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Emotional Eating: Itís Not About Food!
Written By: Mark Smith


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It is a common experience; you find yourself at home, watching Survivor on a Thursday night. During the commercial break, you find yourself, like a moth to a flame, staring quizzically at the refrigerator light, looking for answers. But why? Youíre not hungry, and the leftover cookies you found to munch on are definitely not on your diet plan. About.coms Jennifer R. Scott points out that this is a symptom of emotional eating. Emotional eaters are people who eat in response to emotions, whether they are hungry or not. This is a learned behavior; ever since we were rewarded with ice cream for doing our chores, we figured out that getting food=something good. The problem is that emotional eaters turn to food to soothe most emotions, such as anger, guilt, sadness, boredom, frustration, or despair. To add to the problem, emotional eaters use food to celebrate in happy times as well. In light of this pattern, it is no wonder that emotional eaters engage in such a battle to lose weight and keep it off.

As Americans, we have an insatiable appetite for quick-fix diets, magic pills, and hushed secrets that will lead to our fantastic success in losing that weight for good. However, many of us find that, no matter the diet, the pill, or the secret, we still struggle with weight due to eating emotionally. The truth is that NO diet, pill, or secret will help us finally reach our goals of weight loss and keep it off in a healthy manner for the rest of our lives. But, all is not hopeless- there is, in fact, a better way to go about losing weight. Be aware, however, that it is not easy. It can be, in fact, quite painful at times. However, the end result will lead to healthy changes in all areas of your life; your marriage, your relationships with family, your relationships with your co-workers, and, most importantly, your relationship with yourself. The answer - a good, long look inside yourself.
Mark Smith, LCSW and founder of Family Tree Counseling Associates, says that addictions are like icebergs; all you can see above the water is a small, jagged block of ice. However, when you look below the surface, you find a huge mass of connected ice. Similarly, when you look at an addiction like emotional eating, all you are seeing is a small representation of what is below the surface. Many times this huge mass is made of issues; it can be issues with abandonment, trust, control, self-worth, or one of many other issues. The tricky part is figuring out which issues you have and how they effect your eating. So, here are a few suggestions from my own personal journey that might help you find your way out of the weeds of emotional eating:

1. Get to know yourself. Everyone has a core belief about themselves. This belief guides the way we interact with others, the way we conduct ourselves, and how we treat ourselves. If my core belief is that I am worthless, then why am I going to spend time exercising and eating healthy foods? After all, if I am worthless, then I donít deserve to be treated well, even by myself. Similarly, if my core belief is that I donít trust anyone, then how can I trust that my body will do what I want it to do? It can be difficult to find your core belief all by yourself; however, if you have any insight, just pay attention to your actions and thoughts throughout the day. Your actions are a telescope to your core beliefs. If you cannot do it alone, employ the help of a caring and insightful therapist who will help you figure it out.

2. Tell your story. Telling others how your core belief came about and why you feel the way you do is very empowering and can help you on your journey.


3. Get rid of negative thoughts. Once you know your core belief, it will be easier to figure out why you tell yourself the things you tell yourself, or why you have negative self-talk. When you tell yourself things like: I must be thin, I need immediate results, or Iíll never be where I want to be, you are sabotaging your chances of success. You might want to keep track of these negative thoughts so that you know when you are most susceptible to them. When you are plagued with these negative thoughts, try replacing them with an alternative, balanced thoughts such as I am working hard to achieve my goal, or My size doesnít determine my worth. Be aware that these alternative thoughts wonít matter if you donít believe them!

4. Be aware of your influences. If you believe you are not good enough or that you are worthless, you will be more influenced by the mediaís images of women who are perfect inside and out because they are thin. In general, being aware of these thoughts helps put a damper on them.


5. Agree to never diet again. I know this one is a bit scary, but when you diet, you look to outward sources to fix your inward problems. Try to focus instead on eating only when you are hungry.

It is painfully apparent that there is no quick fix or magic secret that will melt the fat and make us all living Barbie dolls. However, if you do the work, find your core belief, combat your negative self-talk, and become aware of your situation, you may find that you donít have to be a Barbie doll; you may even find that you like yourself the way you are!

-Becky Lyons





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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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