Emotional Eating Survival Strategies

Emotional eating isn’t something that only overweight people do. People of all shapes and sizes use food to comfort themselves, because they’re bored, sad, lonely, or angry. At first you think that you’re hungry, so you go for a pint of ice cream in the freezer, but then before you know it, you’ve eaten almost the entire pint and you’ve gone from hungry to disgusted in a matter of minutes. Where those minutes have gone you have no idea, because it seems like you were almost in a trance through the whole thing. Even if you did notice what you were doing you probably rationalized all the thoughts that were telling you to stop, because “you deserve it”, or “you’ve been really good lately”, or “it’s only today, I won’t do it tomorrow, so let me just enjoy it.” But, what ends up happening is that today becomes tomorrow and then tomorrow becomes the next day and the next, and before long you’ve created a habit of comforting your anxiety with food, thinking that it’s going to help. All it does though is make your problems worse, because now on top of your boredom, loneliness, sadness, or anger is guilt. And what you’re left with is a vicious cycle that won’t end unless you make a conscious decision and effort to end it yourself.

Here are a 10 tips to use the next time you feel like masking your feelings with food:

1. Dig deep – The first thing you absolutely must do is figure out why and when you eat. What feelings are you trying to avoid dealing with? Did something happen at work, do you feel sad or angry? Figure out your patterns, so you can watch out for them next time.

2. Make a List - Make a list of things you can do instead of eating the next time you feel the urge to raid your refrigerator. You can include all the tips listed here plus some others that you think might help you specifically, such as calling a friend for help or occupying yourself with something else.

3. Wait 10 Minutes – If you feel the need to eat make sure to wait 10 minutes before indulging. Most of the time you’ll be able to talk yourself out of it and see that you don’t really want to eat.

4. Ask Yourself This Question – “What purpose is this serving me?” If the purpose of eating is to console yourself maybe you need to find another strategy. Think back to all the other times you ate out of discomfort and think about how you felt. Probably the only purpose it served was to make you feel good in the moment, but pretty badly for hours after and maybe even into the next day. You don’t need to feel that way. You’ll feel much better if you fight the urge.

5. Brush Your Teeth – – Ever have orange juice after brushing your teeth? Not so good, huh! Walk away from the temptations and instead go for your toothbrush. You’ll be less likely to eat after you brushed your teeth.

6. Use a Reminder Designate an object as your reminder and put it in a place where you can see it, such as the kitchen, so that the next time you go towards food for comfort you’ll see it and be reminded that you don’t really want to eat right now.

7. Repeat – Tell yourself, “this is my pattern, this is what I do.” When you understand what’s really going on with yourself and you recognize it as a series of habits and behaviors it’s easier to get a handle on things and steer it in a different direction. Keep telling yourself this mantra when you feel like eating, so that you drive home the point that this is just your pattern. You can change that pattern!

8. Journal – Writing down what you’re thinking and feeling can really help you work things out. The process of writing can help you get to the bottom of your thoughts and can help make sense of things. Remember that no one is reading it, so let it all out there and don’t worry about judgements.

9. Have a Support System – Choose someone you trust who you know will support you in your fight against this. Call them when you need to (kind of like a sponsor at an AA meeting).

10. Don’t Beat Yourself Up - If you do have an emotional eating episode do not be mad at yourself. What’s done is done, so feeling guilty is pointless. It will only feed into the cycle and force you to continue this pattern. All you can do is learn from the experience and strategize on how you’re going to deal with it next time. Instead, give yourself some major praise for actually thinking about these things and trying to do something about it. You can’t be perfect, you can only try your best.

Ask Dani – Diet Dilemma (South Beach Diet)

This is an old-time diet. They thought that would work too.

Dear Dani,

I’ve been thinking about doing the South Beach Diet, but I’m not sure. There’s so much information on diets and I don’t know how to figure out what would be the best one for me. What diet do you recommend and how would you choose which one to go on?

Thanks, Dieting Dilemma

Dear Dieting Dilemma,

Dieting is such a dirty word. When I think of a diet I think of agonizing weeks of being hungry and wishing I could eat everything else, but what I’m allowed to eat. I can’t stop thinking about food and my whole day revolves around thinking about what I’m going to eat at the next meal. Most of the time I’m also counting how many days until it’s over, which means that all the hard work I’ve done over the past few weeks will be completely undone by a mega binge on some Coldstone Creamery, as soon as I can get my hungry little paws on it. So, as you can see I don’t like diets. They are only short-term solutions to long-term issues. It’s like putting a band-aid over a gun shot wound.

What you need is to learn how to maintain healthy eating for a lifetime, which doesn’t include cutting out whole food groups or restricting your calories so much that you’re constantly hungry. You can’t keep up that kind of thing for long and it will only backfire and make your problem worse. All of that being said, I don’t condemn the South Beach Diet. I think that it does a good job at teaching you balance, but that’s only true if you really follow their guidelines and treat it as a learning process and not a quick fix. The fact that they focus on whole-grains and fiber is a good sign, because so many bad diets will cut carbs out completely or tell you to restrict way more than you need to. Normally I would say that the fact that they cut out fruit for the first 2 weeks is bad, but I can understand them doing it in order to regulate your blood sugar levels and to kind give you a reset button. My advice though is that if you want some fruit in those first 2 weeks then have the fruit. But, if you want to really maintain your weight loss you need to do some homework, which may include keeping a food diary to track your patterns, keeping a journal to track your emotions, relearning your hunger cues and patterns, and trying to get past emotional triggers. A good diet will never dip below 1200 calories per day and will have a balanced mix of all the major food groups. Every meal should consist of a carb and a protein (so that means grapefruit diets and cabbage soup diets are a major no-no), and will never cut out fats entirely (you actually need good fats in order to lose weight, as well as for healthy akin and hair). You should never feel deprived and the emphasis should be on teaching you how to make better food choices and portion control.

If you have any questions on some of the things I mentioned, such as relearning your hunger cues or getting past emotional triggers, please don’t hesitate to ask me for help!

**Have a question that needs answering? Send em in! Every Thursday I ll be answering a new question, and it might just be yours!

Face Your Biggest Fear

I’m hooked on this new VH1 show called “The OCD Project”. It’s about 6 patients who suffer from debilitating obsessions and compulsions, ranging from terrifying thoughts they can’t get out of their heads to rubbing their faces, tapping surfaces, counting light switch flicks, and washing and rewashing their hands over 20 times a day. Last night’s episode was really crazy for me, because while I was watching it I realized that although I may not suffer from OCD my eating patterns and behaviors in the past seem very much along the line of obsessive or compulsive. And even now, after having gotten over so many of my issues there are little things that linger that I wish weren’t there. For instance, I have a habit of eating at night. If I’m away somewhere I don’t really feel the need to eat, but when I’m at home it’s like something comes over me and I’m pretty much compulsively eating even though I’m not all that hungry. I’ll go from one snack to another to another even though I’m fully aware that I’m going to feel horrible and guilty about it soon after, and that it’s going to be my first thought when I wake up and it will spill over into the next day. I’ve been aware of this problem for quite some time now and I’ve tried various things to stop, but I realized the other day that I need to treat this exactly as I have treated all my other eating issues. And that means I have to get so utterly frustrated and sick and tired of living this way that nothing will come in the way of getting rid of it. No matter how uncomfortable it makes me.

It’s hard to describe in words what that frustration is like, but if you can catch the clip of last night’s episode and watch Jerry (he’s scared that he’s going to harm someone, even though he’s the nicest guy and has never even killed an ant) you’ll see what I mean. He has to face an uncomfortable exposure, something that makes him face his fear, in order for him to see that his anxiety and fear is only in his head. Watch the 9:30 mark and hear what he has to say about his OCD and how he describes being so angry, frustrated, and upset at it. He is so angry that he’s willing to do anything to get over it, because he just doesn’t want to live like that anymore. And you’ll see later at the 35:50 mark how he’s willing to do something so drastic to finally get rid of this problem that he’s had for most of his adult life. Listen to how he describes it – “his absolute biggest fear in life” – and then after the exposure he says “it was no big deal”.

See, we build things up in our head irrationally, because we feel like we can’t control it. But we can! You just have to get frustrated enough and be willing to struggle through it for a bit. It’s only temporary. So, how does this tie in to you and me? If you have a weight problem, you’ve probably been engaging in so many destructive behaviors and either don’t realize it yet or you do, but don’t know what to do about it. Yo-yo dieting, restricting, bingeing, compulsively eating, emotional eating, etc. are just manifestations of stress and/or anxiety. We do it because it soothes us, but the crazy thing is that every time you give into one of those behaviors it only sets up a pattern in your brain for the next time and the next and the next. Each time you do it that connection doesn’t just linger, it gets stronger, making it harder to break. So, the next time you see yourself falling back into an unhealthy pattern, sit with the discomfort and wait it out. Using me for example, when I felt like eating last night I said to myself, “you’ve proven to yourself before that you can get over anything, this night-time eating isn’t serving you any purpose except to make you upset and regretful. It doesn’t have to be this way. Have your snack, but that’s it! If you can do this for a few days those few days will turn into weeks and then months, and you will feel so much better.” I have a few ideas about why I eat this way at night when I’m home, but those reasons are arbitrary. All I need to know is that when I don’t do it I’m uncomfortable and it’s hard to fight it, and that shows me that I MUST fight it. So I did, and I feel fantastic today! And it’s only fueling my fire to try even harder tonight and tomorrow and every night from now on.

Think about what you need to work on and choose just one of them. Sit with your anxiety or discomfort and ride it out. Talk to yourself if you have to. Write it down. But whatever you do, don’t give into it! The more you give into it the longer it will stay. Get mad at it and get rid of it once and for all!

I’m here for you!


False Evidence Appearing Real

There’s never been a better time to do something about your weight.

Actually, what you tell yourself most likely is that “I’ll begin eating better on Monday” or “I’ll start working out on the 10th, because blah blah blah blah”. Those are empty promises you’re making to yourself, because really, there’s never a good time. It’s not your love for chocolate and mac and cheese that’s been holding you back, although that’s been your mantra for quite some time. You’ve been avoiding this as if somebody told you that going naked to work is the new dress code. And why? Because of FEAR. Did you know that fear is the strongest motivator? People will do anything to avoid something that frightens them. Even if the thing that they’re doing is destructive.

Now, I’m not talking about bone chilling fear, the kind that you would get if you heard a serial killer was living next door. I’m talking about another kind of fear that everyone has. For instance, I have a fear of public speaking. I start shaking, my stomach gets butterflies, I feel hot, the whole thing feels surreal, and my voice starts to warble. I definitely would try to avoid this at all costs. Many of you who keep putting off changing your lifestyle to take off the weight that’s been bothering you for years have fear. Even if you’ve tried numerous times to shed the pounds, but can’t seem to do it, something is holding you back. There are many ways that fear manifests itself, let’s look at 4 of them.

Fear Of Failure:
It’s a bold move to admit that you’re overweight and need to do something to finally commit to breaking up with Ben & Jerry once and for all. “What if I don’t succeed? What if I fail and give up and never lose the weight? What will people think?”, you say to yourself. These are totally understandable thoughts when facing something that seems bigger than you, but if you never do anything to change it then nothing will ever change.

Fear of Losing Your Identity:
Many people who have been “big-boned” their whole lives hold this as their identity and forming a new image could be a very scary thing to face . This is what you’re known for and this is what people notice about you. You’ve gotten used to it and there’s a possibility that people will form new judgments of you and treat you differently.

Fear of Obligation:
Deciding to live a healthier and fitter lifestyle is a big undertaking and can seem very daunting. With work, relationships, kids, and finances, we’re faced with so many commitments as it is and adding another can seem too hard. It’s easier to just give up then truly invest the time, money, and mental focus.

Fear of Facing Reality:
For so many people emotional eating is a way to cope with hidden insecurities and anxieties. It acts as a protective shield that masks underlying feelings that are easier to literally stuff away with food than deal with. Food is comforting, consistent, and will never judge you. This one takes massive courage and is probably the hardest one of all to conquer, but I promise that it is doable with a little hope and support.

For this week’s challenge, conquer your fear. As I mentioned above, fear is just False Evidence Appearing Real. Whenever we think about possible outcomes to a situation our mind will always take us to the worse-case scenario, and that worst case is what keeps holding us back. But, what if you challenged your thoughts and feelings and took a chance on seeing for yourself if that worse-case is reality or if you’re just avoiding change? Is it really worth avoiding if you’re unhappy and struggling anyway? Imagine what your life could be like if you just took a chance and uncovered what the future holds. What if the new you is even better? You might finally rid yourself of that ball and chain that’s been holding you prisoner for so long. Unleash the new you and finally discover true happiness and freedom.

I want you to make a list of the things that are really holding you back from losing weight. It’s not your love for food or your busy schedule. You can love food, but still be a healthy weight. Find out what it is that’s keeping you from fully living life to its fullest and being the happiest that you can be. Once you have your list, find the thing that is the easiest to work on and DO IT! I am always here if you need some support and encouragement, so all you have to do is ask. It might be difficult and it might be scary, but I promise you that you can do this.

Time and time again I’ve empowered myself by the struggles and fears that I’ve faced and have been able to overcome, and I’ve proven to myself that the things that I’ve been afraid of all along weren’t even worth it. Now I look at fear as a challenge that I know I can conquer and will never hold me back. When I have a list of things to do the first thing I check off is the easiest thing on there, but right after that I do the hardest. Once I put that out of the way I know that everything else is a cinch compared to it. Love yourself and stop letting your weight hold power over you. Don’t you want to just get off this roller coaster once and for all and feel free?

Reroute Your Life

Recently I went to Miami for 3 days and found that I didn’t eat as much as I do at home. I didn’t feel the urge to eat at night after dinner like I usually do. I’ve had this happen to me before and I think I’m the only person in the world who loses weight on vacation. I used to think that it was simply because I was more relaxed, so I didn’t fall into the negative behaviors that often show up when I’m stressed, but since Miami I realize that it’s more than that and I can recreate this at home. So can you.

So here’s my secret: Change up your patterns. We often eat at a certain time, because it’s ritual. I like to eat at night, not because I’m physically hungry, but because it signals that I can finally relax for the day. After dinner, I settle into the couch, in front of the TV, and not before long I want something. For some people this happens when they’re bored, but for me it happens because it’s a nesting ritual. I feel calm and cozy and relaxed and it’s just what I do at night. It has nothing to do with actual physical hunger, but more of an emotional hunger, because for some reason this is the pattern I’ve established. It probably felt good the first few times, but now I’m not in control of it. It’s almost like a Pavlovian response.

I’ve learned to gain control of this over the years, but every now and again it sneaks up on me. Especially when I’ve had a long day and I “need to reward myself” (many of you I’m sure have thought that one).

I’ve realized that it’s not just that I’m relaxed on vacation, but that everything is different. My entire day is different, from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. And because my entire day is different, my thought patterns and behaviors are different. I set up new routines. Beginning today I’m going to move things around in the kitchen. I’m going to move all the snacks to a different cabinet and rearrange all the plates, bowls, and glasses, so that the next time I’m acting like a lab rat pushing a button I’ll have to pause and think twice.

You with me?

P.S. I’d like to wish a very Happy Birthday to my amazing client and friend Shilpa. She has come a long way and deserves every bit of happiness and success headed her way. It’s going to be a fabulous year!