The reasons why people overeat are varied and include lifestyle, physiological, social and psychological influences. What we think and the decisions we make about food have a major influence on our eating habits. Some of those thought patterns and decisions about food can assist us in maintaining our natural weight, others can be quite unhelpful and even destructive and can lead to overeating and unhealthy eating habits.
Personally, I have experienced many irrational and unhelpful thought patterns that have led to making decisions about food that were not supportive of healthful eating habits. I like to call it my ‘crazy diet thinking’.
An example of my crazy diet thinking is the thought that, ‘When I’m upset (sad, angry, worried etc), I must have food to cheer myself up’. The problem with crazy diet thinking is that the thought seems so believable at the time and is not questioned. However, the belief that I must go and eat some food because it will cheer me up when I’m upset is seriously flawed.
When I observe this thought in action more closely I can see that:
1. I only want to overeat due to feeling upset. I am usually not physically hungry when I have this thought. Food is just the tool I use to comfort me.
2. The food does not usually make me feel any better. In fact, I am usually too annoyed and too guilt ridden with myself to fully enjoy the food.
3. I stuff the food down without really being conscious of enjoying the sensual pleasure of the food.
So what can you do differently when you have the thought that food will cheer you up?
As a first step, whenever you are feeling some emotional distress it can be helpful to take some time out to relax. Focus on taking slow deep breaths as a starting point can really help.
Ask yourself, “What can I do now that can help to reduce my distress?”. You will probably find you have a whole set of useful tools that will help you to reduce distress. Just think of strategies that you have applied yourself in the past that have worked for you. Simple steps such as having a relaxing bath, listening to music, talking to others and going for a walk can all help to reduce distressing emotions. Building up your tool set of strategies to manage upsets can help to manage emotional eating.
Next time you decide to eat something you hadn’t planned on, due to some event or person that have affected your emotions, you could tell yourself with confidence and power that:
“I choose not to eat as a result of X making me feel Y”.
For example, you could say “I choose not to eat chips because my partner/boss/friend has upset me”. If you actively choose not to let events or people impact on your emotions to the degree that you engage in eating as a way of managing emotions, you will feel a lot more empowered and you will be able to enjoy the food you consume more! That sounds great to me!
Ask yourself, “Is the food really going to cheer me up?” It can be helpful to reflect on whether you actually enjoyed the food after you have engaged in emotional eating. When people eat for emotional reasons, they tend not to be really aware of the sensual pleasure of the food. Gulping food down quickly without really experiencing the taste of the food is common. After the food is consumed, there usually comes a period of frustration and anger and generally beating yourself over a ‘lack of willpower’. This sets up a vicious cycle of emotional eating. So when you have crazy diet thinking thoughts try and challenge them and nip them in the bud asap!
If you do choose to eat, make sure you eat slowly and mindfully and really taste what you are eating. Try and make small portions of your chosen food last as long as you can and ensure you are fully engaging in the sensual pleasure that food can bring.
Food, Mood and Attitude © 2011