Emotional Eating: Getting the Support We Need

by Marsha Hudnall

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Stopping Emotional Eating: Getting the Support We Need

Managing emotional eating | Triggers that cause emotional eating in womenJulie thought she did most things ‘right’ when it came to eating and exercise. She chose healthy foods most of the time, thought she ate only when hungry most of the time, and got the recommended amount and kind of physical activity. So she was dumbfounded that her weight continued to fluctuate up and down the scale. After listening to some of the presentations during her first visit to Green Mountain, she realized that emotional eating is stopping her from maintaining weight loss and a healthy weight. Her greatest insight was that she really doesn’t get the emotional support she needs much of the time, from herself or others, and she turns to food without even realizing it. She ends up eating when she’s not physically hungry because her emotions almost feel like hunger to her. Instead of identifying what she is really feeling, she starts to think about food and eating, thereby distracting herself.

Emotional eating ranks as one of the top reasons women who come to Green Mountain struggle with weight loss and healthy weights. Repeatedly eating when we’re not hungry, or eating until we’re stuffed, often reflects difficulties with low self-esteem, feelings of emptiness, perfectionism, the desire to be special, respected and admired, a need for control or power, and/or trouble expressing feelings.

Rather than ‘fixing the food,’ which often leads to more struggles, ‘fixing’ our emotional states offers more chance for stopping emotional eating problems.

Emotional Eating Solutions

In her book The Solution, Laurel Mellin, MA, RD, describes a nurturing process that emphasizes the need for awareness of our emotions, our needs and whether we need support in helping us meet those needs. The process consists of three questions:

How do I feel? Do I feel lonely, bored, sad, angry, fearful or any of the many other feelings that can affect us? If we don’t recognize what we are feeling, we have a hard time identifying what we need.
What do I need? This is the question we need to answer to help us address our feeling. Do I need company, stimulation, grieving, respect, etc.?
Do I need support? Encourages us to identify what feels like support to us, and to recognize how we can better support ourselves. Support can be simple things like playing rousing music when we’re feeling bored, or signing up for that class we’ve been thinking about.

“Sometimes it’s just recognizing whether we’re supporting ourselves in our thinking, or whether we’re beating ourselves up,”

Often we may find that we need others to help meet our needs. Research shows social support to be one of the key predictors of success in making changes that are important for losing weight and achieving healthy weights. But the thought of asking others to help meet our needs can be a bit scary. Are we opening ourselves up to rejection? Mellin states that by asking those around us for support, we actually inspire others to love us more. “People love us not because we are good, but because of our vulnerability, our humanness,” she says.

For more insight on emotional eating and getting support from family and friends, read our FitBriefing Coping with People at Home. Our FitBriefing Stopping Emotional Eating gives more insight into emotional eating, specifically looking at how all-or-nothing thinking can create problems.

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