Thursday, November 7, 2013

Weight and Emotional Eating




Do you find that you turn to food when you feel stressed, guilty, angry, bored or some other emotion? We all eat in response to our emotions from time to time.

When is emotional eating a problem? When eating becomes one of the main strategies you use to respond to your feelings, when you feel weight becomes a problem, and/or when parts of your life are affected by your eating.

Managing weight is not as simple as eating healthier and exercising more. We know now that our emotional experience plays an important role in weight management. Psychological treatment for weight and emotional eating will often involve helping you set behaviourally-anchored goals and explore patterns of eating related to your thoughts, feelings, relationships, and environment.

Some areas to explore if you are concerned about weight and/or emotional eating.

1. Get a sense of any patterns in your eating? You can do this by logging your eating behaviour across the day for a week or two. Do you tend to skip breakfast or earlier meals and then find yourself overeating later in the day? Are certain emotional experiences more likely connected to times when you overeat (e.g., anger, sadness)? Or, certain situations (e.g., after conflict with a family member, when alone, after the kids go to bed)?

2. We all experience urges to eat food that we would like to limit and are surrounded by temptation. Consider removing certain foods from your home and ask your family to support your efforts. Otherwise, we are putting ourselves at risk of overusing our 'willpower muscle'.

3. Practice taking an observer stance to your internal experience (e.g., feelings, thoughts) when the urge to eat shows up. What do you notice? Take a few minutes to just observe what's going on inside of you (e.g., thoughts, feelings, physical sensations), without following any judgments that come up, before choosing what action to take (e.g., continue to reach for the bag of chips or chocolate bar or go for a walk or call a friend)?

4. When working to make changes to weight and/or eating habits, it is important to set goals that are:

  • Behaviourally-anchored (I will eat three meals a day is a behavioural goal; I will lose five pounds is NOT) 
  • Realistic - ask yourself, is the goal doable? 
  • Important - set goals that are important to you right now 
  • Specific - the most useful goals are specific and concrete (e.g., half of each meal will be vegetables NOT, I will eat more vegetables) 
  • Scheduled - schedule your goals. Write your goals down. Post your goals and tell others about them. 
  • Reviewed - Goals change. Review your goals often.

CFIR psychologists can support you in working with issues of weight and emotional eating.

Read more about our Neuropsychology, Rehabilitation & Health Psychology Treatment Service.


by Dr. Julie Beaulac, C. Psych.