What Is Emotional Eating?

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I get asked this all the time, “How do I know if I am an emotional eater?” It is a question that is personal and individual. It can be hard to know. I think of emotional eating as a puzzle with many pieces. Here are some of the clues for you to see what emotional eating is:

  1. Eating when you are not hungry.
  2. Using food to comfort yourself.
  3. Using food to help with situations that feel uncomfortable.
  4. Eating to overfull.
  5. Feeling bad about what you eat and your overeating.
  6. Calling food good and bad.
  7. Feeling bad about your body and your weight.

Any of these signs by themselves are not necessarily indicative of emotional eating. You might be someone who engages in emotional eating, at times, and it does not cause you a problem. It is socially acceptable to overeat at holidays and family celebrations that happen sporadically. There are people whose overeating is the exception rather than the rule. They may find one or two of the above questions are a yes, but not many more than that.

Knowing if you are an emotional eater or not is helpful, because then you can begin to get a direction to end the emotional eating. It can be important to know if you are an emotional eater, because many emotional eater are prone to join on the diet bandwagon. I have seen this happen over and over again. Dieting is the socially acceptable way to manage food and weight issues. Right? Problem is if you are eating for emotional reasons, a diet does not help you.

If you find the answers to many of the above questions are a yes, you might be an emotional eating. If so, you do not need to worry. Now you have a name to the problem and that can lead you to a solution. Many of us have the same problem and there is a solution. Knowing there is a problem and naming it is the first step to the freedom that I know you are looking for.

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders.  If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here. Sign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.

Understanding Emotional Eating

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End Emotional Eating Counseling

End Emotional Eating

Most people have eaten for emotional reasons at one time or another. It can be the go to thought when there is stress. I remember many occasions at work when one person would say to colleagues, “I am stressed – who wants to get something with me (meaning something sweet)?” We were all stressed and didn’t know how to handle it except by eating.

Eating to manage emotions over a long period of time can end up having some negative consequences. One of the biggest problems with using food to manage emotions is it can lead to weight issues, and with the weight comes many more problems.

Eating for emotional reasons is used to quiet any of a number of emotions such as: sadness, anger, frustration, loneliness, or boredom to name a few. Emotional hunger is not the same as physical hunger (the true reason to eat) and you are looking for food to satisfy the emotional need. We know that ultimately food cannot satisfy an emotional need because it is meant to satisfy physical hunger.

The starting point for emotional eating is to know if you engage in it. Truthfully, many people are unaware that is what they are doing, thinking they are simply overeating. The foods chosen for emotional eating tend to be those that you would consider comfort foods: high in fat, salt, and sugar. Here are some signs of emotional eating:

  1. Eating when you are not hungry.
  2. Eating when you are experiencing feelings.
  3. Eating in isolation.
  4. Eating and feeling guilty afterward.
  5. Overeating and not knowing why.
  6. Eating to make yourself feel better.
  7. Craving a food for no apparent reason and thinking you cannot live without it.

Emotional eating can be reinforcing since it tastes good at first and there are all the positive thoughts about how much you want or need it. The positive feelings (relief, calm) from emotional eating will last for only a certain amount of time (one minute to hours) followed by a turning point where you find yourself experiencing the following situations:

  • Feeling guilty.
  • Feeling ashamed.
  • Feeling upset that you overate.
  • Feeling a resurgence of the original feeling that triggered the binge.
  • Feel upset that you have gained weight or that you might gain weight.

The ultimate end result is that emotional eating does not work to satisfy the emotion that sent you to the food in the beginning. Understanding this is the starting point to changing this behavior. Acknowledge it to yourself.  Also give yourself praise that you are now “getting it.” You might feel the need to beat yourself up for doing this for so long. However, this thought process will not serve you in any positive way, but rather send you back to overeating for being mad at yourself for overeating (a circular process). The starting spot is acknowledgment and then self-compassion.  Know you have done the best you can and now is the time to seek out strategies for making a change. Some good strategies are: reading self-help books, seeing a professional who specializes in ending emotional eating, or attending 12 step groups. The main objective is doing something now to begin altering this pattern. I know you can do it.

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders.  If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her hereSign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.

Ending Emotional Eating: Leftover Halloween candy

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Ending Emotional Eating: Leftover Halloween candy

I just saw a video from Jimmy Kimmel of an annual prank where he encourages parents to video themselves telling their kids that they ate all of the kids Halloween candy. I must admit it was funny to see the kids have such expressive (sad, mad) reactions. It also made me think of the torment some of us experience after the kids go Trick or Treating and now we are faced with lots of candy in the house or left over candy bought to give out to the kids. This situation can be really difficult for anyone with emotional eating issues. Just having the candy in the house can lead to overeating, obsessive thoughts (“do I eat it or don’t I”) and wondering how we can hide that we ate the candy.

Emotional eating means we eat to help ourselves deal with emotions, and some emotions can revolve around the fear of having candy in the house. We can become sneaky and shame ridden when we do eat someone else’s Halloween candy or eat more than we think we should. When I was a child, I remember taking some of my brothers Halloween candy. He would ask who took it and I did not tell the truth. He then started to count the candy and then I could not keep taking it without being caught. I felt ashamed that I engaged in that kind of behavior and did not tell the truth about it.

I consider Halloween as the start of the holiday season, which can be very challenging for emotional eaters. Sugar can often be the go to choice when emotions arise. Now we are done with Halloween, but not with the candy. There is a full bowl of it in my house and it is now not a concern for me. If you struggle with this like I have (read more on my Halloween story here), let me give you some tips to get through it.

  1. I like to tell myself, “It is not mine to take or eat.” That thought keeps me out of my child’s candy. Think up a statement that you will tell yourself which can help redirect you or use mine.
  2. Do you really need that much candy in the house? Local dentists collect (and sometimes pay for) candy which they send to the troops. Engage your child (if it is their candy) in the idea we have plenty and we can share or make it a rule that we only keep a certain amount and the rest we give away. It is nice to give others a sweet treat.
  3. Ask yourself why you really want the candy. Sounds simple, but some moments of questioning ourselves, our feelings, and our desire to have the candy can help use become more mindful of our decisions.

These tips can be very effective in the short term process of managing the thoughts and behaviors around sweets. Since this is the start of the holiday season, really consider a plan of action for yourself for the next 2 months. Developing an understanding of your emotional eating and a plan of action is a great way to start the holidays. It is possible to have an enjoyable holiday without the struggle over food.

Have some tips about how you handle leftover Halloween candy? Let us know in the comments below.

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders.  If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here. Sign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.

End Worrying About Your Child’s Weight and Overeating

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Many parents are concerned about their child’s eating or their child’s weight. There are statistics that 1 in 3 kids are overweight or obese. It is a different world today than when many of us were kids. There is less activity: kids are spending a lot of time on the internet, on their phones, or playing video games. We all seem to be under more stress and pressure, including our kids. In addition, we do not always eat in the healthiest manner for many reasons (stress, time, or finances).

There was a study of kids aged 5-10 who had been classified as overweight or obese and had been referred to a clinic for treatment by their pediatricians. The study found that the majority of parents (93.5%) recognized their child was overweight or obese, but 30% said they did not see their child’s weight as a problem, and they had not made any changes in the child’s lifestyle or eating. So, it can be tough to take action around food issues even when we know there is a problem.

I know you have the best interest of your child in mind, and dealing with food, weight and overeating can be tough to manage.

Do you wonder if your child has issues with food or their weight? Here are some common warning signs:

  1. Your child has gained a significant amount of weight (more than would be expected given growth spurts) and their clothes are not fitting.
  2. Your child is being teased for their weight.
  3. Your child hides, sneaks or is overly focused on food.
  4. Your child would rather spend their time on the computer, texting, playing video games or watching television rather than being active or with others.
  5. A family member or the pediatrician is concerned about your child’s weight.
  6. Your child is upset about their weight.

The starting spot is to recognize there is a problem and to take action. Here are some steps to take to address this issue:

  1. Listen carefully when your child discusses their weight and then ask them open ended questions (these are questions where they cannot answer with just a yes or no) about what they think and how they feel.
  2. Know that food issues can be related to emotions and feelings that your child is trying to manage through the use of food.
  3. Consider addressing any weight issues you have, so you do not unknowingly pass on your feelings about yourself.
  4. Look at how the family is behaving and address the issue more globally. If the kids eat lots of unhealthy snacks, maybe get everyone together to make some more healthy changes. If the family is not active, plan a family activity outside. Make video games and phone time a privilege with time limits. Declare the television be turned off during meal and snack time (time focused on electronic devices creates the opportunity for mindless eating).
  5. Meet with your pediatrician, nutritionist, or counselor who can help you get to a healthier lifestyle.  Be sure to look for someone who specializes in eating issues.

As a parent it can be tough to address your child’s food and weight issues. You might feel concerned about your child’s potential immediate or future health risks or even their quality of life. I highly suggest you refrain from any negative comments about your child’s weight or body, as this only makes them want to eat more to comfort themselves. Lastly, refrain from putting your child on a restrictive diet. Restrictive diets set kids up for overeating and even more secretiveness and obsessive behavior with food.

If you are concerned about your child, know there is help in terms of information and professionals who specialize in eating issues. You are not alone. Become aware of the many strategies to deal with kids and food issues and reach out for help, as necessary. Addressing your child’s food issues now will set them up for success in their future. They will learn that food is nutrition to fuel their bodies and promote healthy activity and a better body image.

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders.  If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here. Sign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.

Writing: My Secret Weapon

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I am not a writer, per se, but I like to write. I have been on a few writing retreats lead by nationally known author Laura Davis. I learned from her that anyone can be a writer. writingasatoolWriting can be so healing, cathartic and a real way to figure out what is going on inside of me. She has taught me many tools and techniques for writing, which I share in my articles, with my clients, and they have been personally helpful and transformative.

One of the first tips she taught me is- write. Just write, no matter how bad it sounds. Get the thoughts and words on the paper, editing is not necessary and is counterproductive in the beginning stages of writing.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Get a journal that does not cost much money. I got mine at CVS Pharmacy for a few dollars. It is the spiral bound version that I used to use in high school. Really inexpensive. Why? My other journals are too pretty or expensive to use to write down the common stuff that comes to my head. I would always save the “good writing” for my pretty journals and then I never wrote. I know I am not alone in this.
  • Make sure you can keep your journal in a safe place.Really safe. When you are writing your most personal secrets, you do not want someone else reading it. I find I am freer with what I write when I know no one else will look at it. Some people put their journal in a special place, some hide them in a place no one can find, and some hide it in their car. The first car I bought was a used Datsun B210. The woman who owned it before me did not remember her journals secret hiding space- in the car I just bought from her. Needless to say, I learned too much about her.
  • Set a really small period of time to write, like10 minutes. Everyone has an extra 10 minutes. Really, you do. Just keep the pen moving on the paper and see what comes out. A good starting point is to say, “Today I will…” and then fill in the blank. Keep writing until the 10 minutes are up. If you cannot think of anything to say write, “I cannot think of anything to write.” Keep writing it until something else pops into your head and write that.
  • I do not suggest you openly share what you wrote with friends, spouse or family.They might not be as open to what you have to say as you might want them to be. Writing is powerful and exposes our vulnerabilities, be careful who you share it with.
  • I am happiest when I am…Writing is a powerful tool to the unconscious. It can be your starting point to telling yourself some truths you otherwise were not willing to listen to. If deep issues arise, you might need to seek the assistance of a counselor to work it out.

I cannot say I am a good writer, what I can say is I now enjoy writing and the benefits it brings me, I feel better after I write in my journal. Do you write? Let us know some of your tips to get started below.

Kim McLaughlin, MA is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who specializes in helping people with eating issues and eating disorders.  If you are concerned that about overeating, weight or your use of food in general please contact her here. Sign up for her FREE Top Tips to End Emotional Eating here. Check out her website at www.FeedYourSoulTherapy.com.