For over 20 years I have worked closely with thousands of women to help them achieve their highest health potential. I noticed one common challenge that they shared and this was emotional eating, dieting/binging and simply feeling crazy around food. As enrollment for my 6 Month Vitality Program kicks into high gear this week, I thought I’d address some of the most common questions and concerns I get about my strategies for ending the Crazies Around Food…
- “If I don’t actively try to control my food, I’ll just end up eating cookies all day long. That’s not healthy.”
Believe it or not, non-restrictive eaters, who allow themselves to eat “whatever they want,” generally don’t want to eat cookies all day long—because it doesn’t physically FEEL all that great for our bodies to do so. Unfortunately, however, the cycle of dieting and restricting foods disconnects us from our natural biological feedback from our body such as hunger and fullness leaving us in a constant state of either trying to control, or aggressively rebelling against deprivation.
In other words, dieting distorts your true “wants,” and what your body truly feels and needs leaving you obsessed with food, and constantly feeling starved. Re-connecting with our bodies through a practice of mindful eating is generally considered to be the first step in reversing this effect.
- “I don’t restrict my food, but I still binge-eat and/or feel crazy around food. What’s up with that?”
This is where our definition of restriction really matters. Restriction can be either of tow things:
Physical – For example, “I’m trying not to eat sugar”
Emotional – For example, “I feel shame, guilt, or fear of weight gain when I eat sugar”.
Most women who claim they are “no longer restricting,” but still struggle with binge-eating, are dealing with some form of emotional eating. Feeling guilt, shame, fear when we think we’ve done something wrong with food—whatever “wrong” means to that individual—will trigger more rebellious eating, because it implies that behaviour should be restricted, even if you’re currently engaging with it.
This includes feeling guilty about emotional eating. When we beat ourselves up for eating emotionally or binge-eating, we’re actually just pushing ourselves further into emotional restriction, and spurring the vicious cycle on to continue.
- “I know I’m eating to fulfill my feelings — if I deal with my feelings, will I stop binge-eating?”
Yes. No. Depends.
Unsurprisingly, emotional eating is often triggered by some underlying emotional trigger, which could be something as simple as “I’m bored at work” or something more challenging that’s best worked out with a mental health professional. Working towards addressing these triggers may certainly lessen emotional eating—but it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll ever eat only for fuel and nothing else at all times. Food is biologically designed for pleasure, and as such, it will probably be eaten for enjoyment or self-soothing sometimes no matter how well you manage underlying emotions. However it can improve.
Additionally, research shows that our likelihood of turning to food for comfort, over other coping mechanisms is directly related with restrictive thinking and behaviour. In other words, it’s not just about the emotional triggers that initiate emotional eating. If you really want to see a change in your behaviours, you will have to shift out of diet mentality and work on your body image as well.
Lastly, it’s important to recognize that “emotional eating” and “binge-eating” are two different things.
Binge Eating is an eating disorder characterized by frequent and recurrent binge eating episodes with associated negative psychological problems. Binge-eating can be a rebellious reaction to dieting or diet-mentality which you can eliminate, and is not simply “eating over feelings.”
Emotional Eating is a form of disordered eating and is defined as “an increase in food intake in response to negative emotions” and can be considered a maladaptive strategy used to cope with difficult feelings.
- “I can’t and/or don’t want to work on body image—I really just want to lose weight and then my body image will improve”
Perhaps health is your concern?
Or maybe you just “know” you could never love your body at its current size?
Or maybe you worry body love will lead to weight gain?
Or think body shame will “motivate” you into thinness?
When I was struggling with my relationship with food, I had no interest in body image work—I only wanted to lose weight, and refused to work on my body image until I lost the weight.
This attitude kept me bingeing for a very, very long time. I felt out of control when it came to food and I was caught in a vicious cycle. My resistance to doing body image work is what kept me from losing weight and to having a better relationship with food.
On that note, if you’re ready to go deeper into these topics and plunge through to more advanced work, I hope you’ll consider my 6 month Vitality program!