I remember having a client say to me once that food was “in control” of her. I was struck by what a good way it was to describe the range of issues most people I work with have. A lot of my clients struggle with emotional eating; some might binge eat, others might self-soothe negative thoughts by eating. The thing is, there are lots of ways that you might feel food in control – it’s different for different people.
The key point about emotional eating is not how much food you’re eating, or what type of foods you eat, but what it feels like to you when you’re around food.
Signs of emotional eating
What might be a sign that you’re an emotional eater, or are being controlled by food?
- Thinking about food A LOT. How much you’ve eaten today… whether or not you should have… will you try to compensate for it tomorrow…?
- Categorising foods into “good” or “bad” lists you feel like you have to follow
- Continually eating foods from your “bad” list even though you really don’t want to
- Negatively judging yourself about foods you’ve eaten when they’re on your “bad” list
- Eating certain foods in a really fast, secretive, “spaced out” sort of way
- Eating any foods in secret
Do these ideas sound familiar to you?
I’m going to take this idea a step further, and think about some other symptoms I often see going along with this picture:
- Thinking about your weight constantly, and wanting to change it. Believing that other stresses or problems in life will be somehow “fixed” by weight loss.
- Feeling stressed by life circumstances – maybe career, relationships, or family life
- Not spending any time doing things that used to make you happy. Maybe you can’t even remember what things you love doing because they’ve been on hold for so long.
- Wanting life to be different to what it is now.
Now maybe a few of these points sound a little familiar to you. Maybe you’ve been engaging in emotional eating. If they do sound familiar, there’s a good chance you’d like to change that situation.
So here’s the one million dollar question: how would you go about trying to change a pattern of out of control emotional eating?
In answer to that, I’m going to throw the ball into your court and get you to have a think about it. What have you done in the past to try and change your relationship with food? Did it work out for you? If so, how long did it work out for you?
The reason I ask these questions is that most people have tried to change this situation many, many times before coming to see me. Overwhelmingly, people try to do this through weight loss attempts. But is this actually changing your relationship with food? And if losing weight works to heal a damaged relationship with food… why do people have to keep on doing it over and over again? Well, if you take a moment to consider this, you’ll realise the problem is that weight loss diets do not actually change your relationship with food at all. In fact, they reinforce a lot of the symptoms I’ve listed above. It’s really hard for people to see this because it feels intuitively right somehow to approach things the way they have.
So then, riddle me this: if you’ve tried over and over to fix your emotional eating through a new diet or fitness plan – but the results never seem to stick – why would you expect it to work if you do the same thing all over again now?
Today, sit down and have a really good think about how you’re going with food.
Is food in control of you?
Is it time to take a different approach to changing your relationship with food at a deeper level?
Are you ready to be open to ideas around intuitive eating and listening to your body to recalibrate your response to hunger and fullness signals?
If so, then the next step is to close down the Google browsers on weight loss, and get in touch with a dietitian who can work with you on developing intuitive eating!
Feel free to take a look at some of my other blog posts to gain a little more information and ideas about your relationship with food and how to change it.
Claire Marnane, Intuitive Eating Dietitian
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