Health & Wellness Articles

Tame the Emotional Eating Beast for Good

3 Ways to Get Back on Track

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By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert         
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When weight loss professionals discuss emotional eating, you hear a lot of talk about stimulus control, stress management techniques, and cognitive reframing. This is all well and good (and you’ll be hearing some of that here), but it doesn’t quite capture the actual experience of being caught up in an episode of emotional eating. In a recent post here on the Message Boards, a SparkPeople member got much closer to capturing the experience when she described it as “waking up the Slumbering Beast” we have inside us.

This really is what it feels like, at least in my experience. You’re doing OK, cruising along, when suddenly something happens that stirs up a bunch of feelings, and all of a sudden the Beast is awake and eating everything it can get its hands on. Or maybe it isn’t always that dramatic—maybe you just get bored, or start feeling a little anxious because there is nothing going on to distract you from that vague sense of impending doom that always seems to be lurking just under the surface. Even that little bit of free-floating anxiety can be enough to wake the Beast up and set it on the prowl for something to eat. Or it might be as simple as getting home from work or school, or finding yourself alone for a little while, after a hard day. Whatever the trigger might be, the Beast isn’t about to go back to sleep without doing some serious eating first. Or so the story normally goes.

There are two basic and complimentary approaches you can use to tame the Beast before it trashes your food plan, and you’ll need both for long-term success. The difference between them is the same as the difference between emergency medicine and preventive medicine. The main focus here will be on coping with the immediate emergency. You’ll find more information about the preventive approach, aimed at putting an end to the problem for good, in the links at the end of this article.

When the Beast is Loose: Getting It Back in Its Cage

The bad news here is that will power has little effect on controlling emotional eating. From a psychological perspective, the shift into emotional eating mode is usually a “state-dependent” event, which is a fancy way of saying that it involves shifting into a different state of consciousness (or persona) with its own independent set of emotions and related thinking patterns. For a little while, you literally aren’t your normal self, and the normal tricks you use to manage your behavior and thinking may not work.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I'll be honest. The photo in this article made me crave glazed donuts. - 4/7/2016 10:46:45 AM
  • I find that eating high fiber food and eating healthy snacks, not waiting too long between eating, helps me. If I don't feel starving all of a sudden, I make better choices. Planning dinner ahead of time and having everything ready at a reasonable time makes a big difference to me, too. - 1/5/2016 10:50:38 PM
  • That was the best description I've ever read of what I feel like when I start to binge eat. Just knowing I'm not the only one who experiences this was very comforting. - 1/5/2016 7:37:52 PM
  • JUDYITHE
    Thanks for a great article that gave me a lot to think about and some coping mechanisms that I am going to use. - 1/5/2016 4:30:29 PM
  • I loved the article it really helps me understands in a better way . The beast has been out for a long time and now it is time to put it back in the cage . It's been a struggle for me but I am taking one day at a time. - 1/5/2016 1:45:53 PM
  • This is a great way to explain it. I do have a beast - I now need to recognize and IGNORE her. One step at a time. - 1/5/2016 11:13:02 AM
  • Good article. I like calling it "the Beast". I've gone as far as naming my "Beast" and sometimes talking back to her - when I'm alone. ;) - 1/5/2016 8:32:42 AM
  • Another approach would be to eliminate all wheat from your diet, and I mean ALL of it, including hidden sources, for 2 weeks. You will guaranteed have reduced cravings for carbs. Modern wheat contains opiates that cause you to crave more of it. - 12/30/2015 11:31:10 AM
  • This is the spot-on system I will use forever. When I first started on this lighten up path, I figured out most of the steps, but since I succeeded 3/4 of the way & started back sliding, I forgot them. You've given me fuel to again travel onward & liter. A million thanks. - 3/22/2015 3:42:34 PM
  • SEENA13
    Great Article - 3/1/2015 10:32:16 PM
  • I hope this article is going to stick with me - maybe thinking of my bouts with cravings as the "beast" - something to talk to and challenge - will be helpful. My problem is that of getting "a taste in my mouth for something", not really knowing what and eating some of everything trying to satisfy it. Thanks for a really good article. - 3/1/2015 12:30:41 PM
  • I hope this article is going to stick with me - maybe thinking of my bouts with cravings as the "beast" - something to talk to and challenge - will be helpful. My problem is that of getting "a taste in my mouth for something", not really knowing what and eating some of everything trying to satisfy it. Thanks for a really good article. - 3/1/2015 12:29:51 PM
  • I have an eating disorder, that is why I'm here. This article is just one of the many tools available on this site that are helping me to handle, and eventually overcome this disorder. It's been a slow process--I've been doing SP for 18 months, have lost 66 lbs, and now recognize the situations that precede this rearing of the beast's head, and am able to recognize them before he shows up. My binges have all but completely disappeared, although I've been in some very tough situations throughout this process. Thank you for posting these very helpful articles, Dean Anderson.
    8-) - 9/6/2014 6:00:26 PM
  • CRAMPERELLA
    Some people may view themselves as emotional eaters when in actuality they may be suffering from an eating disorder and need professional help to overcome it. If your relationship to food is taking up a good part of your life, you may have an eating disorder and should seek professional help. - 9/5/2014 4:01:38 PM
  • Oh, my--this resonated with me! Glad you succeeded and went for it. I will do my best to remember this!! - 9/4/2014 7:04:10 PM

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