April is Emotional Eating Awareness Month

April 2nd, 2010

Understanding Emotional Eating

It’s normal to participate in some emotional eating. Most of us celebrate with and entertain with food…we prepare and share food with friends and loved ones when something sad occurs. Emotional eating happens on a continuum. Some people do it a little and it’s not at all problematic. Some people do it a lot…and it can become disruptive. Emotional eating becomes a problem when it becomes a person’s primary coping strategy; a person’s only way to self-soothe or to self-regulate mood…and the result is emotional and/or physical distress. (At the far end of the continuum, there may be a diagnosable eating disorder present—Binge Eating Disorder or Bulimia.)

• Emotional Eaters come in all shapes and sizes; small, large, super-sized, and everything in between. It is important to note that body size is not an indicator of emotional eating. There are large people who are not emotional eaters—they’re not even overeaters. Their bodies are just particularly efficient at storing what they eat. There are also thin people who are emotional eaters who have very high metabolisms that compensate for the amount of food they eat. And then there is everything in between. To date, no one knows what percentage of the population actually experiences significant distress due to emotional overeating. Nor do we know, yet, what percentage of emotional eating is actually driven by brain chemistry and/or biology.

• Some people use food, thoughts about food, and/or dieting behaviors to take care of emotional needs. When we fill our head with a food thought (or a diet thought), we temporarily push all other thoughts or feelings from our current consciousness. So, when we’re bored, stressed, angry or lonely, even when some of us get excited…to avoid any intensity of feeling…we obsess about food instead. Food, food thoughts, and even obsessing about weight and/or dieting, can serve as an effective distraction from any thoughts or feelings we’d rather not tolerate (effective temporarily, just until the post-eating guilt kicks in).

• Diets don’t work for emotional eaters. Actually, diets rarely work for anybody! While a diet is designed to restrict one’s food intake, a diet never addresses the underlying emotional, physical, and biochemical reasons why a person feels compelled to over use food.

• When it’s used as a primary coping strategy, emotional eating can impact a person’s ability to live his or her life to the fullest and to achieve desired emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual well-being.

• Change can occur when the problem is approached with new insight and action in all arenas; emotional, physical, nutritional, and spiritual health (Health at Every Size).

So, how can an emotional eater begin to create positive changes?

Make a conscious effort to become more aware of how and why you may be using food. Become more mindful of food, body, diet thoughts and triggers. Make an effort to develop healthier coping strategies. Know that you are much more likely to sustain positive behavioral changes around food and exercise when you’re motivated by a desire for improved health and self-care, rather than by, 1) the self-loathing and body dissatisfaction that has typically driven you to diet and exercise in the past, or 2) by attempts to conform to some unrealistic societal norm about thinness. Dieting is a trap for an emotional eater because food restriction and deprivation just lead to more emotional discomfort and then to more emotional eating…

Some people are able to make these types of behavioral changes on their own. Others will benefit from professional help, from either a Coach or a Therapist, or the support of a community. With support and new understanding, a person can come to view change as a RELIEF…and as an attainable choice. It takes courage to ask for help and to make the needed changes. It is so worth the effort! If we can be of help, please be in touch!

By Ellen Shuman, Founder of A Weigh Out Life Coaching; Vice President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA), and the Co-Chair of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size” (HAES).

Emotional Eating Self-Care Checklist

Please rate the level of Willingness you experienced this past week in each of the following arenas.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

1= Not Willing / I chose not to… 10 = Willing / I chose to…

Emotional Life

This past week I made an effort to be more conscious of my thoughts and feelings before I put food in my mouth.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

I turned to food less this week and, instead, tried out some new coping strategies.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

This week I handled one or more difficult interpersonal situations better than I have in the past.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Self Care

I took good care of myself this week. I did things this week that were self-nurturing. (Examples…Scheduled time with a friend; organized my desk so I can find the things I need, etc.)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Food and Nutrition

I made more nutritious and healthful (less processed and/or fast food) food choices this week.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

I “listened to my body”; eating when I was hungry and stopping when I was full. I spaced healthy foodconsumption throughout the day rather than skipping meals or eating a large amount of food at one time.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Because I was mindful and “listened to my body”, I made reasonable choices around portion size.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Physical Conditioning

I moved more this week. (Example: Walked the dog, exercised, took the stairs instead of the elevator, etc.)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Spiritual Life

I stayed conscious of and connected to a belief system that nurtures my efforts toward health.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

On a scale of 1 to 10, overall, I would rate my week a….

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10


Copyright, December 2009. This handout may be copied and distributed without written permission, if used in its entirety.

A Weigh Out Tools are offered for educational purposes only, not as advice-giving, psychotherapy, or counseling. In the case of a mental health emergency, please call 911. A Weigh Out Life Coaching & Acoria Eating Disorder Treatment are Divisions of WellCentered, Inc., an Ohio Corporation.

For more information about the A Weigh Out Online Community visit: www.aweighout.com

Related Post: Emotional Eating and Weight Loss

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Categories: Diet & Nutrition, Health & Wellness, Lifestyle Change

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Comments Feed2 Comments

  1. Kian Gray

    Thanks, this is really great information.

  2. C3R

    I’m glad you liked it… Don’t forget to spread the word.

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