Two weeks ago, I had a binge. I had just finished the Beck chapters on Hunger, Desire to eat and cravings. You would have thought I would have been fully prepared to stop that runaway train but no it went at breakneck speed right on through the station and then it derailed on a curve.
I managed to stop the binge and see it as a temporary slip and get right back on my journey. Giving myself big credit for that one. At the same time, that binge scared me. I knew I didn’t know HOW to effectively prevent a binge and convincingly deal with my FEELINGs.
So for the past 2 weeks, I have been reading lots of articles and working on emotional eating. Many articles suggested the same 4 step method of dealing with emotional eating.
1. Stop and try to label your feelings.
2. Be compassionate with yourself and tell yourself that your Feelings are very reasonable.
3. Decide what you want to FEEL instead of what you are FEELING right now.
4. Distract yourself with pleasurable activities.
I realized I was good at taking a pause and labeling my feelings. I was usually feeling hurt, powerless, frustrated and angry. My reading showed me I was bad at figuring out what I wanted to FEEL instead and distracting myself.
I decided to use the experience that led to my binge to learn something that will help me succeed on this journey. Reading those article, I learned a lot and it has really helped.
First the science
Emotions cause our bodies to release chemicals like dopamine and adrenalin into the blood stream. Emotions unconsciously make our bodies react to a perceived threat. So at first, we are reacting but we don’t consciously know HOW we FEEL.
A FEELING is becoming aware of what is going on within our bodies. That’s when we know we are experiencing an emotion that we label as frustrated or angry or whatever.
The primitive part of our brain called the amygdala receives sensory information and processes the perceived threat. The amygdala is primarily concerned with threat, fear of attack and harm. The amygdala then influences our responses as freeze, flight or fight.
The amygdala takes over control of our brain and releases dopamine and adrenalin into the blood stream to physically prepares us to deal with the perceived threat. Unfortunately, the amygdala has very limited problem solving skills.
The prefrontal cortex controls reasoning, conscious thought, language and complex problem-solving. The prefrontal cortex can handle lots of information and has the best problem solving skills but it can not function when the amygdaloid perceives a threat. That’s why you can’t think clearly when you are angry and when you exit the situation you have so many woulda, coulda, shoulda thoughts.
So, when you sense a threat your brain chemistry and the way you process information changes. You go into an unconscious reaction mode with severely diminished problem solving skills. It takes time to perceive the threat as an emotion of anger, frustration or powerlessness. Since the primitive brain is still in control, it is all too easy to allow mindless behaviors like emotional eating to take place.
Anger often starts off as a frustration, maybe wanting something but not getting it. Something or someone gets in the way of us getting what we want and that frustrates us. We may want to feel safe, loved, listened to, appreciated, acknowledged, respected or understood. Wants that get thwarted cause frustration. It has been found that an average person experienced 20 frustrations a day ranging from very small frustrations to very big. Common causes of frustration and anger include, traffic, arrogant or rude people, being yelled at, having to wait, feeling used, being lied to and not getting your way. So with all these frustrating situations, it’s not surprising that we get “angry” from time to time.
Psychology tells us that the cause of compulsive eating is an unconscious desire to suppress emotions. We eat because we don’t want to feel the pain from our emotions. The emotion could be anger, frustration, annoyance, fear, pain insecurity and even rage. Anger about people who hurt your feelings and rage at how fed up you are of being overweight and how much it limits your life and even more anger that you need to heal your emotional eating issues. I walked around with a lot of anger because I haven't been as successful as I'd like losing weight. Reading about the science behind emotional eating has helped me release some of the anger I have against myself. If anger starts out as an unconscious perceived threat that is responded to by the primitive brain that stinks at problem solving, it’s only reasonable to expect I’m going to FEEL this way from time to time. It’s NOT a personal failing.
So this is how I have decided to revise my plan to overcome emotional eating and prevent binges.
1. Stop Take a few deep breaths. Give yourself time to label your feelings. “I am so frustrated and angry.” As a result of that situation, What do you feeling now? “I feel so angry and there’s nothing I can do about it so I want to eat! Feeling powerless and unable to change the situation often come before frustration and anger. So you know what you are FEELING and you labeled them You FEEL powerless, frustrated and angry. Good work!
2. Be compassionate towards yourself Take few more deep breaths and tell yourself “That situation was so hard. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself. Your feelings are totally reasonable.” Comfort Yourself. Rock yourself back and forth, give yourself a hug. Tell yourself it’s okay to feel frustrated.
3. What to do instead of eating? Heading off a binge has short critical moments and then comes the avalanche of eating. In the critical moment, deep introspection takes way too long. I need a better and faster way to respond to my negative emotions. I’ve read lots of articles hoping to find something new. Some suggested defusing anger, frustration, and rage by feeling it fully and then trying to label the emotions underneath.
Beck says to solve the problem and respond to angry thoughts. When I’m angry, I don’t want to solve problems. Beck says, negative emotions ebb over time, describe problems and they are like food desires and cravings. Yes, that’s true but I’ve eaten lots by the time that happens. Beck also suggested a very long helpful response card. Stand firm. Decide to not eat. No Choice! Imagine aftermath, guilt, self reproach, disappointment. Previous failures. Apply helpful thoughts. If you want to reach goal and maintain your weight, you have to deal with stress and emotions in non-food ways. Food is a temporary solution for the immediate pain but the cost of emotional eating creates a lifetime of pain. Emotions are painful. Overeating makes it worse. Beck also suggests Distraction activities. Go for a walk. Make a cup of tea. Relaxation techniques. Breathing. Guided imagery. Muscle relaxation. When you’re calm, work on problem solving. That’s a VERY long helpful Response Card. It’s going to take me a lot of practice to to internalize all of that. I agree with all of those responses but I need something shorter and more too the point.
After 2 weeks of fruitlessly reading psychology articles, where do I find the inspiration? SP on the front page in Indybunny’s (AKA INDYGIRL) blog. Here’s Indybunnys trick to put a stop or at least a good pause to emotional eating.
We often eat to escape our feelings. “I don’t want to feel what I’m feeling now.” That’s like telling a travel agent that you don’t want to go to England. Where do you want to go? Ask yourself “What do I want to feel?” (This is exactly where I got stuck!)
Next, think about when you felt the way you want to feel last. Think about ways to create that feeling without food. Brainstorm. One of my clients once wanted to be on a beach and was depressed. It was causing her head hunger. I told her to watch a beach movie and put on her bathing suit and suntan oil... fix a low cal fancy drink and “lay out” while she watched the movie just for fun. She said it really helped. You have to be creative.
Her tip hit my needs right on the head. Most of the articles I’d read had little to offer in figuring out what I wanted instead. Please, if I knew what I wanted instead I wouldn't have eaten all that junk. Indybunny’s tip is so right on and easy to apply.
What to do instead of eating? I'm going to wrap myself in a brand new, because I deserve it, beach towel and listen to The Beach Boys until I feel better!
I FEEL wonderful and empowered because I know HOW to deal with this situation!