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The good news is that your Emotional Eating Beast is a pretty dim-witted critter, and you can trick it into going back where it came from without too much effort, if you know how to do it. Here are some tricks that usually work:
Play the Stalling Game. Your Beast has a very short attention span, and if you can manage to stall it for just a few minutes on its way to the kitchen, it will often forget why it woke up in the first place, and happily go back where it came from. So, instead of trying to fight it and tell it that it can’t have what it wants, just tell it to hang on for five minutes and wait until you’re done doing what you’re doing. If necessary, you can usually get away with stalling like this 2-3 times before things start to get ugly, and most of the time, that 10-15 minutes will be plenty long enough for your Beast to forget the whole business and go back to sleep.
Play the Distraction/Substitution Game. If your Beast doesn’t fall for the Stalling Game, you can still use your superior mental capacities to keep the upper hand. The key here is to keep in mind that what your Beast really wants isn’t food, but emotional comfort. If you can find ways to comfort yourself that don’t involve food, the need to eat will go away very quickly. Find something you enjoy doing that’s simple and easy to do right away. Listen to soothing or inspirational music, take a hot bath or a nice walk around the block, logon to SparkPeople, grab the phone and chat with a friend, or do some inspirational reading—you get the idea. Think of the Beast as a young child who just woke up from a nightmare, and of yourself as the parent looking for a way to help your child calm down and realize that it was all just a bad dream.
Play the Good Beast/ Bad Beast Game. Even though the Beast may seem powerful and overwhelming, it is just as afraid of you as you are of it. It knows full well that you can and, someday, probably will just tell it to go take a hike, and that will be the end of the game. To postpone this unhappy day for as along as possible, the Beast is always willing to negotiate with you if you can muster up enough nerve to stare it in the eye and demand some sort of compromise you can live with. If you keep your kitchen stocked with healthy snacks that won’t kill your diet and your self-respect, and you let the Beast get its hands on them, then you can both stay relatively happy—until that day when you’re ready to finally toss the Beast out and change the locks.
Once you have the immediate situation under control, you can start working on ways to prevent this problem from happening in the first place, by learning how to handle stress and powerful feelings without relying on food. There are lots of articles in the Resource Center on stress management and handling negative thinking. In addition, you’ll find some helpful ideas in these articles:
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.
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