With the winter holidays just a few weeks behind us, one of the things I’ve been thinking about is how long it will take to burn off the calories from all the chocolates and other sweets I ate. Now, thinking about what I ate may not sound like a profound or meaningful activity. But, an upcoming report by the American Psychological Association on the topic of “emotional eating” is making me wonder how Christmas and New Year’s (two emotionally filled holidays) affected my eating habits.
This past September, the American Psychological Association (APA) collaborated with Consumer Reports National Research Centre and polled over 1,300 psychologists on the topic of weight loss. They wanted to know how psychologists dealt with their clients’ weight loss challenges and concerns. Almost half of psychologists (44%) said that if people understand the emotions and behaviours attached to eating, they would have more success in managing their weight. They also said that emotional eating was a major barrier to weight loss. I have found this to be the case in my own private practice, and even in my own life. Many times, when we feel certain emotions (e.g., stress, sadness, disappointment) we may turn to food as a way of lessening (or heightening) the intensity of these emotions. When we’re trying to problem-solve our way around these emotions, we may do so while eating unhealthy foods. Instead of working through them, we look towards food to help us cope with them.
A good friend of mine, Derrick Shirley, a psychotherapist specializing in weight management, has personal experience in dealing with the issue of emotions and weight loss. In his book, “The 400-pound Male Stripper,” he talks about his personal struggle of overcoming racial discrimination, and how eating became the way he dealt with these struggles. He credits two interventions as the primary reason for why he was successful at losing – and keeping off – over 200-pounds.
1) Keep a journal of your feelings and thoughts. Whenever you feel like binge-eating, take a few seconds to first write down what you are thinking and feeling. Through this process, we begin to identify the emotions that lead us to eat. Eventually, we gain more control over our eating habits.
2) Have a meal plan. A meal plan provides you with a structure and routine for what to eat and when. Essentially, having a meal plan eliminates the guesswork from having to decide what to eat. This also gives us more control over food choices.
These two strategies – recognizing the emotions behind eating, and having a set time and structure for what and when to eat – are typical of strategies used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). CBT also represents one of the approaches recommended by psychologists in the APA study. Learning to recognize the thoughts and emotions behind our eating, and then coming up with a set of behaviours to address these thoughts and emotions, helps people to achieve, and maintain, healthy eating choices.
What are some of the emotions that lead you to eat and what has worked for you? I’d love to hear from you on this topic.
Links in this post:
APA summary article on Emotional Eating Survey***Click here to read the full article by the APA***
DerrickShirley.com – psychotherapist and author who has worked with clients on weight management issues.
http://emotionaleatingreport.com. for a free e-book on the topic of emotional eating