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Back to Beck Day Thirty-Three: Eliminate Emotional Eating

Saturday, November 15, 2014


Of course emotional eating is a problem -- for me, and for about 99% of the people who inhabit my world. No way this is a topic (like drinking, like travelling) that isn't key. Caught myself last week after a stressful day walking in the door, pouring a handful of tropical trail mix into my palm, scarfing it back standing up -- and put a stop to it after about 1/2 ounce. Yay me. Tracked it. Kept within calorie range for the day. But still . . . surprised myself.

Now Beck says that people without a weight problem don't think about eating to feel better. But I don't think that's altogether so.

Because (as I pointed out in my 2011 blog on this topic) Beck addresses emotional eating only from the perspective of negative emotions such as I was experiencing when I sought the trail mix solace: eating to deal with anger, fear, depression or even boredom.

But eating is aggressively promoted in our society to deal with positive emotion too: celebration, joy, happiness of all kinds and descriptions. Overeating is even promoted with the promise that food can actually manufacture positive emotion: in the guise of self-indulgence, luxury, treating our kids . . .

What seemed to me to be important in 2011, missing from Beck's account, and still significant is the way food is used like a psychotropic drug, Like Prozac, to subdue depression. And like cocaine, to engender some sort of manic high.

Because authentic emotion, my own emotion arising from my own life as I'm living it, tells me something: whether good or bad. Emotion tells me I need to be paying attention.

Exploring distress if that's what I'm feeling: identifying its source, determining whether I can deal with it or whether it's an "oh well", to be accepted without necessarily liking it.

But equally, exploring joy when that happens without chocolate cake makes me feel joy more intensely. Helps me acknowledge its evanescence more consciously. Even store joy's power in my body. To increase my resilience and flexibility and gratitude when felicity is absent for awhile. As it can be. For quite awhile, actually . . . since that's life.

So I want to eliminate emotional eating as a response to negative emotion. Because it doesn't work. And equally, I want to eliminate emotional eating as a response to the good times, as well. Because eating too much dulls the experience of joy, reduces its power.

Better to store joy than fat? Yeah. Absolutely.
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  • NANCY-
    If it only was easy to retrain our brain. Perhaps eating with regard to emotion is something we observed and adopted. now to adopt beneficial behaviours.
    1966 days ago
    This is so powerfully true. Especially about the joy thing. I am aware of this at a not too deeply buried psychological level but perhaps I should pay more attention to it.

    Thanks for the very thought provoking words.

    1966 days ago
  • GABY1948
    This one is going to be a HARD one for me to accomplish. I have been so excited about Beck so far, but I keep waiting for something really emotional to happen and then my "true colors" will show. I will keep this one handy and any Response cards. The cards really do work. I was hungry and bored yesterday while out and found it stopped it by just repeating the FIRST card she had us make...WHY I want to lose weight and keep it off!

    It WORKS

    Thanks for another OUTSTANDING blog!

    1967 days ago
    Powerful reminder of the dangers of self-medicating our moods with food and the wonderful pay-offs when we are successfully detoxed!

    There are many, many changes which I want to make in my life and when I keenly feel the gap, the lack, the shortfall in "living the life I've imagined" as Henry James says...I can feel the "hunger" in all ways and have been aware at times my stomach rumbling not from any unmet nutritional needs, but from so many other needs clamoring for attention.

    1967 days ago
    I may have to look into this Beck book. I really appreciate this post. I've had to fight, sometimes I don't do so well, those binges. I agree with your take on it, too.

    I really like the quote. I'll have to remember that one!
    1967 days ago
    One of my co-workers, who is very slim, was having a rough day. I offered her a cookie or chips or something that was hanging around the break room. She simply said, "No. Eating when I'm upset doesn't help me." It may have been the first time could say I saw someone respond in a way that indicated the entire world is not filled 100% with emotional eaters. Rocked my world.
    1967 days ago
    Like others, I'm pondering this too.
    Emotional eating has so many meanings, triggers, compatriots and detractors. Depends on whose doing the eating and emoting.
    I'm not sure I will feel more joy when not eating in reaction to positive emotions.
    I could try and see if the reward of focus on the trigger instead of the reaction to it works or feels better.

    Thanksgiving is coming!
    1967 days ago
    Ooh! This one is serious "food for thought" about the positives. Going to have to ponder on it, tuck it away to remember when I get to this point in the Beck book... which is supposed to arrive on Monday! Yes! Looking forward to this read.

    1967 days ago
    We just got back from our anniversary dinner (11 years!) at a lovely Italian restaurant I spotted up the hill. And while neither DH nor I went overboard, and I "banked" calories today, I still ended up over my maximum range.

    So yes, this was the happy and celebratory eating. The special occasion dinner. The two course meal instead of one course. The lovely salad with arugula, pecorino, and walnuts, followed by a simple pasta with black truffle cheese (no olive oil, simple pasta with cheese, so wonderful). And yes, it was a financial splurge as well.

    But, well, we grew up in cultures where special occasions were celebrated with food. Hard habit to break, isn't it? Special foods for special holidays, food as a way of doing something with the entire family, or with a group of friends. Or more fancy food for a celebration of a life event.

    I like the celebration. I like the attention, the togetherness, the festivity. But recognizing that these are prime opportunities to overeat, I focus on keeping my consumption down. I skipped the bread and just had some mini breadsticks. I skipped the dessert page altogether. (The restaurant gave me a chocolate vodka drink they make, just a shot glass, and I will admit I drank that and that's what put me over my range.)

    So I think there's sort of a happy medium, somehow. Like the dinner party with the healthier, lighter menu. We can have it all - as long as we stay conscientious and conscious about our eating.

    But I HAVE learned to not use food as a comfort, at least most of the time.
    1967 days ago
    That's a good saying: Better to store joy than fat!

    Thanks for another great blog...you go girl!
    1967 days ago
    I think you are absolutely right, Ellen, that eating is purely an emotional thing. Even when we are preparing our regular meals it is based on emotion: What do I feel like eating today. The hardest part is to be alert and pay attention so you can nip it in the bud before it gets out of hand which is a very difficult thing to do. Sound like you got this one down pat !

    1967 days ago
  • no profile photo CD14895051
    Eating in response to emotions is taught to us from an early age in our families and our culture, turbo-charged by endless commercials of people having a really good time eating (which works whether you feel good or bad -- enhance your joy, soothe your bad). It's a shame, because the price we pay is inhabiting our authentic selves, a price way too steep for the fleeting pleasure eating brings.
    1967 days ago
    Simply put, for me, if the problem isn't hunger, food isn't going to fix it. It's a hard emotional response to learn! You're so right! There is so much socially revolving around food.

    Good for you for nipping the trail mix in the bud. Way to go.
    1967 days ago
    Better to store joy than fat. What a great quote. You are very right about eating as a celebration in our society. It can go overboard and cause weight gain. I think it is a real sign of strength and growth that you stopped eating the trail mix. I had to stop munching on smoked cheese the other day!

    Nice insightful blog!
    1967 days ago
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