Joanne looked at the chocolate-covered donut in her hand. As she took her first bite, she wondered, “Why am I eating this? I”m not really hungry, but the plate of goodies sitting by the office coffee pot just looks good. Besides, my boss is making me crazy!
But is there more to the story?
For most of us, YES. We eat out of emotions. When something is eating us, we eat!
All too often overeating is triggered by stress, boredom, loneliness, anger, depression and other emotions. During the holidays, these emotions can ramp up for all kinds of reasons–stress, family, finances, etc.
So the importance of learning to deal with emotions without food is a significant skill that will greatly serve long term weight control. The key is to identify our eating triggers and respond to them without food.
An exercise that often helps is to take a sheet of paper and write headings of SITUATION, THOUGHT, EMOTION and BEHAVIOR. Then every time you eat something when you are not hungry, fill out this sheet.
What was the situation (e.g., with a friend, sitting alone in front of the TV, arguing with my boss, family conflict, etc.)?
What was the thought that ran through your mind (e.g., This is never going to be better, I can’t believe what a jerk he is right now, I hate myself, etc.)?
What was the emotion (e.g., anxious, upset, anger, frustration, etc.)?
What was the behavior (e.g., ate the donut, binged on candy, second helping, etc.)?
Once you track your eating like this for a week or so, you will probably see a pattern. For example, I eat when I am bored or I overeat every time I am with Sue. Then you can make some changes by being more intentional when those cues or triggers present.
Research shows that people who can track their eating like this, demonstrated a better rate of long-term weight loss maintenance than those who simply diet and/or exercise and don’t address behavioral and emotional issues. Chronic overeaters and “emotional eaters” can be significantly helped by learning new behavioral skills like this one.
If you really feel stuck in this area of overeating, seek help from a licensed counselor or psychologist in your area. Also, take a look at my book, Press Pause Before You Eat. This holiday season, don’t let what’s eating you, lead you to overeat!