Emotional eating…

Why do we do it?
Most people experience some level of compulsive eating – those who don’t are the exceptions. So what causes it? The first is physiological: low blood sugar drives us to seek out fast releasing energy – this is a very strong survival mechanism that is hard to resist. In a similar way, if we are deficient in essential fats, our bodies will seek out fatty foods. And we can also get hooked on the feel good chemicals (adrenalin, serotonin, etc.) that some food and drink release in us. The brilliant thing is that improving our diets from the nutritional perspective will help with a lot of our cravings – freeing us from the need for willpower. However, we still need to address any remaining cravings and urges to overeat.
Food is not the problem
The problem is the misuse of food – we use it to calm ourselves down. We use food as a coping mechanism, a distraction, a temporary patch – just as we can also use alcohol, nicotine, exercise, talking to friends. It’s just that some of these are more harmful than others. Whenever you reach for food when you are not physically hungry, you are attempting to help yourself, to calm yourself down. Trying to help yourself is a good thing – not something to beat yourself up about. We just need to find a more appropriate solution.

Actually, it has very little to do with willpower.

Most of our cravings come from being out of kilter with our biological needs – if we are back in balance, around 75% of our cravings disappear. Fantastic! Instantly we feel so much better. But what about using food to make ourselves feel better? How do we get out of this trap?

Dieting makes us feel bad and causes overeating
We all hate it because it is linked to feeling bad. We punish ourselves for overeating by dieting. We binge.


We beat ourselves up, because we have failed yet again.The mere thought of dieting is related to restricting
food, which is a form of self-punishment (because we don’t like the way we look). This is just like doing
time in prison for not eating right. And so we end up breaking out and rebelling by bingeing! We need to change the way we think about ‘diet’. This is not about being perfect until you reach your goal within 4 months. All or nothing thinking will lead you to rebel, you’ll feel like a failure and spiral down again.

So, allow yourself all foods
Stick to the 80/20 rule (e.g. aim to eat well for 6 days out of 7). You don’t need to be perfect all the time, for
this to work and for it to stay working. If you have a higher GL food, just reduce your GLs later in the day,
or fewer the next day – be flexible. This will not make you put on weight. It just means you may take a few
extra days to lose it. Big deal. But denying yourself a food always ends up with you overdoing it – and
you put on weight. Choose to eat healthily for the majority of the time but know that when you fall back
to your food coping strategy (and you will at some point) it is just temporary and forgive yourself.
Knowing that no food is totally off limits means there is no need for the ‘night before binge’. This means
binges will reduce in frequency and duration. You are not on a diet nowYou are eating healthily and all you now need to do is work out how to deal with those little blips.


What can we do about it?
We need to feel good in order to change. Positive encouragement and praise is much more
effective at creating long-term change than being critical and abusive – so be kind to yourself!
Here are some ideas – see what works for you.


  1. Nutrition
    Follow the low GL way of eating – this will give you more energy, better control over mood and the
    remaining cravings will be easier to deal with.
  2. Be kind to yourself
    Chastising yourself will just make you feel worse and make the binge bigger. Be supportive (and realistic)
    with yourself instead. On the next occasion you overeat, you will know why: either you were hungry
    or comfort eating. Simply remind yourself that it is your coping mechanism for the time being and that
    you are working on finding a better solution. This is realistic and truthful and more helpful than just
    thinking you have no willpower. If you are going to overeat, choose the foods you really want. Most of the time, you will become satisfied quickly this way and eat less.
    Put your scales away: don’t weigh yourself every day. Don’t let them determine how you will feel about
    yourself today.
    Clothes: Throw out (or pack away) the clothes that don’t fit you. Reminding yourself of smaller clothes
    will just remind you of failure. This is not a positive reinforcer that makes you feel good! Only keep the
    clothes you like, that fit and that do make you feel good.
  3. Be aware of what is going on
    Record the situations, feelings or thoughts that trigger your overeating on your Healthy Life Plan. Just
    record what’s bothering you, don’t judge. Only when you know what is bothering you can you start to
    address the real issue. Relearn to distinguish between hunger and other needs. Every time you want to eat, ask: “Am I hungry?” If yes, great! Eat and enjoy. This will reinforce the connection between hunger and eating to nourish yourself.
  4. Hold steady
    Know the craving will pass – it’s only a feeling. Imagine the feeling is a wave. You are on a boat holding tightly onto the mast as you climb to the top of the wave. It’s a bit wobbly, but you hold tight and are aware of all that is going on around you. As the feeling starts to pass you come easily down the other side of the
    wave, feeling good.
    5. Combat negative thoughts
    Identify any negative thoughts or feelings you have. Either choose to ignore them, challenge them or turn
    them into something more positive. For example, respond to: “I can’t stand the way I look” by saying: “There’s no point in thinking that. It just makes me feel bad, which makes me eat to feel better
    and then I feel even worse, so there’s no point in even thinking it.” Or “I am a failure” – you have not failed. The solutions you have been offered in the past have failed you. “I have to eat it” – tell yourself you can have it whenever you like. This will reduce the urgency and need to rebel. The chances are you will actually then
    choose not to have it at all. Negative thoughts do not work. They do not create change. They make you stay right where you are, like wheels spinning in mud. If you really want to change, you need to deal with them.
    6. Deal with the underlying issue
    It is often easier to feel negatively towards food and your body after overeating than to face up to a
    problem or distressing feelings. Feeling overweight is familiar and you have a supposedly simple solution:
    go on a diet. But the pain of feeling fat is just as bad. Remember you can cope with both – don’t double the
    problem – deal with the real one. Face up to what is bothering you and find some strategies that will help
    you address it.

To find out more about my programmes, you can reach me on 0874191301 or find me on Facebook SB Sports & Nutrition Therapist or log onto www.simplebalancenutrition.ie

Online Programmes available to complete from the comfort of your own home.