Are You Controlling Emotional Eating for Weight Loss?

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When it comes to emotional eating and weight gain, there are three key questions:

  • How OFTEN do you emotionally eat?
  • How MUCH are you eating?
  • How ELSE do you cope with your emotions?

The answers to these questions can determine whether and how emotional eating affects your weight. Let me explain.

Women's Center for Binge and Emotional Eating

The Green Mountain Way

For those who aren’t familiar with Green Mountain at Fox Run, we work to help women move away from a weight focus and towards a health focus. That’s because a focus on weight loss generally doesn’t take people where they want to go. Actually, it increases emotional eating and the potential for weight gain.

Instead, we are a non-diet, mindfulness-based health retreat for women who struggle with emotional eating, exercise resistance and weight worries. But we recognize that weight loss is on many of your minds. It’s what we’re told to focus on. “Control your eating and you’ll lose weight.”

We get it, and we want to work with you. Our aim is to help you move away from the diets and shame that you may feel when that formula doesn’t work.  

We have compassion and understanding for your struggle. We also know that the most sustainable way to find and stay at your healthy weight is through a balanced, non-diet, size-acceptance, mindfulness-based approach like ours, supported by a behavioral health staff that can help you understand why you emotionally eat and how you can move to a healthier way of coping.

Let me tell you a story about how our approach can impact the women who come to us.

“My name is Marie and I am a fifty-five year old school psychologist who has fought with binge eating for most of my life. I weighed 339 pounds and was diabetic, with out of control sugars, when I first entered Green Mountain. My only goal for the program was that they could keep me away from the refrigerator for four weeks, and maybe I could get some overdue rest.

Instead, Green Mountain taught me that food wasn’t love. It had been a poor substitute for the real love I found from the other participants.  These women understood what I had lived daily. We laughed during classes that explained the vicious cycle we had been caught in. We cried together when we explored the pain in our lives. We sweated together in movement classes, which taught us anything we could do was fantastic.

The Green Mountain philosophy may be different from the “diet world”, but it works! The staff care about each participant and know your name!  There were regular meals and snacks. Although I am still working on this skill, it is so freeing to be able to eat when I am hungry instead of the deprivation of diets!

My sugars are in the normal range with a third of the medication. I have lost enough weight to be able to walk my dogs and take care of my home. But most importantly, I have tools which allow me to live my life without being a slave to cravings.”

Can You Lose Weight By Stopping Emotional Eating?

Marie’s story is a powerful illustration of what a non-diet, mindfulness approach can offer. It’s important to understand at the outset, though, that this approach helps the body find balance, which supports its healthy weight.  What is that weight? I have no idea; that’s the body’s business. It decides whether or not weight loss happens as part of a person getting healthier. 

Our job is to focus on behaviors that support a balanced, healthful life through:

  • Balanced, pleasurable, mindful eating
  • Regular, pleasurable movement/exercise
  • Stress management/self-care

Living this whole, healthful life supports your body in finding its own balance with relative ease (as opposed to weight loss through punishing exercise or restrictive dieting). Your body finds a place that is unique to you. Your genetics play the biggest role in determining that place but it’s also affected by many other factors, including your health, weight stigma, socioeconomic status, and more.

Why We Emotionally Eat

The reality is that we don’t always eat just because we’re hungry.  One of the many reasons we eat is also in response to difficult emotions.  In other words, we turn to food as a coping tool. Think ice cream after a breakup.  

I'm and Emotional Eater, Now What?

Why do we use food to cope?  Well, simply speaking, it works…until it doesn’t. At first, it really does bring our stress levels down.  That’s because eating, from an evolutionary perspective, is part of our survival. When we eat and provide the body with the energy (aka calories) it needs to “fight the tiger,” a message is sent to the brain to calm the body down, because eating has given us the energy we need. Again…it works.  

But it stops working when we overdo it.  Because we might end up creating new stressors.  

Think about the last time you came home after a difficult day and finished an entire bag…box…quart/pint of (fill in the blank).

At that point, the women we work with sometimes feel shame, guilt, and perhaps also feel physically uncomfortable or sick.  So now there’s the stress of that long difficult day, and on top of it, the stress you may feel after overeating/binge eating.


 BUILD A ROAD FOR LONG-TERM SUCCESS

Our program provides more than a formula that continues to fail you. We can help you develop the attitudes and behaviors that can end emotional eating and weight struggles. You’ll learn why you eat when you aren’t hungry, why you lose motivation to exercise, and how to make changes that last…while enjoying the beauty of Vermont’s unparalleled fall and forging friendships with other Green Mountain women that will last for years to come.

Contact us to find peace with food, body, and self…starting now.


How Emotional Eating Affects Your Weight

Now let’s talk about how this might affect your weight.  I emphasize that it might because emotional eating, overeating, and binge eating doesn’t always affect weight.  

But if your life is in some way out of balance, and you find yourself dealing with physical/medical/psychological conditions, then there’s a possibility that you’re not engaging in behaviors that support your body’s healthy weight.  Marie told us how she was substituting food for love. That appeared to drive her to eat in a way that didn’t support her health.

What I’m emphasizing here, however, is if you’re worried about your weight, don’t turn to the charts at the doctor’s office, but rather consider how you’re living your life, and most importantly, how you feel physically and emotionally.  

That brings us back to the three questions:

  • How OFTEN do you emotionally eat?
  • How MUCH are you eating?
  • How ELSE do you cope with your emotions?

If emotional eating occurs regularly, and/or if how much you eat is more than you physically need (you would know this by regularly checking satiety levels), and/or you have few or no other coping tools to manage your emotions, then it’s likely your emotional eating has morphed into emotional overeating.

It’s important to distinguish emotional eating from emotional overeating. The first is part of normal eating. We all eat emotionally at times and that’s fine. But when it turns into emotional overeating, that’s when weight gain can happen.  

If you also feel physically and/or emotionally distressed and somewhat out of control, you may be dealing with binge eating disorder. For more on this, see this short questionnaire.

Controlling Emotional Eating

The fundamental point I am trying to make here is that trying to control emotional eating with a focus on losing weight just drives more emotional eating.

So what does work? In our experience, it’s mindfulness.

Remembering that emotional eating is part of normal eating — because it works — the key is to stop when you realize it has worked.  Mindfulness helps us realize that because it increases our awareness. We more easily notice when we aren’t getting the results we’re looking for when we use food to cope.

When we eat mindfully, we can know when we start to calm down.  We’re not talking about always taking an emotion away totally.  More likely the emotion is eased a bit.  

I know…a bit is often not enough. So this is where we need to consider adding other soothing strategies to your repertoire.  What other coping strategies work for you?  

What else soothes you? Are there things in your life and in your world that you enjoy?  Do they have a place in your life?  If not, how can you add them?  

Fall Hike at Green Mountain at Fox Run

Think about:

  • Calling a friend to vent
  • A long, hot bath
  • Dancing
  • Your favorite playlist
  • Meditation
  • Downtime on your own
  • Basking in the sun
  • A nature stroll
  • Yoga  
  • What else?

Each of these things really do provide stress relief. Lighting a candle or getting a pedi doesn’t necessarily take it all away, but then again, neither does overeating/binge eating. And getting a pedi or lighting a candle doesn’t have the distressing emotional and physical impact like overeating/binge eating might.

The point is to have these things “sprinkled” into your life, with the ultimate hope that eating doesn’t have as much of a pull on you to relieve your stress.

We’ve been helping women explore the roots of their eating struggles for over 40 years. We can help you discover, effective strategies that can make eating struggles a thing of the past.

Join us at Green Mountain for an experience that can change your life. Call us at (802) 228-8885 for more information.  


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About the Author

Shiri Macri, MA, LCMHC

Since 2004, Shiri’s approach as a therapist for treating binge and emotional eating is holistic, focusing not only on the presented issue at hand but also considering overall health. Working in this way often includes mindfulness-based approaches. Now as a trained MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) teacher, Shiri’s love of mindfulness and meditation practices are at the forefront of her blog writings and recordings. Shiri is the Clinical Director at the Women's Center for Binge & Emotional Eating, affiliated with Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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