Emotional Eating, Part 2: How To Identify Your Overeating Triggers

Wednesday, October 25, 2006 - 1:29pm

By Kathleen Goodwin, RD

Where do you get your information about how to lose weight? From books? From classes? From your friends? On the Internet? When you want to lose weight do you search for a menu plan or a list of foods to avoid? If so, you’re not really paying attention to the core behaviors that got you overweight in the first place. Those same behaviors are likely to rear their ugly heads again when you grow tired of following the latest diet fad. To successfully lose weight, you must get acquainted with you a whole lot better.

Lose weight permanently by changing your habits

A recent study by the National Institutes of Health determined that when people follow a diet plan as their only method of losing weight, two-thirds regained their weight within one year, and almost all regained their weight within five years. However, when exercise and behavioral changes were added to the mix, there was significant improvement in weight loss maintenance. Studies also show that long-term social support or accountability to a group or partner greatly increases the odds you’ll keep off the weight you’ve lost as well. Essentially, there’s no getting around it— keeping weight off is a lifelong endeavor; there’s no magic “secret” found in the diet book of the moment. The rewards you gain, however, by going slowly and changing habits from the inside-out are lasting, and will spill over and improve not just your weight but also many other areas of your life.

For additional information on these tips for sucessfully losing weight see the following article from TheDietChannel: Successful Weight Loss: Top 10 Tips On What Works And Why.

Do you overeat for social reasons?

There are a number of things people respond to when they eat, the least of which is hunger. Many of these cues have been incorporated since childhood and are things that barely register to us at a conscious level anymore. For instance, was food used as a reward in your household? Are there memories of “if you clean your plate, you’ll get a dessert” or the ever popular, “if you’re a really good boy today, you’ll get a piece of candy”. Holiday and family gatherings are typified by spreads of food – a symbol of social cheer and bliss. Profuse cues are registered early on that food is a source of comfort and reward. Contact with others is rarely planned unless there is a meal involved. Social cues, then, are a huge part of why we overeat. When it comes to social cues, ask yourself:

  • How often do I dine out socially or go to parties?
  • Is it difficult for me to eat reasonable portions or healthy foods when I dine out?
  • When I get together with others is food or drink always involved?

What are your situational cues?

Situational cues are also a big culprit when it comes to overeating. What kinds of situations do you encounter regularly that cause you to overeat? Some situational cues we have all been guilty of are: “It’s 12:00, time for lunch” or “It’s 6:00, time for dinner”. Situational cues also include the stimulation of our thoughts and senses as we pass Krispy Kreme or McDonalds. Thoughts, images, and smells trigger desires that are tough to pass up, especially when the tastiest of foods are so cheap and easily accessible. When thinking about situational cues, consider the following:

  • Do I eat because it’s mealtime or because I’m hungry?
  • Do I ignore my body when it’s really hungry because I’m too busy and then overeat later?
  • Do I indulge in foods because they’re convenient, smell good, or taste good rather than first considering my hunger level or health?

Are there emotional reasons you overeat?

The emotional cues that cause us to overeat are probably the most difficult to identify and overcome. A big reason for this is that most of us are too busy to tune into how we feel and are often in a state of “numbness”. Most people say, “I don’t eat because I’m sad or lonely. I just eat because I like to eat”. If you have trouble identifying emotional cues (e.g. stress, boredom, sadness) that lead to overeating, you will need to learn to slow down long enough to get in touch with what’s in your head. Your feelings are in there somewhere, though they may have become cobweb-laden in the busy-ness of life. If you often find yourself wanting to eat more even after a big meal, you might consider journaling out whatever comes to your head instead. You may be surprised what surfaces over time. The mere act of identifying a food craving, and allowing it to pass without indulging, is a huge step forward. Keeping a food diary and finding passions are very effective methods for overcoming emotional overeating, and you’ll get the scoop on these later.