Do you use food to relieve boredom? Exhaustion? Upset feelings? Learn how to conquer emotional eating with this easy exercise from The Holford Low GL Diet: Lose Fat Fast Using the Revolutionary Fatburner System by Patrick Holford.
All eating behavior, however destructive or counterproductive, has a purpose. We may overeat to help us deal with anger or boredom, or as a rest after a hard day. Sometimes we overeat because we want to be fat. For some being fat is a mark of authority. Susie Orbach, in Fat Is a Feminist Issue, cites a number of clients for whom fat was a rebellion against the sexy, dependent, ineffective model imposed on women. By being fat one could be stating, “I’m a real person with ambitions and independence.” Fat means many different things to many different people. For all, overeating has a purpose, is a means for compensation. The first step to acceptance is to understand this.
Only by seeing your eating behavior as it is — and understanding that, in the past and the present, this behavior has been an attempt to compensate, to find pleasure or security — is it possible to eat (and, on occasion, overeat) without guilt or remorse. However, to accept our habits is not to give in, to surrender to food. It’s a step nearer to being in control of your eating behavior.
Acceptance is the opposite of resistance. To resist any desire or want means that desire will persist. Nothing is really solved. If you continually crave chocolate, you can resist for only so long. You may overeat “good” food with the hope that your craving for chocolate will go away. You may believe that eating chocolate is bad, that you’re bad, and as you give in to this irresistible urge you may have feelings of guilt and self-disgust at your unhealthy tastes and lack of willpower. With these feelings can come more desire to eat, to compensate for these feelings. It is better to accept your initial desires and to understand them.
As an exercise in acceptance, go to your favorite food shops and buy all the foods you like most, whether “good” or “bad.” Stock up your fridge and larder with all the foods you could possibly want. For one week, eat what you want, how you want it. If what you really want is the dessert, start with dessert.
We are all programmed to survive. We have a built-in mechanism that makes us hungry when we are deprived of nutrition. Any baby will cry if it wants food. If the food doesn’t satisfy the baby’s nutritional needs, it will still feel hungry. We are no different.
For many of us, hunger is rarely the motive for eating. We have learned that eating suppresses feelings that certain foods are addictive, that it is sociable to eat and to encourage others to eat. We have learned how to eat against our instincts. Only when we unlearn these habits is it possible to discover or uncover our inbuilt desire to eat nutritious food in the right quantities.
You will have a list of when you eat and what you eat, as well as the feelings you associate with eating. These are some of the commonest “when”s from clients at my clinics:
- I eat when I’m bored.
- I eat when I’m happy.
- I eat when I’m frustrated/angry/upset.
- I eat when I’m sexually frustrated.
- I eat when I’m tired.
- I continually nibble after work from 6 P.M. onward.
- I eat when I’m under pressure at work.
According to the psychologist Oscar Ichazo, these are examples of using eating to compensate for feelings we cannot handle. For instance, boredom may result from our having more energy than we know how to deal with. Drinking or overeating is one way to dissipate that energy, leaving us psychologically in balance. It’s as if we had a steam boiler full of energy, and when the pressure builds up we experience negative feelings like frustration or boredom. To compensate, we must let off steam by opening safety valves, one of which is gluttony, which includes overeating. Others include panic, phobia, overexertion, cruelty, and toximania (such as getting drunk).
Ichazo calls these “doors of compensation” because we develop the habit of losing energy through one “door” or another. If, for example, gluttony or toximania is one of your favorite doors, then the goal is to find a better way to deal with the situation you are compensating for.
BREAKING THE HABITS
The object of the next exercise is to break each part of your overeating habits, initially for a period of one week. Only then are you in a position to decide whether curbing overeating is the most effective way to deal with the particular situation. With objective awareness and acceptance of our eating behavior and the following exercise, habitual eating becomes easier to stop.
Pick a “when,” such as “I eat when I’m frustrated.”
QUESTION 1. Is there any way you can deal with the situation directly?
For example, how can you most effectively express the anger/frustration to achieve the results you want? Depression is often anger without enthusiasm!
QUESTION 2. Is there any way you can deal with the situation indirectly?
For example, go for a run, call a friend, energetically do some housework, beat the hell out of a carpet, or rip the weeds out of your garden instead.
SET YOUR TARGET. Now set yourself this target for the next week:
“I eat as much as I want, when I want, and I do not eat when…[I’m frustrated].”
Write this down on a card and keep it in a prominent place. When you have completed your first target, reward yourself by doing something you really enjoy. You are now in a position to choose whether eating is the best way of dealing with this “when” situation. You are in control.
Now move on to your next “when.” Ask yourself Questions 1 and 2 each time this situation arises. Set your target for the next week, write it down on a card, and keep it in a prominent place. Do this for each “when” until you’ve completed your list.
Remember: you are not your eating behavior. Your eating behavior consists of habits you have consciously or unconsciously learned as a result of experiences in the past. Some of these habits are still useful, and some of them are not. By stopping each habit for a week you put yourself in a position to choose how, when, and what you eat.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Patrick Holford, author of The Holford Low GL Diet: Lose Fat Fast Using the Revolutionary Fatburner System (Copyright © 2005 by Patrick Holford), is founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition in London. He is Britain’s top nutritionist and author of more than twenty health books, including The New Optimum Nutrition Bible, which has sold more than 1 million copies in thirty countries.
MORE ARTICLES BY THE AUTHOR
- Read Chapter 1 of The Holford Low GL Diet: Lose Fat Fast Using the Revolutionary Fatburner System
- Learn more about the book
- Browse more books about diets
Sign up to receive the latest tips on Diet and Fitness: