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The focus of this website is generally on drug and alcohol addiction but I recognize that there are other problems out there, such as sex, gambling, and food addictions. In particular, although I do not struggle with a weight problem myself, this is only because I have been blessed with a high metabolism, because I can clearly see that I am addicted to food and I do consume it in harmful ways.
Just because a person is not overweight does not mean that food addiction or emotional eating are not detrimental. I eat a lot of junk food and I also eat a lot of unnecessary stuff when I am bored. I also notice that when I get frustrated or upset throughout the day that I am much more likely to go grab a snack of some sort. This is emotional eating. If you are grabbing something to eat for any reason other than genuine hunger, then that is a problem and you are in fact medicating with food.
Normally a problem like this gets swept under the rug and most recovering addicts and alcoholics do not even think about it or consider it as a potential problem. They might struggle with their weight and wish that things were different, but they do not put emotional eating on the same level as their addiction with their drug of choice, primarily because the consequences are not immediate enough. In other words, relapsing with alcohol or drugs tends to have immediate and sometimes devastating results right away, but emotional eating is more like smoking cigarettes….it is a long, drawn out problem that impacts people slowly over long periods of time.
You can still do something about the problem, however, and end up changing your life in a positive way. Let’s take a look at how someone can go about doing just that.
Recognize emotional eating
Just like with any addiction, the solution starts with awareness.
You have to be able to identify when you are engaging in the behavior if you want to have any hope of correcting it. Now this becomes a bit tricky with something like this because everyone has to eat. Abstinence is not an option. So how can we identify when we are eating emotionally?
Healthy eating = to satisfy genuine hunger.
Emotional eating = eating for any other reason.
If you are eating because you are genuinely hungry, then that is generally healthy. But if you are eating for any other reason at all, then that is where the problem comes in. The best way to learn to identify this is to constantly ask yourself and keep yourself in check: “Do I really need to eat this? Am I actually, physically hungry right now, or am I just bored, upset, or grabbing some comfort food?”
This awareness will become better with practice. Really, you need to make a mental commitment to yourself to examine your motives every single time you lift some food up to your mouth. Ask yourself:
* Am I genuinely hungry?
* Am I craving a certain food right now? (If so then this is a sign of emotional eating, not real hunger).
* Did this hunger build up gradually (real hunger) or did I just suddenly start craving some food? (emotional eating)
* Would I feel guilty if I ate this right now? (emotional eating)
If you are consistent in asking yourself these questions before you eat then you will automatically become aware of when you are eating for genuine hunger versus when you are about to engage in emotional eating. Keep practicing these questions and you will change your awareness permanently and eventually this will change your life.
It is important to realize that we all have our comfort foods that we tend to gravitate towards. It makes sense to identify these because it can give us a big clue as to when we are straying off course. For example, someone might crave chips when they are bored or they might crave chocolate when they are upset. We might also reach for certain comfort foods when we are happy as well and try to use the eating as a way to maintain our happiness.
In all cases, the key is for you to watch yourself closely so that you can learn some of these patterns and recognize them when they are happening. If you cannot develop this heightened awareness then there is no way to solve the problem.
It is important to realize that our comfort foods are almost always junk. If emotional eaters reached for lettuce or celery, then the problem would probably not exist at all. Healthy foods are OK. It’s when we start eating junk food and empty calories that we get into trouble.
How to manage eating in the future
So let’s say that you recognize the problem and you take steps to correct it. You have made a conscious effort to change your awareness and you have got your emotional eating under control. You are feeling better physically and you are probably also dropping some weight. The question becomes: can you ever enjoy those comfort foods again? Must we swear them off forever?
That all depends. The answer to this will really depend on the individual person. The key is going to be in testing your limits when it comes to moderation. For some people, allowing themselves the occasional indulgence will be important for their long term success. And amazingly, these people will be able to get away with it and have no problem in moderating this after they have learned how to identify emotional eating.
But other people will not be able to moderate as well, and complete abstinence from certain comfort foods is going to be the best way forward for them. Eating even a small amount of a comfort food is going to set off a chain reaction for them. The key is in figuring out which type of person you are and really being honest with yourself about it. If you cannot moderate in this way then you have to accept it and deal with it.
There can be a real emotional loss felt when we give up certain comfort foods, just like someone can feel a loss when they quit using drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes. There is no quick and easy fix for these types of feelings and if you are experiencing loss over comfort foods then you are going to have to go through this grieving process. That might sound a bit strange but it actually does happen for some people. I went through a similar loss when giving up cigarettes and the only cure for it seemed to be to feel the feelings and let time go by. If that is the case with you then this is OK, you can grow through this process as well.
Another tactic that you might try if you want to learn how to moderate comfort foods is to limit yourself to 4 bites. Again, this might sound silly, but you can prove to yourself that you still get enjoyment out of your comfort foods, even when you severely limit the amount you consume. If you stick to the 4 bite rule for a day or two you can look back and realize that you actually still enjoyed the foods just as much as if you had ate larger portions.
What can you do about it?
Of course not everyone has a problem with emotional eating, but if you do, then consider your plan of action. The most important thing is that you make a firm commitment to start raising your awareness about the problem. Your goal should become conscious, healthy eating. It is a worthwhile goal because even a small amount of progress will result in a large boost in how you feel about yourself, both mentally and physically. I urge anyone out there who struggles with this to start taking action on this problem in their lives today.