Are you an emotional eater? How to stop bingeing

I’m going to share with you some questions that will help you start to understand why you associate food with comfort and emotions. And it is hard! This will start to open up a new way of dealing with and stopping the habit, naturally for you.


Are you an emotional eater?

To start with, ask yourself when is it that you overeat? Is it late at night? When you’re alone? Is it when you’re bored, stressed or tired? Or is it to ‘treat’ yourself?

Think of a recent time when you ate more than you wanted to.

What was happening just before? What thoughts were you having? Was it some version of ‘I don’t care’, ‘I hate my life’, ‘Nobody cares’, ‘I’ll be fat anyway’, ‘Might as well eat it now because it’s there and I’ll eat at some point’.

Or were you thinking: ‘I deserve it’ or, ‘it will make me feel better’? Even though you know it won’t in the long run?

Having answered these questions, is it possible that your eating might be in response to some emotion?

What you need to know about losing weight steadily

There are a lot of reasons why losing weight is hard.

Food is widely and cheaply available. From the checkout counter at a clothing shop to the petrol station, we would have to actively go out of our way to not be tempted while we’re going about our business.

We are mostly physiologically designed to store weight and to find it very difficult to lose weight. It’s only in the last few decades that we haven’t needed to avoid starvation by eating whenever possible.

Food, junk food, in particular, has become so attractive, both in appearance, smell and taste. The psychology behind manufacturers making money has become so manipulative. And we are only human!

Do you swallow your feelings?

We, particularly in this British culture, have been taught to pretend we feel ok when we don’t. As a result, we have absolutely no idea how to manage how we feel. So we eat (or drink, or take drugs, or watch tv, or fall in love, etc.).

And it works. For a little while. Eating acts like an anaesthetic, and ‘soothes’ the feeling by numbing us out. We feel better.

Until the shame, disappointment, and even disgust creeps in again. Then we’re in a vicious loop of eating again to deal.

Most of us overeat at some point. But many of us are also suffering and feeling terrible about the way we look. We are thinking, ‘if only I had enough willpower to stop!’ We inevitably feel like a failure for not stopping.

But you shouldn’t feel like a failure. It’s natural to turn to a substance if you don’t know any other way. Do you know anyone who doesn’t do this?

Dieting doesn’t work, simply because it doesn’t get to the root of the problem. It’s just another plaster that may work for a while, but will ultimately fail if you don’t have a handle on how you feel.

The steps to reducing comfort eating, and to weight-loss

Self-confidence lies at the heart of this change. It’s self-confidence that helps you to naturally decide not to carry on harming yourself, and to treat yourself with more kindness and self-respect. Fortunately, self-confidence is something you can learn.

Having identified that it is your feelings that are prompting you to eat (as well as a deeply grooved habit, by now), learn how to identify and express your feelings in a satisfying, and safe way.

Identify and learn how to challenge the self-critic in you. These thoughts make you want to eat more. So they need to be identified, weeded out with compassion, and replaced with something more helpful.

Discover different perspectives that resonate with you, and new ways of thinking, that help you to feel calmer and happier.

Learn to identify who you can trust and to receive support from other people.

All of this helps you to decide not to carry on harming yourself, and to treat yourself with more kindness and self-respect. The choice to eat well comes naturally, instead of being enforced through restriction. That’s how to make the leap from actively comfort eating to losing weight naturally!

I’m not going to lie, this usually takes time, dedication and courage. But it is entirely possible for you.

To find out more about your eating habits, if you are an emotional eater etc. Reach out to a professional. Together, you can learn more about why you have this relationship with food, and what you can do to manage it.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS
Written by Shelley Treacher, Therapy for anxiety, depression & relationship difficulties.
Bristol, Somerset, BS4 2DS

I run groups for people who experience frustration with overeating. My programme helps people to stop stress eating naturally, with peer support, and without giving up your favourite treats.

Shelley Treacher MA. MBACP accred.
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