Everyone overeats at one time or another: at Thanksgiving and Christmas, at a friend’s birthday party, or even while eating an especially good meal at a restaurant. Emotional eating, or compulsive overeating, is different, however, as a person will eat in response to their emotions, often in an uncontrollable manner. This could lead to frequent bingeing episodes as the person struggles to deal with daily stressors.
Negative emotions like depression, anxiety, embarrassment and disappointment usually trigger an emotional eating episode, which leads a person to eat large amounts of high-calorie “comfort” food in a conscious or unconscious effort to alleviate the emotional pain. Binge eating on a regular basis can wreak havoc on a person’s health and weight, quickly thwarting any attempts at attaining a normal weight. Although there is no way to cure binge eating, since it isn’t an actual clinical diagnosis, there are ways of minimizing and possibly even eliminating this condition, by using the right tools.
Distraction – Whenever you feel the urge to eat in response to your emotions, a good way to refrain from bingeing is to keep yourself busy. If you just sit on the couch and watch television while reliving an argument that you had with your mom, over and over again, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Distracting yourself by involving yourself in a time-consuming activity is a great way to place your focus on something else, hopefully helping you to forget about your urge to binge. Perhaps exercising, doing chores or working in the garden can help keep your mind off your emotional pain, and once you’re finished with the activity, hopefully your urge to eat that huge bowl of ice cream or large piece of apple pie will be gone.
Seek support - Seeking support from a friend or relative who can listen as you discuss your problems can help tremendously. This can relieve your stress and therefore minimize your binge eating episodes. For more specific support, you can seek out a support group for others with eating disorders. You might even want to seek out a support group relating to the issue that has you stressed in the first place. If dealing with a chronic illness has jelly doughnuts calling your name on a regular basis, then speaking with others with the same or similar health issues can help heal emotional eating and prevent future binges.
Food journal – Writing down how you feel before, during and after eating is a great way to determine what triggers your binges. In the beginning, you may not realize which specific situations and triggers cause you to turn to food for comfort, but the journal will help you identify these triggers.
Keep “bad’ foods out of sight – By keeping fattening foods out of your house, you will be less likely to consume them when you’re feeling especially bad. It’s okay to treat yourself occasionally, as you don’t want to deprive yourself from the foods that you enjoy, but eating the foods away from your home that you’re more likely to binge on when you’re having an episode can keep you from losing control.
There is hope for finding an effective way to heal emotional eating, as long as you’re willing to work hard to get to the root cause of the negative emotions that you’re experiencing. Have you been overeating because you’re having problems with your marriage or you’re unhappy with your job? You might want to consider marriage counseling or searching for a new job. Although emotional eaters might feel like they’re being comforted by eating an extra-large meal, it is likely contributing to their emotions pain. There is the weight gain and other negative consequences of consuming too many calories on a regular basis to deal with.
Even though there is no way to cure binge eating, this condition must be tackled by taking one day at a time and constantly using the most effective tools possible to reduce stressors, which can prevent future episodes of compulsive overeating.