Help me stop eating my feelings.
September 8, 2013 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Have you managed to successfully overcome emotional eating to have a healthy relationship with your emotions and food? How did you do it? I have come to the realisation that whenever I experience severe stress I eat compulsively to comfort myself and avoid feeling… you know, Feelings. Help me stop doing that please.

So far I am: seeing a really great psychologist and hypnotherapist. I can only do this intermittently because I live in a remote area, but whenever I go to the city, I make an appointment. I listen to recordings of the hypnotherapy sessions at home. I’ve read Suzie Orbach (great), Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Savour’ (really great) and Geneen Roth (did not resonate with me). I’m keeping a journal and whenever I want to eat without being hungry, I’m asking myself what I really want, or what I’m really feeling… and journaling. I’m also practicing mindfulness and meditate regularly. I’m making sure I have plenty of healthy food and don’t get hungry / hangry. I’m also committed to mindfully experiencing my feelings. Which is super uncomfortable, let me tell you. So far this has all been moderately successful. (Hypnosis particularly has been helpful.)

I’ve read this and there are noted some good suggestions here.

But it would be really helpful to hear more specific, personal, strategies people successfully employed to overcome emotional eating.
What worked for you? Great books you read? Exercises you did? Epiphanies you had? Small changes to your routine? Non-food ways you developed of caring for yourself and living with life’s stress, unhappiness and difficulties would be especially helpful!

Caveat: I’m not interested in suggestions for further therapy, general health fitness/nutrition information, diets or weight loss.
posted by t0astie to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 57 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I haven't personally dealt with emotional eating, so you should take everything I say with several grains of salt, but a meditation teacher of mine often says something that really resonates with me: "Whatever you are feeding will become stronger". Meaning - if you are feeding your body because your body needs food, your health and wellbeing will grow stronger. If in fact you don't need food, and you are feeding your desire for entertainment or your need for distraction, THOSE things will instead grow stronger. It's true not just for food but for anything we nurture in our lives. I've found it so helpful to pause before consuming anything - food, media, retail products - and double check that I'm feeding something that I want to grow stronger. With that frame of reference, I have found it much easier to disentangle myself from various pulls/compulsions to do things that ultimately don't support my life goals.
posted by Cygnet at 6:03 PM on September 8, 2013 [47 favorites]

Best answer: I realized that I "ate my feelings" because it was one of the only ways that I knew how to make myself feel good (or as you said, feel nothing) and take care of myself. I made an explicit list of other things (healthy or not) that I could do, besides eating to excess, when I wanted to make myself feel good and take care of myself. So for me some of those things are:

- Watch a favorite TV show/movie
- Take a luxurious shower/bath
- Get a manicure and pedicure
- Go to a pleasant coffee shop and drink a fancy coffee drink
- Shop online
- Masturbate
- Spend time with friends
- Drink alcohol
- Exercise

As you can see those really run the gamut, from harmless, sort of silly, "emotionally healthy," and maybe not so much (e.g. drinking alcohol, shopping needlessly, etc). Mainly because it was the one that was free and that seemed to have the biggest upside I ended up becoming more of a compulsive exerciser than a compulsive eater. I've asked multiple therapists if there's a problem with this -- some people would call it compulsive exercising, which pathologizes it, while other people would say that exercise is a healthy coping mechanism that releases natural endorphins etc etc. The general answer seems to be that since I don't suffer negative effects (e.g. stress fractures from running TOO much, missing out on commitments because of a need to exercise), it is OK for me to replace binge eating with exercising.

But like I said, it's not really because of exercise that I kicked the habit. Getting that list out in the open for me and realizing there's a whole vast menu of ways for me to take care of myself when I need it, and that sometimes it can be eating but it can easily be something else, helped me break the habit. Sometimes I do eat my feelings, but just as often I take a bath and light some candles and then curl up in bed and watch The X-Files. Your self care routine can be something COMPLETELY different -- I know the idea of lighting some candles and watching The X-Files probably makes many people's eyes roll instead of feeling good -- but just giving yourself a list of options can be enough to short circuit the stress --> food reflex.
posted by telegraph at 6:14 PM on September 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: I struggle with emotional eating. I used to be a binge-eater. I have mostly dealt with that on my own and with the help of a book called, Overcomeing Binge Eating by Fairburn.

My favorite book on emotional eating and learning to eat mindfully is Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat by Michelle May MD. She also has a website.

It is a process and can take years to unlearn bad habits and to develop more "normal" eating habits. You're already on the right track by sitting with your bad feelings instead of using food to cope.
posted by Fairchild at 6:39 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Therapy helped me tremendously. I felt out of control with my emotional eating, but it was never really about the food (though I thought it was for decades) - I needed to deal with the underlying issues for which I turned to food for comfort. Once I really started working on those issues, the emotional eating became much easier to say no to. Good luck. I know it is an awful out-of-control feeling.
posted by cecic at 7:19 PM on September 8, 2013

Drinking water really helps me. It fills the stomach eventually so you still get that full feeling. And the worst that happens is you have an ill timed bathroom trip.
posted by theichibun at 7:44 PM on September 8, 2013

Best answer: It's hard to say I've overcome my emotional/compulsive eating--to me, it feels like an addiction I'm going to have to live with for the rest of my life. But I got to my current good state by:
1. Going on Topamax for a short time. For me, part of the compulsion is physical, and the Topamax helped to break that.
2. Self-compassion. It's ok to make mistakes, ok to want to binge, ok to not want to quit sometimes.
3. A food philosophy. I had big picture idea of the kind of eater I wanted to be and drew up an outline of how I was going to eat. These predetermined red lines meant food decisions were almost always already made, saving my willpower for when I needed it, and making each food decision a positive one towards a value, not a negative one away from a reward. So, for example, I only eat when hungry unless its a time-sensitive treat that I love, like a hot cookie. Then I'll have one. If its a treat that can wait, I'll set it aside until I am hungry.
4. Urge surfing meditations for when I want to binge.
5. Reducing my sugar. The physical component is strong.
6. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which is a lot of mindfulness, and also accepting your emotions, and living by your values.

I did participate in eating disorder group therapy for a few months. It was helpful, but I was the only compulsive eater there who didn't purge, and sometime I didn't relate. I do wish I had a mentor/mentee experience. I went to OA once and was not a fan.
posted by Tall Telephone Pea at 7:58 PM on September 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

For me, it was a fringe benefit of going low-carb. Low-carb food doesn't give you that zing like sugar or starch does. Eating low-carb doesn't feel good per se, isn't rewarding, like the layer of emotional insulation you get with your usual higher-carb foods. I still had the habit of emotional eating for the first few years of low-carb, but it just didn't work any more. Low-carb food doesn't do a hell of a lot for you by way of providing a rush of adrenalin or a blanket of satiety. Eventually, for me, it came to, why bother trying to handle my emotions when all I can eat is good-for-me food? It just wasn't worth trying to bury emotions in salad or eggs. Whatever it takes to get you to where food isn't effective or useful as a reward, that's what it takes.
posted by melesana at 10:10 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Agree with melesana. Binge on healthy low-carb food. Eat as much as you want (even to excruciating fullness) of salad or celery sticks or grilled veggies. Eat a pound of it. Or drink a gallon of tea.

Develop some other positive addictions as telegraph noted: exercise, masturbation, knitting, folding clothes. Sometimes you just need to be compulsive about something and it doesn't matter what.

Another thing that might help is to realize that it's okay. It's okay if you eat emotionally for the rest of your life. You'll still be a good person. Sometimes letting yourself have a habit like this, and not adding self-hate or shame on top diminishes its importance.
posted by 3491again at 10:23 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I ditto melesana. That largely forced me to find substitutions. Those depend on what the feeling is. If I'm grouchy or agitated, I can usually substitute a walk. If I'm bummed about something or working too hard, I sometimes express sympathy or care for myself with food, and for that I can often swap in special tea or a shower with this shower gel I really love.
posted by salvia at 10:24 PM on September 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, what melesana said. I am working on overcoming this habit myself, and going low-carb has forced me to confront exactly why I'm buying those carbs simply because I normally don't eat them. So it acts like a trigger and I end up being able to recognize emotional eating in time to substitute a healthy alternative. Usually. Sometimes I don't, and that's ok because there's always the next time.
posted by awesomelyglorious at 10:48 PM on September 8, 2013

Heya! I haven't really fully overcome this yet, but I realised that my OCD attitude towards food was if anything worsened by adding restrictions. So this is counterintuitive, but what worked for me was that I stopped trying. I got rid of ALL the rules and feelings I have about food and focused on just one rule: that I concentrate on everything I ate, that I slowed down and savoured it properly.

Now I can eat WHATEVER I want, WHENEVER, HOWEVER FULL I AM... And feel OK about it. Even if I end up being STUFFED or just ate food that is not very nutritious.

The only caveat is that I have put down my book/turn away from the computer/sit my butt down on a table and concentrate on what I'm eating. What happened for me is that I began to realise after a few bites that I didn't want the food anymore, and that I literally couldn't stomach much more of the chocolate because it was way too sweet, or that I jcouldn't be bothered and just wanted to go and take a nap, or that what I really wanted was to talk to someone, or a hug, or cry, or to scream at my teacher.. And while that wasn't always a possibility, this food wasn't helping. I don't know if this will help for you, but I have been doing this for a week and I feel much better about food.

Another thing that helps is to have other 'emergency buttons' you can COUNT ON. So that might be going for a walk, or scribbling some angry words in your diary, or praying. But if you have a substitute that works just as well, or almost as well, you will be less likely to stress/anger/sad-eat. I'm still looking for mine.

Also maybe look at it as emotional healing that you HAVE to go through -- instead of suppressing your bad feelings and letting it ferment (or covering it up with future-guilt about binge eating), take a deep breath and just let yourself FEEL the icky sadness/loneliness/fear/DESPAIR/whatever... It's usually not as bad as you think, and I used to be depressed, so I can appreciate that the ability to feel the full spectrum of human emotion is beautiful. Not always pleasant, but always beautiful and enriching.

Sorry for the increasingly new-agey rant! Hope this is helpful. :)
posted by dinosaurprincess at 2:48 AM on September 10, 2013 [4 favorites]

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