Health & Wellness Articles

Tame the Emotional Eating Beast for Good

3 Ways to Get Back on Track


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:
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

1 Step Back, 2 Steps Forward
What Is Normal Eating - Part 3
An Exercise in Self-Esteem

This article is Step 4 in SparkPeople's Mind Over Body series, a 10-step program to ending emotional eating and creating a permanent healthy lifestyle. View the full series here or continue to the next step.
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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

  • 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
  • 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
    This was an extremenly well written and insightful article. The best thing about that it brings the beast out from under the bed (ie shame and embarrasement and a feeling of isolation) and into broad daylight where we can all see that..."hey! I'm not crazy. I'm not alone. There are people who fear this beast too!" You also know that others have overcome guess what? you can too. - 6/18/2014 9:15:40 AM
  • My Beast must be smarter than the beast within others. It is not fooled by healthy snacks. It will devour the healthy stuff and then go right back to demanding the unhealthy thing it wanted in the begining. Stalling doesn't work either. The only thin that works is removing myself from the stressful situation that's causing the emotions. Since that stressful situation is currently my job, and I really don't want to be Beast will continue to be a problem. - 5/24/2014 12:09:45 PM
  • Getting to goal weight means requires that I learn to control the beast (the emotional eater). Maybe I haven't wanted to, which is the first hurdle I have to overcome. The second one is learning how to.

    Since the term "beast" was used, I have decided to use it to my benefit. I have a medium-sized lightweight sculpture of a midieveil dragon of my husband's that I have decided to put on my desk, which is also where the tv sits. It's going to help me counter the potato chip elves and the bad friggies, which I'm going to call my tempations. It's going to fight them for me, I've decided.

    I learned when drawing en plein aire (outside) that I have two entities, an angel and a demon, sitting on both shoulders. One aims to have fun and be joyous, the other aims to cut me down. I could choose to listen to either, but I chose to hush the demon and listen to the angel. It was a palpable struggle, but the desire to be outside and happy and to let my inner joy out was stronger than the demon telling me I was no good at what I was doing. I shut it up. My dragon is going to be my friend in this fight I call the active friggies. - 4/12/2014 6:09:00 AM
    Great image, helps to put a "face" on the cravings, urges, whatever they are. Know I've been dealing with tons of stress at work so been doing more exercise but with early darkness I can't walk as much as I want. The "beast" knows this and so I will have to find other ways to keep him at bay. Nice article, thanks. - 10/13/2013 10:01:56 PM
  • The Beast -- wonderful image. I've got a lovely picture of a black dragon, and I've blogged before about taming emotional dragons. I'm going to print that picture and put it up in my cubicle and on my fridge. - 10/13/2013 6:47:27 PM
  • Now I will think of the "Beast" every time I get anxious and have something solid to deal with before I give in to gluttony. - 8/23/2013 1:15:40 PM
  • Loved the Tame the Beast article. Exactly how I feel. Will now read the whole series. I've never been able to put the feeling into such practical language before. - 8/23/2013 1:12:46 PM
    A good book once told mr to go out and buy a pacifier and suck on it like the little baby you are being. It sounds harsh, but really, wouldn't the adult thing be to deal with the emotion and figure out why you're upset?

    It's one thing to overeat the day your mom dies, or on 9/11, but if you go to food every baseball game -- you're going to pack on some weight. Learn to comfort yourself with something other than food. Even a cup of green tea; that's a good way to calm down a friend. - 8/23/2013 9:49:53 AM

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