Emotional Eating

Emotional eating happens when you use food to cope.

It's a way to avoid difficult feelings or seek comfort. Most sufferers are women but according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 10-15% are men though they're far less likely to seek treatment.

You don't have to suffer in silence alone. There is effective treatment for eating disorders. This blog talks about why compulsive overeaters can't stop eating and where you can seek help.

Compulsive Overeating Starts:

  • In early childhood or adolescence

  • After a traumatic or life changing event

  • Gets worse after being sober

  • As a reaction to abuse

  • When overeating is role-modeled as a way to cope

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.

Cultural Messages About Food

There are lots of cultural messages around food that contribute to eating problems. Food becomes 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 emotional support they need, food becomes an easy way to cope. It's cheap and readily  available. Often it's the first addiction to develop because food is so accessible to kids.

Common Reasons to Overeat:

  • The need for comfort

  • To escape painful or uncomfortable feelings

  • Fear of success, self-sabotage

  • Feeling alone, different than others

  • History of trauma or alcoholism in the family

  • A lack of support with family or friends

  • Difficulty coping with stress

Using food to escape is similar to alcoholism. Both addictions take over your life and cause a variety of problems. Depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety are common struggles for the overeater. 

Compulsively overeating is much harder because eating isn't optional. You can't completely abstinent from it. It's also a part of every single social event and family tradition.

The Shame of Over-eating

There is a deep sense of shame the accompanies food issues. Drinking like one of the boys is encouraged, but binge-eating and gaining weight get judged. Self-esteem and body image suffer as isolating becomes a way to cope. Over time depression sets in.

The daily pressures to eat are intense. At social events, there's tons of food. Family encourages you to eat not to offend the cook.  Kids are given sugar "to be good" which sends the wrong message.

If you don't have a weight problem, it can be even harder to seek help. You fear that no one will believe you or even laugh if you say that you're struggling with food.

 Tips for emotional eating and compulsive overeating

Tips for emotional eating and compulsive overeating

But your weight is not the determining factor in food addiction. If you can't stop eating compulsively or you have compulsive eating behaviors, it's time to seek help.

Overeaters Anonymous is a free, 12 step program that teaches the tools to get abstinent from food addiction.

The program has no rules or absolutes. 12 step programs have a saying, You can take what you like leave the rest. If you disagree, leave it. 

Why does it work? Because once you find others who have the same issue, you realize that you're NOT ALONE. If you're not familiar with 12 step programs, read my article Busting Through The Myths of 12 Step Programs.

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.

  • Set realistic expectations for healthy eating.

  • Try Overeaters Anonymous meetings www.oa.org for online, phone or in person meetings.

  • Get a sponsor in OA that ha what you want.

  • Listen to podcasts for additional support on Overeaters Anonymous Virtual Speakers.

With the right support, you can recover from food addiction. Trying to do it alone only increases the shame that keeps you isolated. One day at a time it works if you work it!


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