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Health & Wellness Articles  ›  Emotional Health

Tame the Emotional Eating Beast for Good

3 Ways to Get Back on Track

-- By Dean Anderson, Behavioral Psychology Expert
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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:
  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

  • AVEINDHA
    This was an extremenly well written and insightful article. The best thing about it...is 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 it...so 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 unemployed...my 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
  • FLOYDIE40
    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
  • How did you get inside my head, Dean Anderson? LOL! Thank you for always being so frighteningly wise!
    I also now have a visual of the "Beast" (it looks something like a "Where the Wild Things Are" character that I can conjure up in those situations you have so accurately described. Yesterday, I actually got up from my desk and began to prowl for food somewhere in my office.....the "Beast" had taken over my mind for that brief and potentially disastrous period.. Now, I can actually visualize putting him back in his cage so I can go on with my day! - 8/23/2013 6:46:28 AM
  • REFERENCEGIRL73
    This sounds exactly like quitting cigarettes except, of course, you don't have to smoke three times a day to live. - 5/28/2013 9:12:11 AM
  • LINDAGALLI
    That Beast lives within me as well, My way of keeping it caged, and / or happy is to stay away from as many simple carbs as possable, They seem to trigger that Beast. I have been keeping my Carbs as low as I can keeping any that do end up on my plate, as complex as possable. That after Dinner snack is also a trigger, so I make sure it is only Protein. Once I get the carbs under control, (takes about 5 days of really working hard at self control) I do fine, The Beast has its comments close to bed time every night, but it is just a light whisper, not a full blown RAWR. - 4/23/2013 6:10:48 PM
  • I've always heard the "you need self control" plan to stop the cravings, but that doesn't work for me. This is the first thing I've read that admits that it's more than just that. Great! - 2/20/2013 4:00:12 PM
  • I think this may be the approach I need. Since I ignore the beast when I am at school all day, she demands my attention as soon as I get home. Now I will think of just disciplining the beast instead of feeding her. Wow! I think this will work!!! - 12/31/2012 6:21:50 AM
  • For me, "distraction" didn't work. I had to FEEL the feelings that were causing my emotional eating and then RELEASE them. I was an emotional eater for much of my adult life. When I wasn't actively dieting, I was constantly craving pasta, cheese, or anything crunchy. I wasn't so much a sweets gal. But I would come home at night after work and make several helpings of spaghetti or fettuccine alfredo and plop down in front of the TV. I finally figured out that I was eating to reduce subconscious tension, anxiety and a general unhappiness with my life. Then I decided to take a look at my life in great detail, and use emotional freedom techniques to rid myself of my emotional eating. I methodically examined all my memories from childhood to present and released any negative emotions I was harboring. The end result is I'm emotionally free for the first time in my life, and I'm very happy. I've lost 30 lbs and am still losing. I no longer crave high carb foods and look forward to eating salads and fresh fruits and veggies for my meals. I would encourage anyone struggling with emotional eating or food addiction to investigate EFT. It was a miracle in my life. I've also shared my journey, as well as all the exact techniques and exercises I used to get over my emotional eating in my book, ThinStead. If my story resonates with you, and you want to get over your emotional eating too, ThinStead is available on Amazon. If you can beat your emotional eating, you won't have to diet anymore, because you'll automatically be making healthier food choices every day. Doing the emotional work seriously gave me back my life. I feel so much freer and happier now than I ever have, that I wanted to share my story with others. But whatever you do, God bless you in your journey to health and fitness! - 8/16/2012 1:49:35 PM
  • Dean is very insightful and he writes in a voice that is understandable but not baby talk or preaching. Right On Keep up the Great Articles - 6/27/2012 8:03:06 PM