If you find yourself eating when not hungry, you are probably engaged in emotional eating.
Aside from emotions, other factors lead to overeating, such as how food is manufactured and presented. We will address these other factors in our next column.
Those engaged in emotional eating often battle between a feeling of deprivation or guilt. Food becomes an enemy that one surrenders to or decides to overcome. We become disconnected from our body when we begin following external diet rules. In working with frequent dieters, we find they have often lost touch with their body’s natural signals of hunger and satiation.
Food and eating become a mental game of trying not to blow it, seeking an illusive feeling of power in resisting a craving. Dieting behavior leads to an experience of deprivation and then an excessive craving and a potential binge. Guilt sets in, then a vow to not do it again, only to find a vicious cycle has begun. One approach that has been useful to many of our clients is intuitive eating. To heal deprivation or diet mentality, you really need to go in stages and accept it as a process. Here are a few guidelines or suggestions that may help:
1. Don’t make weight loss your initial goal. If you do, it will reinforce the diet mentality and set up the deprivation binge cycle once more. Set a goal of getting in touch with your body signals and reducing binges. If you focus on listening to your body signals and reducing binges, then weight loss is likely. This is an important, though subtle, shift in thinking.
2. Write down your emotions prior to eating. Track your food intake. This can help you identify what feelings you tend to eat over and what meals place you at greatest risk.
3. Be compassionate with yourself. Rather than getting angry, cultivate an inner voice that might say, “I overate. There must have been something going on. I will explore it and learn from it.”
4. Try eating according to a hunger scale. Zero would be ravenous, and 10 is stuffed. Eat when you are about a 3 and stop when you are about a 7. Try not get to a zero, because this can be a set up for overeating. Typically eating when your hunger is a 3 or 4 results in eating about every 3 to 4 hours.
5. Remind yourself that you don’t have to eat anything you don’t want to eat, and that you don’t have to deprive yourself of something you want. Eat what you REALLY want. Geneen Roth, in her book “Why Weight? A Guide to Ending Compulsive Eating,” shares her own struggle and how, in the beginning of healing her diet mentality, she ate junk food for three weeks straight until she really understood that although she could have the junk food, it was not serving her. She then made the choice to avoid the foods as an expression of self-care, not out of deprivation.
6. Know that healing the deprivation or the diet mentality is a first step leading to eating according to your body’s signals and reducing your preoccupation with food. You can then fine-tune your eating habits and reduce or eliminate unhealthy choices.