Emotional Eating: A Different Perspective

His perspective on how to break habits of overeating is spot on. The more you cave-in to a habit the is destructive. One that keeps you in the cycle of deprivation and starving yourself of overeating and binge eating. The one that gives you reasons to stay off your diet like, “Well I just had a cookie you may as well eat six more, or I have blown it today I will restart my diet on Monday. Or I will never be thin so why not just eat what I want or I am on vacation I will just start again when I get back.” What if you could stop that cycle? How would that improve your waste line?

His way makes sense but it is the hard way. You break the cycle easier by downloading my Weight Loss: Overcome Overeating self-hypnosis recording. No cost. It is true!


Did you ever ask yourself whether "comfort food" might not be comforting at all?

Glenn Livingston Ph.D.

Never Binge Again

Most people think of emotional upset as the "cause" of food problems.  The thinking is that when our boss yells at us, we experience romantic rejection, or our children are too rambunctious, the anger, loneliness, sadness, or anxiety is too much for us to bear and we seek "comfort food" to escape. 

Sometimes early childhood memories are said to have set up the pattern, other times the finger is pointed at all the hyper-palatable concentrations of starch, sugar, fat, salt, and excitotoxins pumped out by the big food industry, or the power of the advertising industry to program us in this manner without our knowledge.  Either way, most people seem to believe emotional upset causes overeating. 

This understanding is oversimplified and self-perpetuating and here’s an alternative, powerful perspective to consider.

One of the primary principles of my work is the subjugation of emotion to intellect where difficult food decisions are concerned.  The idea is not to give up any particular food or restrict your calories and nutrition, but rather to make food choices using your best thinking rather than your emotions.  In this way, you gain more power to execute on whatever dietary philosophy you and your doctor and/or dietitian think is best and achieve your ideal weight, etc.

In my experience, the model isn't as simple as emotion --> overeating.

Uncomfortable emotions may trigger the desire to escape but there always seems to be an intervening thought that rationalizes the indulgence despite your previous commitment: The voice that says it's “OK” to eat four chocolate bars when you feel lonely, brokenhearted, or depressed.  "It'll be just as easy to start again tomorrow, so let's do that," the voice says.

This kind of justification is almost always necessary to allow the reversal of intent to get by the rational brain, even if you can't quite identify when or what it said in each instance.  (Hint: You can learn too!)

So, the model is more like emotion --> desire to escape with food --> justification --> overeating. 

This is a crucial distinction because it inserts an extra opportunity to break the chain before any damage is done.  Emotional patterns can be very deep-seated and take a long time to resolve, even with the best of therapists.  For example, heartbreak can last months or even years and a person can do a lot of damage to their body and their health by overeating during that time.

In my experience, it's a lot simpler, faster, and easier to disempower the voice of justification than to teach people alternative coping skills for emotion.  Focusing on what's wrong with the logic in the justification might not make you feel better, but it can stop the destructive behavior faster.

In the above example, I might help the client understand that it actually isn't just as easy to start again tomorrow, because the way the brain works when you have a craving and indulge the craving you've actually reinforced the habit and created an even stronger neurological link.  It's harder to start tomorrow, not the same.  "If you're in a hole, stop digging", as the saying goes.

So the first part of the alternative model to consider is that there's not really an automatic link between emotion and overeating, even though it really feels like there is. There's more going on behind the scenes than people realize.

But there's a crucial second part of the model that almost nobody realizes: It works in reverse too. The belief emotional upset must be dealt with before we can stop overeating can fuel the emotional upset itself.   

Think about it, if your brain knows you're going to eat yummy "comfort food" if you get upset enough, doesn’t it make sense it might do everything in its power to upset you more? If you believe you overeat for automatic emotional reasons, your brain may very well agitate and escalate your emotions to create the opportunity.

That's why it's so critical to let that inner destructive voice know you’re willing to deal with any level of emotional discomfort without breaking your healthy commitments.  When you sever the connection between emotional upset and overeating, you also cut a major fuel line that the emotional upset runs on in the first place. Then, a funny thing happens: You may find you weren’t quite as upset as you thought you were.  Yes, you may have real sadness, anger, stress, loneliness, sadness, anxiety, to deal with, but often not nearly as bad as you thought.

And isn't every emotion infinitely more manageable when you're in control of your eating vs. filled with junk food and having to recover from the unneeded bloat and calories?

I’m not arguing for less compassion towards ourselves or others—to the contrary. If you need a hug, I’ve got one for you. I like talking about feelings. I love when people reveal their souls to me. I think I'm more gentle with people's emotional revelations than most people.  I'm just saying it’s worth considering whether the "comfort food" we feed ourselves when we're upset isn't actually comforting at all, but may actually be reinforcing the upsetting feelings we are trying to escape.

Emotional upset --> "comfort food" --> even more emotional upset in an effort to get more "comfort food."

Sever the connection between emotional upset and overeating and your emotions may become easier to manage, not harder.   

In summary, emotional overeating is not as simple as an automated "comforting" escape reaction to upsetting feelings.  There are intervening thoughts that justify a reversal of previous dietary and health commitments, and these thoughts may be a lot easier and faster to disempower than learning alternative coping mechanisms, and/or solving the emotional problems themselves.  Moreover, overeating may actually agitate and reinforce difficult emotions in the near term, not "numb" them as so many people seem to believe.

Food for thought, no?

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