Today’s post addresses an important question that comes up regularly in the Normal Eating Support Group: Is eating to numb out and escape feelings ever okay? Can you do this, and still be a normal eater?
The short answer is no. Here’s why.
I spent a fair number of late nights working on the just-published Normal Eating for Normal Weight, and that inspired the topic of today’s post: sleep deprivation – how it compares to overeating (with an excerpt from the new book), and how it can trigger overeating.
Do you struggle with guilt about eating so-called "forbidden foods"? There is never a reason for guilt or shame about what you eat. Guilt means you feel you’ve done something morally wrong, and there’s no right or wrong when it comes to eating. Not convinced? Consider this (from the chapter on Stage 1):
People like to think – or hope – that they can stop emotional eating once and for all, and never have to deal with it again. But you don’t ever forget the old behaviors, and it’s dangerous to think that one day you’ll be immune. If you have this unrealistic expectation, then even the urge to eat emotionally can make you feel like a failure.
The truth is – based on both my own experience and years of working with others – that once you have used food to soothe emotional pain, the impulse never goes away completely. People have a natural tendency to revert to old comfort behaviors, especially when under stress.
What stands between the urge and the action are the tools you learn in the Normal Eating® recovery program.
The beginning of a new year is a time for fresh starts. We assess where we’ve been, and where we want to go. We make course changes and adjustments. We resolve to do better.
But too often, new year resolutions are a form of self-flagellation. You’ve put on a few pounds with holiday eating, so you resolve to stick to a diet, go to the gym three times a week, etc. If you tend to soothe emotional pain with food, self-flagellation about weight does not get you where you want to go! Kindness and compassion towards yourself work much better.
When new year resolutions are about "shoulds" – all the things you haven’t been doing but "should" be doing – they just make you feel guilty and bad about yourself. And moreover, they don’t work! Try this instead: resolve to do a better job of taking care of yourself and getting your needs met so you don’t need food Band-Aids in the first place.
You will be amazed at how self-care can reduce emotional eating. Even small improvements can have a big impact.
Some people say that New Year’s Resolutions are of no use at all because no one keeps them. But I think they are useful in that they make people think about their lives in broad terms – the long view. New Year’s Resolutions are to-do lists for the year, versus the daily to-do lists that so many of us make. When we think about New Year’s Resolutions, we’re thinking about where we want our lives to be a year from now.
New Year’s Resolutions can be useful, but that doesn’t mean they are always useful. Today’s post is about how to make New Year’s Resolutions that work – resolutions that will continue to inspire and guide you for the rest of the year.
Food cravings are, without a doubt, the biggest obstacle in recovery from emotional eating. Even when you know what is triggering the desire to eat, the craving can remain. As I mentioned in my previous post, the first step towards stopping is to insert a pause between impulse and action – to not immediately act on the urge. Every moment you pause is a moment of recovery.
But how do you use this pause to dissolve the craving so the pause turns into a stop? That is the subject of today’s post. (You’ll find a more detailed discussion of how to stop food cravings in my book Normal Eating for Normal Weight.)
Eating what your body tells you to eat, when it tells you to eat it, is obviously a more pleasant and effective way to maintain a normal weight than dieting, but how do you do that if you’re a compulsive or emotional eater? What you need is a road map of how to get from here to there, and that’s what the Normal Eating® recovery program provides. Normal Eating’s four-stage approach breaks down the recovery process into achievable subgoals, and each stage includes uniquely effective exercises to help you get there. The program is described in detail in the book Normal Eating for Normal Weight.
The most important element of the Normal Eating recovery program is “the pause” – the practice of pausing for at least 15 minutes before acting on the urge to eat when not hungry. Pausing before you act on the urge to eat when not hungry is crucial for two reasons:
The December holiday season is a time of special foods, and lots of them. Every year there is discussion in the media about how not to gain weight when tempted by all these treats. I discussed the issue of handling holiday feasts in the November newsletter, so in this newsletter I’ll focus on the other side of the problem – obsession with body size, weight, and appearance. One way the Normal Eating approach is different from other non-diet approaches is that it identifies the obsession itself – the desperate desire to be thin – as a primary symptom and underlying cause of disordered eating and misery around food.
The topic of weight obsession is especially relevant now because this holiday – more than any other – involves contact with people. It’s a December tradition to send out hundreds of holiday cards to renew connections. It’s also a time of numerous parties and get-togethers, both personal and at work. The December holiday season may be the only time of year that you see the CEO of your company, or meet your colleagues’ spouses. Parties given by friends are also occasions for meeting new people and renewing acquaintances.
All this "face time" can kick up great anxiety about your appearance – especially if you weigh more than you did the last time you saw certain people. This newsletter will address the "What do I wear – I feel so fat!" problem, but not in the way you might expect. I’m not about to give you fashion tips! I will take a very different approach in helping you to deal with these issues.
Question: What is the surest way to lose all control over yourself during the holiday season and gain massive amounts of weight?
Answer: The diet mentality – attempting to control your eating through externally imposed rules and self-deprivation
Dieting means eating according to externally derived rules that are independent of what you want or need. People turn to external rules because they don’t feel they have the ability to make reasonable choices on their own. A few thousand episodes of not having control in the past will tend to reinforce this lack of self-trust, but in fact you can relearn natural, internal control of your eating if you approach it in the right way. It’s not that you can’t get there, it’s that you don’t know how to get there.
What does it mean to you to be thin? Seems obvious at first – you want to be thin so you look good, right? But when you consider the intensity of people’s desire to be thin, you realize there must be more than “meets the eye”. People view the number on the scale as a measure of their worth as a human being! So what does it really mean to you to be thin. What qualities of character do you associate with being thin versus being fat?
Here are some answers from Normal Eating Support Group members: