Our dieter Rose has a very stressful situation coming up this week and so we spent a lot of today discussing emotional eating and strategies for not falling prey to it. Lots of dieters are like Rose. They feel entitled to eat when they’re distressed. “If I’m upset, I should be able to eat.” Often, they feel as if they don’t have a choice. “If I’m upset, I have to eat.” It’s important for them to recognize that people without a weight problem usually do not turn to food when they’re upset. They try to solve the problem, turn to others for support, distract themselves, or simply tolerate the feeling.
These are the strategies that Rose needs to learn. But first, she needs to label her experience. “I’m not hungry. I just want to eat because I’m upset. But if I eat, it will only be a temporary ‘fix.’ I’ll feel so much worse afterwards.”
Ultimately, we want Rose to learn that she doesn’t have to do anything when she’s upset. Negative emotions won’t harm her and they’ll subside even if she does nothing. But as an intermediate step, we advised Rose to make a long list of things she can do to comfort or distract herself, such as taking a walk, checking her email, calling her best friend, writing in a journal, listening to a relaxation tape, and taking a hot bath. We asked Rose to try at least five things every time she feels upset. We told her she needed to have about 20 experiences in a row of not eating for emotional reasons in order to really feel confident that she has broken the habit of turning to food for comfort.
What are some of the things you do, other than eating, when you’re upset and have an uncomfortable urge to eat?