Emotional Eating: The Toughest Part of Weight Loss
Diet and exercise — sure, they can help you lose weight. But most people need to consider a third component to keep unwanted pounds from coming back: emotional eating. While we’ve all reached for the carton of ice cream or box of chocolate cookies when we’re blue, we don’t always know what emotional undercurrents are driving the urge to stand in front of the fridge, make poor food choices, or eat when we’re not hungry.
“From the time we’re little, we’re placated with food. If we’re upset about something that happened at school, we get a treat. If we trip and fall, we get a treat. We get into the mode of eating more food than we need to placate ourselves emotionally,” says Tracy Olgeaty Gensler, MS, RD, a nutritionist for The Best Life Diet. “Many times, people will say, ‘I feel empty inside and can’t explain it.’”
What’s Eating You?
Overeating may be a sign that something is missing in your life. When you discover what that is, you can start to make the changes that will help you lose weight and make positive, long-lasting improvements in your life. Here are some ideas for getting to that place.
Spell out happiness. Write down everything you consider part of a fulfilled life, such as family, good health, spirituality, watching sports, a job you love and financial security. Think about your childhood, the early days of your marriage, and present day as you draw up your list of things that you consider important to happiness and fulfillment. In The Best Life Diet, author Bob Greene calls this exercise the Circle of Life. Don’t try to write down everything in one sitting. Take time to reflect and really give the list some thought, says Olgeaty Gensler.
Look at the equation. When you’re all done, place a plus or minus sign next to everything on your list. A plus sign means you’re generally satisfied with this item, while a minus sign means you’re dissatisfied or it’s missing from your life. For example, you may be satisfied with your marriage but unhappy with the amount of sleep you get or with how little time you have for friends.
Focus on the minuses. Pay close attention to these areas — they are places in your life where something important is missing, according to Olgeaty Gensler. “These are areas where you may be looking to fulfill yourself emotionally with food,” she says. Identifying the minuses helps you get to the bottom of your emotional eating and allows you to be freer to focus on finding nonfood solutions.
Reap the benefits. Writing this list also helps you get organized and gives you permission to put yourself first for a change. It’s easy to come up with excuses for why we don’t have time for ourselves, and it’s more difficult to confront the things that are missing from our busy lives. But the payoff is huge.
“When you put yourself first, you become a better person, a better spouse, a better parent. You feel more energy and less deprived. You can be so much more productive when you take care of your needs,” says Olgeaty Gensler.