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How to Overcome Overeating — What If It’s not about the Food?

lonely woman looking into the sunset

How to Overcome Overeating — What If It’s not about the Food?

Emotional eating refers to eating food when not hungry, often in response to or to cope with feelings such as boredom, stress, shame, anger, sadness, and anxiety. Emotion-driven eating also occurs when sleep deprived, fatigued or burned out, or emotionally and physically depleted. Emotional eating is not only about eating when experiencing negative emotions – exciting, joyful or positive emotions can also trigger emotional eating. With overeating, often people aren’t aware of any particular emotion being present at all. Emotions may be very subtle or overeating may have become habitual over time.

Overeating is not an issue when it occurs in moderation. However, when overeating becomes a regular pattern of coping, it can lead to additional issues such as depression, shame, and negative thinking, creating a vicious cycle that’s hard to escape from.

What to Do When the Urge Strikes

If you struggle with emotional eating, the best thing you can do is break away from the cycle. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, but there are things you can do to make it easier.

The first thing you can do to help break the cycle is make healthier choices when you do get the urge to overeat. “Comfort food” like ice cream, fried food, or cake are what most people would reach for first. However, try eating a piece fruit or some vegetable instead. Keep them in a place that is easy to find and access so that you don’t have to go looking for them when the urge to eat strikes. Maybe you can keep them in a bowl on the kitchen counter so that they are the first things you see when you go to the kitchen for food.

To help yourself in the future, try keeping a Food Journal. List what mood you were in when you suddenly got the urge. Also make sure to write down the time of the day and what day of the week it happened. Notice how long it had been since your last meal and how much you had eaten. After a couple of weeks, read your Food Journal and see if there is a pattern to your emotional eating. Once you figure out the pattern for your eating you can then take steps to try and deal with the root of the problem. Common patterns are: eating too little earlier in the day, stress and overwhelm, soothing and comfort, threat of deprivation.

Take this Binge Eating quiz to help you identify whether compulsive eating or binge eating is a concern for you.

Recognize Emotional Eating

Some people have a hard time realizing that they are suffering from emotional eating. They may be doing something else, such as talking on the phone, and not realize that they are picking at the cookies. When they finish what they are doing, they find an empty plate and have almost no recollection of eating that much!

Focus on the food when you eat. Don’t watch TV or talk on the phone so that the food becomes an afterthought, just eat. Letting yourself get distracted can lead to you eating a lot more than you should just because you didn’t realize that you were eating that much.

Also, stop and ask yourself if you’re really hungry or not. Emotional hunger comes on quickly, while physical hunger is much more gradual. Physical hunger also tends to be felt in the stomach, like when it starts growling, while emotional hunger is in the head and seems to demand specific food. Additionally, emotional hunger isn’t satisfied when you are full. Do you eat until you are so stuffed that you can’t imagine taking another bite but then suddenly have room for dessert? That is one form of emotional eating. Another sign is how you feel after you eat. Physical eating leads to satisfaction while emotional eating leads to feelings of guilt, regret, and shame.

Get Help For Emotional Eating

If you realize that you’re engaging in emotional eating but can’t seem to stop, reach out to a qualified counselor in Houston. Together you can discover what’s at the root of your eating problem and explore ways to solve the problem.

Want a guided, supportive approach? Try our Beyond Emotional Eating Virtual program. Or, if you prefer in person, our Make Peace with Food Group Program or call us at 832-559-2622.

Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP on Twitter
Rachel Eddins, M.Ed., LPC-S, CGP
Rachel’s passion is to help people discover their personal gifts and strengths to achieve self-acceptance, create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body, and find meaning and fulfillment in work and life roles. She helps people create nurturance and healing from within to restore balance and enoughness and overcome binge eating, emotional eating, anxiety, depression and lack of career fulfillment.

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