- Do you tend to eat when you are anxious, frustrated, sad, or stressed?
- Do you tend to crave sugary, fatty, and/or salty foods when these feelings arise?
- Does hunger come on immediately rather than slowly?
- Do you feel guilty and ashamed after you overeat?
- Do you suffer from physical ailments as a result of overeating?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be struggling with emotional eating. Many people find that no matter what diet they choose, they continually regain lost pounds. The rollercoaster dieting is not only ineffective, but it also does not address the root cause of why you overeat.
Why Do We Overeat?
As infants, feeding and nurturing were closely intimately connected. Our caregivers provided nurturance and we felt satiated and safe. We equated food with love. Depending on your childhood experiences, you may continue to subconsciously connect food with nurturance. When you feel unsafe, frustrated, powerless, you find yourself literally feeding your feelings away. Unfortunately, this coping mechanism doesn’t work very well, and you may end up with residual emotions of guilt, shame, and hopelessness. This vicious circle of emotional eating contributes to lifelong struggles with weight gain.
Emotional eating is a common behavior in food addiction. We often think that addiction is only for substance abuse, such as alcohol dependence; however, the same neurological pathways that are present in drug addiction are present in food addiction.
Binge Eating Disorder
Emotional eating is a common symptom in binge eating disorder (BED). BED is characterized by recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food. One often eats until they feel “stuffed”, even to the point of having stomach pains. Feelings of being out of control, embarrassment, and guilt are common after binge eating. During the eating episode, an individual may feel that he or she is in a trance-like state, focusing only on the consumption of food. The drive to eat is emotional, not physical hunger.
Bulimia nervosa is a serious and possibly life-threatening eating disorder. This disorder is characterized by periods of binge eating followed by purging, laxative abuse, excessive exercise or other compensatory behaviors. Emotional eating is the main driver in bulimia behaviors. Unlike a person with BED, you compensate by eating extra calories. Often, you choose foods that are sugary, fatty, and salty, rather than binging on healthy meals. Both BED and bulimia nervosa have high rates of co-occurring disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Eating Disorder Treatment
If you are struggling with BED or bulimia nervosa, you should seek professional treatment. A common weight loss program is likely not going to address the underlying psychological factors associated with these disorders. Instead of weight loss, healthy eating should be emphasized. When you learn how to effectively identify and cope with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, you will be treating both your mind and body. Certainly, you may lose weight, but in a healthy way.
Lose Weight the Healthy Way
A healthy weight loss program addresses both the psychological and physical factors that contribute to weight gain. Below are the components of effective treatment:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a goal-oriented psychological therapy that relies on a practical and problem-solving approach to change your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive patterns and behaviors. CBT will help you understand the triggers that cause you eat. You learn coping skills, such as cognitive restructuring, to help you with the challenges of overeating.
- Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT): ACT is another intervention that incorporates mindfulness, acceptance, values exploration to change behaviors and increase psychological flexibility. Cognitive defusion, urge surfing, and values exploration are just some of the helpful techniques to end overeating and focus on what’s important to you. Mindfulness strategies have been consistently shown to reduce cravings and improve your relationship with food.
- Hypnosis: Hypnotherapy for weight loss can help to reduce cravings and instill positive subconscious thinking around your relationship to food. Hypnosis has been helpful for many people to overcome deeply ingrained negative beliefs about eating.
- Nutritional Guidance: Learning what and how to eat is essential to overcoming emotional eating. You will need to learn your trigger foods and how to replace these with nutritious meals. A whole-foods, plant-based diet is an especially healthy diet.
- Lifestyle Advice: Getting quality and sufficient sleep, appropriate exercise, and fostering supportive relationships are some other ways that will help you lose weight in a healthy and lasting way.
- Mindful Eating Training: Mindfulness training has been shown to help people lose weight. Engaging in mindful eating will help you manage through cravings and develop a healthy connection to food.
Start Your Journey
If you feel that you need help with weight loss, emotional eating, and issues related to an eating disorder, then Dr. Mazzei is here for you. As a Health Psychologist, she has years of clinical experience working with patients to end their struggle with food. Please contact the office at (480) 448-6755 to schedule a consultation and start your journey today.