You don’t need to stay stuck in this void
Here are 11 strategies that can help you change this cycle
- Nourish your body with healthy foods
It’s important to feel good in your body and one way of doing that is to eat foods that make you feel good. It’s important not to focus on foods that are low in calories, low in fat, or low in anything. Fat is good for us. Calories are good for us. It is the type of fat or the empty calories that are not nourishing.
- Know your triggers so you can prepare for a binge
You have emotional triggers that set off a binge such as stress, anxiety, not feeling good enough, self-loathing, or feeling depressed. You feel guilty when you binge. Ask yourself “What are my triggers? Is it a certain situation, a certain person, or a feeling I am uncomfortable with?”
Then you can anticipate the triggers and plan your strategy to intervene. It will be difficult to resist the binge. Just try to delay the binge if that is more comfortable. That’s a start. It’s important to remember that your goal is to do something different.
- Practice self-care daily
Self-care means something different to each person. It’s about honoring ourselves. Nurturing ourselves. Doing something that feels good in a healthy way. For instance, taking a bubble bath with candles, going for a walk-in nature, spending the day reading a good book, or a daily practice of yoga.
- Manage your stress
Stress can build to a point where you feel overwhelmed and anxious. It’s helpful to use a calendar to record the tasks that you want to do, as well as leisure and self care activities.
Self-care is often neglected and we find ourselves scrambling when we’re in a crisis. Managing your stress before it reaches a crisis point is critical. This includes setting clear boundaries with yourself and with others. You need to be able to say “no”.
- Take deep breaths
Breathing from your diaphragm is important. It gets your heart rate to slow down and brings down your blood pressure. Take a few deep breaths, regularly throughout the day. Be sure not to breath from your chest as it will increase the intensity of your anxiety. Keep your eyes open so you stay in the present moment.
When you feel something intense, breath. It may prevent you from reaching for that piece of food.
- Daily Affirmations
Affirmations can be quite powerful. You need to be consistent. It’s important to stick with them for a specific period. This is difficult when you have so many things to juggle already. But if you want to see benefits consistency is important.
Affirmations are a way of maintaining a positive attitude. Replace the negative self beliefs that serve to reinforce your anxiety by using daily affirmations. You can get affirmation books, cards, or make a list of your own. Stay with one of the affirmations until it feels believable. To help you with this you might want to rate how believable it is to you and then re-rate it every few days.
- Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is being aware of what you are feeling, thinking, and sensing in the moment. Guided meditations are particularly helpful if you have difficulty staying focused. It can be a peaceful and calming way of starting your day. There are several guided meditations on You Tube. Just search “guided meditations”.
- Stop weighing yourself
You complain of being fat, feeling fat, and looking fat, when you are a healthy weight or underweight. You probably have an extreme dissatisfaction with your body. It’s important to get rid of your scale so that you can stop measuring your self esteem based on the numbers on the scale.
- Eat when you are hungry
You have likely lost that ability to experience hunger or being full until you feel bloated, uncomfortable, and angry with yourself. It’s important to schedule your three meals and snacks and practice mindfulness as you are eating the meal.
Be sure to put your food on a plate, sit down at a table, and don’t have any distractions. Turn off the radio, TV, computer, cell phone, and don’t read the newspaper or a book. You want to be mindful of eating. You may feel uncomfortable with this and that may be a time to journal. Write down what you are feeling or thinking.
- Take time to journal
It’s so important to be able to say your truth. This can be done through journaling. There isn’t one right way to journal. It’s about getting out what is trapped inside. There have been studies that show that journaling is exceptionally helpful in changing what we experience physically as well as neurological.
- Practice Relaxation Exercises
Relaxation training can reset you body and move you towards developing a calmer constant state. Progressive relaxation is one of the most common.
Choose one to start with.
The one that you feel is safest. See if that helps. But remember to give yourself time to see the benefits. If it doesn’t work, go on to the next one until you find one or two that work for you.
If you find that you are having difficulty sticking to any one of the strategies, then talk with someone. Perhaps a friend that you would feel comfortable being accountable to.
Emotional Eating can lead to a feeling of being out of control. Your eating behaviors are telling you something. Listen. There’s something underlying your obsession with food, weight, and your body.
With the strategies above you can begin to develop self-awareness around your relationship with food, your body, and your weight. You can experience more joy in your life. Your relationships will be richer. There is HOPE!
Are you feeling discouraged and exasperated?
Take Action Now
Call me for a 15-minute free phone consultation so that we can talk about how you can best move forward or if you are ready schedule a counseling appointment call me now.