Emotional eating happens when you use food to cope. It's also 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 are far less likely to seek treatment.
Compulsive overeating starts:
- In early childhood or adolescence
- After a traumatic or life changing event
- Pops up 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 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 support they need, food becomes an easy way to cope. It's easy, cheap and available. It's usually the first addiction to develop since food is so accessible.
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 attached to eating
There is a deep sense of shame the accompanies food issues. Drinking like one of the boys is often encouraged, but binge-eating and gaining weight have judgment attached to it. Self-esteem and body image get damaged as isolation becomes a way to cope. Over time depression sets in.
The daily pressures to eat are constant. 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 admit to having a 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 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 with your story, you realize that you're NOT ALONE in your struggles with food. There you 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.
- 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!
Click the image below to access my private resource library with all my best relationship tips!