Marriage and Family Therapist
April 13, 2019
Changing Our Lens About Emotional Overeating
Let’s Talk About it
April is Overeating Awareness Month and yet, emotional overeating is a topic many do not discuss or acknowledge with those they are most comfortable with. Emotional overeating is a symptom of an underlying issue that results in inaccurate thoughts and beliefs. These inaccurate thoughts and beliefs result in discomfort and unhealthy emotions that compel a person to decrease related distress with food. In these types of cases, it is very difficult to stick to diets that have lasting results without addressing the underlying thought patterns, behaviors and precipitating emotions. Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by persistent overeating episodes, feelings of guilt, eating when not hungry and large amounts of food. Emotional overeating can result in multiple health risks (Type II Diabetes, Obesity, Heart Attacks, etc.) and a cycle of guilt, shame, discomfort and anxiety related to this behavior.
It’s Not About Dieting Alone
As much as diets can be helpful and support a balanced life, emotional overeating is about more than education on portions and a balanced diet. A person can become addicted to food to decrease negative thoughts, emotions and distress which then fortifies the behavior of over eating. Let’s talk high fructose corn syrup. A study done on rats demonstrated behaviors similar to cocaine addiction were developed when rats were given high fructose corn syrup. While a person who overeats is not only needing to overcome their behaviors, negative thoughts, feelings of guilt, shame, etc., and educate themselves on health and balance, addiction to sugar and food is a large factor that contributes to the overeating. Imagine asking an individual addicted to cocaine or methamphetamine to learn appropriate behaviors and not address the cycle of addiction related to the drug. There are entire programs devoted to addiction recovery (Celebrate Recovery, 12 Step Program, Narcotics Anonymous, etc.) that are well known in the community. Just like with an addict, without engaging in these types of programs, dieting in itself is not a cure all, but just a temporary solution for the behavior, especially as long as the underlying causes are not addressed.
Resolving the Inner Conflict:
How is this resolved? Through hard work that changes thought patterns and behaviors. This is more than counting calories and weighing food. This is a commitment to long term change to promote emotional wellness in an individual’s life. This requires an acceptance and acknowledgement of the nature, severity and frequency of the behavior and underlying causes of the overeating cycle. This is what the work is.
There are a few resources that are helpful. One is The Beck Diet Solution. There is a workbook and a book that takes a participant through a six-week program. This program does not provide a diet program or exercise regimen, but supplies cognitive restructuring to support change and radical acceptance. It is difficult, hard work and honestly can be frustrating. This program should be coupled with a support system that a person feels comfortable opening up to and being honest about their emotions with. It will be important to be comfortable expressing frustration, successes and other thoughts and feelings openly with this support system. Radical acceptance of the reality of the behavior, the affect and emotional toll it takes on a person is the first step towards making strides towards goals.
The first two weeks of the program are centered on developing and changing habits to support when the diet is incorporated on Day 15. What is so wonderful about this program is it utilizes self-compassion and reality to support progress and lasting results.
A Few Tips:
- Plan ahead and identify situations that may be triggers to overeat.
- Replace snacks in the home with healthy alternatives.
- Take time to consciously eat slowly and mindfully.
- Give yourself some grace and self-compassion. It is harder than we want it to be.
- Remind yourself you are strong and can persevere and live through the discomfort.
- Accept it – No one is perfect. Speed bumps and hurdles are natural parts of the journey.
- These behaviors weren’t developed overnight; therefore, they will not go away overnight.
- You got this. Reach out to others and educate yourself.
- Also, find your WHY. This will fuel your motivation.
About the Author:
Stephanie Beermann is a Marriage and Family Therapist based in Natomas. She focuses on trauma, depression, anxiety and youth. Due to her experience working with youth, she is able to incorporate a multitude of interventions and theoretical approaches to support a client’s progress towards their goals and to develop healthy relationship boundaries and attachments.