Emotional eating is using food to handle difficult emotions or seek comfort. Most are women but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 10-15% are men though they are far less likely to seek treatment.
Compulsive overeating can start:
- in early childhood or adolescence
- after a traumatic or life changing event
- after getting sober
- as a reaction to abuse
- when overeating is role-modeled
Some alcoholics crave sugar in sobriety because alcohol has a high sugar content. Once sober, eating sugar feels comforting but can get out of control quickly. Giving up smoking can also trigger eating problems.
There are lots of cultural messages around food that contribute to eating problems. Food can be relied on as a source of love and comfort when emotional connection is lacking. Sometimes, kids are given food to be quiet so they learn to stuff their feelings.
If children don't get the support they need, food becomes an easy way to cope. Food is easy, it's cheap and it's available. It's usually the first addiction to develop since food is so accessible.
Common reasons a to overeat
- The need for comfort
- To escape painful or uncomfortable feelings
- Fear of success
- Feeling alone, different than others
- Enduring any trauma
- A lack of support with family or friends
- Difficulty coping with stress
Using food to escape is very simliar to alcoholism. Both addictions can take over your life and cause a variety of problems. To stop compulsively overeating, it can be more difficult because eating isn't optional. You can't be completely abstinent from it. It's also a part of every social event and family tradition.
There is usually a deep sense of shame with eating issues. Drinking like one of the boys is often encouraged, but binge eating and weight gain have judgement attached to it. Self-esteem and body image are both damaged as isolation becomes a way to cope and depression sets in.
The pressures to eat are constant. If you don't have a weight problem, it can be even harder to seek help. You may fear that no one will believe you or even laugh at you if you admit to having problem.
Your weight is not the determining factor in food addiction. If you cannot stop eating compulsively - or you have compulsive eating behaviors, it's time to seek help.
Here are some suggestions to get your started! Overeaters Anonymous is a 12 step program that is a free support group that teaches the tools to get abstinent from food addiction.
It's a gentle program with no rules or absolutes. You can take what you likened leave the rest. Why does it work? Because once you find out that you are NOT ALONE in your food issues, you will find hope!
Tools to help
- Find a buddy for mutual support and encouragement.
- Pay attention to what's bothering you and write it out.
- Find healthy treats to avoid feeling deprived.
- Try Overeaters Anonymous meetings www.oa.org for online, phone or in person meetings.
- Listen to podcasts for additional support on Overeaters Anonymous Virtual Speakers