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Steps to stop emotional eating

Tuesday, 10 November 2009


Are you eating your feelings?

If you crave junk food when life gets you down, stressed, frustrated or even just bored, then you are turning to food to distract you from dealing with your feelings. We all know the damage that eating crisps, chocolate, cakes and carbs can do to all your hard work eating healthy, but all resolve disappears with one bump in the road.

If this seems familiar to you, then you are an emotional eater. What you need to ask yourself is 'what is this about?'

Julia Buckroyd, Emeritus Professor of Counseling of the University of Hertfordshire and Director, Obesity and Eating disorders Research Unit.

"Julia has been interested in why we eat what we eat for a long time now. Twenty-five years ago she was a newly trained counselor working in a dance school with students. So many of them had problems with food and everything that goes with it - weight, shape and size - that she felt really motivated to understand why many of us seem unable to eat the way we know we should. She has been working in this same area ever since and have spent the last decade writing and researching.
She has come to the conclusion that very many of us are soothing ourselves with food on a daily basis. Our culture provides us with more food than we know what to do with and we have found out how to use it to comfort ourselves. Unfortunately that 'comfort' turns out not to be so comforting after all, if we use it too much. We can put on too much weight, with all the problems that creates, both physical and in terms of self-esteem." Ref-www.understandingyoureating.co.uk
What is emotional eating?
It is when eating is driven by emotion, rather than hunger. We all know what the danger is of eating junk foods. We are educated in what is healthy and what is not, but we can't stop ourselves. Emotional eaters have an attachment to food and are not good at using other methods of self soothing.

Why do we do it?
We are looking to distract ourselves from the emotions that we are feeling. Even boredom.
Emotional Eating is a vicious circle.

1. When our self esteem has taken a blow due to life's ups and downs, we tend to eat to save our emotions rather than being aware of what we are feeling. However overeating makes us feel bad about ourselves, which leads to more emotions, leading to more eating. This pattern is repeating over and over, leading to health and weight problems down the line.


2. We discover that it gives us a hit is likely to make us do it again. This is what we call Cognitive Behavourial Therapy.

What is CBT?
"The premise of CBT is that what people think affects how they feel emotionally and how they behave. During times of emotional distress the way a person sees and judges themselves may become more negative. CBT therapists aim to work jointly with the person to help them begin see the link between unhelpful thinking styles and mood. This may empower a person to have more control over negative emotion and to bring about changes in unhelpful behaviour. It can be particularly effective for stress related conditions, anxiety, phobias, obsessions, eating disorders and depression." www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/tutors/counselling/informationpages/defintionsofmhprofessions/

3. Self Esteem - Think about a specific situation where something has gone wrong - We put ourselves down, blame ourselves and speak to ourselves inwardly that will undoubtedly make you feel worse. When we turn to food, there bio chemically there is a level of comfort that makes you feel better temporarily, but in the long run makes us feel worse, which again leads to overeating.


In fact the vast majority of us do some emotional eating - the issue is, how much, and whether it bothers us or interferes with our functioning.

Do people turn to food like they would turn to alcohol, drugs - is it a similar emotional crutch?
It's exactly like drugs, alcohol etc but it is more of a strategy, rather than a crutch. We all need our strategies to cope with life, but some are more destructive than others.

Why is it destructive for us emotionally?
The other main problem which is important to understand is that if you are comforting a particular feeling using food, then the actual problem is not taken care of. So not only are you adding to your problems with food, you are ignoring the emotions that you are feeling for a reason.


And ultimately it isn't very satisfying as well as being bad for health
Is there a quick emergency fix - i.e. something to say to yourself when you find yourself emotionally eating?


Your emergency fix should a mantra, the name of the person you love best, something to interrupt the impulse.

Self Esteem
What has self esteem got to do with emotional eating?
Think about a specific situation where something has gone wrong - We put ourselves down, blame ourselves and speak to ourselves inwardly that will undoubtedly make you feel worse. When we turn to food, there bio chemically there is a level of comfort that makes you feel better temporarily, but in the long run makes us feel worse, which again leads to overeating.

How can we begin to stop it?
1. Be aware that you are doing it.
2. We need to find another voice, a voice that chooses to identify the feelings that you are trying to distract yourself from when you reach for food for comfort.
3. Use people rather than food - Find someone you can trust to be your comfort if life gets you down.

Rethink your values
If you feel bad about yourself the best thing to do is take a look at how you see other people. Think of people in your life and write a list about how you would describe them. You may describe people as funny, friendly, outgoing, shy, good listener etc. When you look at the list you'll find that very little of how you judge other has anything to do with what they look like, and therefore that is how people see you.

Julia runs and created an Understanding your Eating Programme in the UK- see below for details or visit www.understandingyoureating.co.uk or email j.buckroyd@herts.ac.uk

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