Emotional Eating

Emotional Eating

Julia Madden Bozarth, M.A., M.S., L.C.P.C.

Are you really hungry? What do you really need? I have a theory. If we only eat when we are physically hungry – we wouldn’t have a weight problem. Of course, there are a few rare exceptions. Some people really do have glandular problems. But, they are extremely unusual. The second part of my theory is that we must stop eating when we are no longer hungry. Too many of us eat until we are uncomfortably full. The “clean your plate” mentality can lead to excess body fat over time.

The problem is, we sometimes eat for emotional reasons. Food can be a comfort. Food can be a numbing agent. Food can fill time. Some common triggers for snacking/grazing and overeating are boredom, frustration, loneliness, anxiety, depression, or habit. Some victims of trauma can become obsessed with food. This obsession can lead to eating disorders and morbid obesity. But, most emotional eaters are relatively healthy.

Most emotional eaters tend to put other people ahead of themselves. But, they can always count on food to be there for them. How do we look at emotional eating? It is different for everyone. Some cases need a minor adjustment. Others need to address eating habits and emotional awareness for quite a while. The majority of our emotional eating clientele is female. But, it only takes a moment to look around and see all the overweight men around you.

All of us know that if we eat more calories than we burn, we gain weight. I am suggesting that if you didn’t eat for emotional reasons, you would – over time – lose weight with very little effort. I am not suggesting a diet. As a matter of fact, I am discouraging it. I like to recommend the book Diets Don’t Work, by Bob Schwartz, PhD. The original edition was written in the 1980’s. I haven’t found better.

In our sessions, I work with clients to identify emotions and design emotional safety plans specific to each need. Habits are dissected. Relationships and boundaries are examined. Living life to the fullest is encouraged. Many people put off living their lives until they resolve issues (including weight). I ask them to live today accepting where they are – at this moment. Once acceptance is understood, changes can be made.

Working with emotional eaters is fascinating. It is so rewarding to assist clients in understanding that food is for nourishment. It is more rewarding to watch clients realize that they can really eat what they want – if they are physically hungry. Once the client accepts these premises and works toward emotional and physical nourishment, gradual weight loss is almost inevitable. I have seen emotional eaters lose over 50 pounds in a year. The wonderful thing is that they are not on a diet. Changes are flexible and permanent.