Category: binge eating

    Effective CBT Tool to Help Stop Emotional Eating

    effective-cbt-tool-to-help-stop-emotional-eating

    How to address emotional triggers using the ABC model.

    Most of us are familiar with the term “emotional eating” and it’s the number one reason why people eat when they are not hungry. I’m going to share an effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tool which will help you address the triggers that lead to emotional eating.

    It’s really important to be able to discern between emotional hunger and physical hunger, and to be able to address the cause of emotional eating. While the two sensations may feel very similar, it is only as we become attuned to our body that we can differentiate between them.

    The biggest problem with emotional eating is that it does NOT make you feel better, less stressed, whole, or happy. Unfortunately, it has the EXACT OPPOSITE effect, and actually makes you feel worse. After eating something due to an emotional trigger you end up feeling guilty and frustrated with yourself.

    There are two simple principles to help you distinguish between emotional hunger and actual hunger:

    1. Emotional hunger is a sudden and impulsive feeling.

    Whereas actual hunger is gradual and doesn’t become urgent until you are starving. Typically when you are hit with an urgent pang for a particular food then some emotional trigger is involved.

    1. Emotional hunger cannot be satiated with food.

    When you eat as a result of an emotional trigger, as opposed to a physical trigger, you will find that you can continue eating. You may be familiar indeed with bingeing, which is an extreme form of emotional eating. This is where you can eat the whole packet of biscuits and still not feel satisfied. Food cannot fill the emotional deficit that you are experiencing. Physical hunger is easily satiated and once you eat something the feeling of hunger is replaced by a feeling of fullness.

    Like anything, the more you practice tuning into your body the easier it will be to identify emotional hunger.

    How can you overcome emotional eating?

    There are two simple and extremely effective steps:

    1. Awareness
    2. Recognize and address emotional triggers

    The most important thing when it comes to addressing emotional eating is awareness. 

    • Put your attention right now into your body.
    • Put your attention right now in your stomach.
    • Are you hungry right now for food at this moment?
    • Every time you’re about to put food in your body, ask yourself, am I hungry right now?
    • How hungry am I?
    • What am I hungry for?

    Emotional hunger is different.

    Typically when you are hit with an urgent pang for a particular food then some sort of emotional trigger is involved. If you trace back your thoughts to the moment before you felt the urge, you’ll discover that there was a dialogue taking place in your mind. So many people turn to food as a way of trying to cope with something else that they are struggling with.

    Whenever you feel yourself getting stressed, anxious, sad, bored, upset, or are experiencing pangs of emotional hunger I have a very effective Cognitive Behavioral Therapy exercise that I want you to use. It’s called an ABC sheet. I absolutely love this tool and find it extremely helpful in addressing emotional hunger, so please use it!

    The key with this is that you must physically go through the exercise in written form. It will only take a couple of minutes and will help you recognize and address the triggers that lead to emotional eating.  

    Below there is an example of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ‘ABC sheet’ to help you learn to address emotional eating. The first row provides the headings and the second row tells you what to do.  Try it out whenever you feel yourself experiencing the pangs of emotional hunger. Going through the process of actually writing the thoughts out is really cathartic and will help reduce and often eliminate the bad feelings.

    abc-emotional-eating

    Whenever you notice yourself feeling at that point where you want to eat for emotional reasons, as opposed to feelings of actual hunger, do an ABC Sheet. Whether it be boredom, sadness, emptiness, stress, loneliness, anger…or whatever the feeling is!

    This very simple formula can help you overcome emotional eating:

    1. Differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger 
    2. Use the ABC sheet whenever you feel the pangs of emotional hunger

    By now I hope you are clear on how to differentiate between emotional hunger and physical hunger, and you have a powerful tool to use whenever you feel the pangs of emotional hunger.

    Over the next week I want you to really start to listen to your body and check in every little while and practice body awareness. If you recognize that you’re not actually hungry, don’t eat!

    If you recognize that you are experiencing a craving due to emotional hunger, then I want you to pull out a piece of paper and go through the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy ABC exercise. It’s really important that you physically write out the exercise as opposed to just thinking it. The idea here is that you are interrupting the feelings, acknowledging, and addressing them. This will help combat the need to fill the feeling with food and will help you overcome emotional eating for good!

    Self Compassion and Emotional Eating

    self-compassion-and-emotional-eating

    Many of us eat for emotional reasons — when we’re sad, angry, happy, stressed, or lonely — we find ourselves eating so that we feel better. And eating works!

    Temporarily.

    Unfortunately, we usually feel worse afterwards — both emotionally and physically. More often than not this triggers a cycle of  beating yourself up — quite literally adding insult to injury — as the guilt and shame become yet another trigger for emotional eating, feeding the eat-repent-repeat cycle.

    Now, what would happen it we agreed the first step to breaking this cycle is self-compassion instead of self-criticism? How might that help? And more importantly, where would we start?

    How does self-compassion help with emotional eating?

    As difficult as it may seem to get our heads around, being understanding and forgiving of yourself for overeating will help you take the next step to finding other ways to meet your emotional needs.

    After all, we don’t eat for emotional reasons because we’re ‘weak-willed’… ‘stupid’… or ‘out of control’… We do it because it works!

    Blaming, shaming, criticizing, and finding fault for attempting to care for yourself only backfires. Imagine you were teaching a young child something new… would blaming, shaming, criticizing, and finding fault help or hurt? The way you speak to yourself has just as much power! You may be feeling afraid that if you are ‘nice’ to yourself, you won’t change. However, the exact opposite is true! You care for yourself because you accept yourself, not so you’ll accept yourself.

    So, how can you begin to respond with self-compassion when you overeat?

    Three Ways to Nurture Self-Compassion

    Gently acknowledge that you were doing the best you could in that moment.

    Validate your thoughts, feelings, and actions as being normal and understandable given the circumstances. “Of course!” It’s like saying, “I totally get why you thought, felt, or did that!”

    Of course you ate! Who wouldn’t want to feel better when they’re sad, angry, stressed, or lonely — or magnify the pleasure when they’re glad? This validation and unconditional acceptance creates a safe environment for experimenting with new thoughts, feelings, and actions.

    When you overeat, validate the choice as being rational at the time: “Of course you __________________!” This gentle, understanding self-talk will open the door to exploring how you might do it differently next time if you don’t like how it turned out.

    Bring Non-judgmental Awareness to the Situation.

    Mindful eating is all about bringing nonjudgmental awareness to your choices and experiences with eating. Non-judgment is essential because it provides a more objective understanding of what happened and why.

    One tactic you can try is writing about an overeating or binge eating episode and identifying the ‘voices’ that show up. Non-judgmentally recognising how your Restrictive Eating, Overeating, and Binge Eating voices drive the cycle will give you a great opportunity to cultivate your own Self-Care Voice.

    Cultivate Your Self-Care Voice

    Your Self-Care Voice wants the best for you. It is unconditionally compassionate, affirming and accepting. Your Self-Care voice is the voice of kindness and wisdom. It is like a loving parent who guides you to learn from your mistakes, face your challenges, and loves you unconditionally, faults and all.

    Fiona Wilkinson