I went into a Barnes & Noble recently and asked for their section on emotional eating. They didn’t have one! Books on emotional eating are scattered across at least three sections: Nutrition, Diet, Eating Disorders, and Self Improvement. What a vivid reflection of how eating and weight problems are misunderstood.
Emotional eating is the single most common reason that people are overweight. It doesn’t make sense to put books on emotional eating in the eating disorders section because not all emotional eaters have full-fledged eating disorders. Nor do the Nutrition or Diet sections make sense because emotional eating cannot be solved by improved nutrition or weight loss diets. That’s because what you put in your mouth is not the problem, it’s just a symptom of the problem. The Self Improvement section at least fits, but books on emotional eating get lost among other types of self-improvement books.
If you don’t understand what causes eating and weight problems, you can’t fix them. I’ve been thinking about how to convey the essential problem and solution in a clear and concise way. My book Normal Eating for Normal Weight describes it in detail, but sometimes details can obscure essential truths. So here are the key truths about this difficult problem and how to solve it.
9 Truths of Normal Eating
- Diets don’t work. Normal eaters don’t need them, and compulsive eaters can’t follow them.
- To lose weight permanently, you must become a normal eater. No one can stay vigilant forever.
- Food and weight obsession are unrelated to food or weight, and don’t go away with weight loss.
- Desperation to lose weight actually prevents weight loss, in addition to making you miserable.
- Many overweight people are ambivalent about losing weight, although they don’t know it.
- Actionable insights about why you eat are accessible only when you’re experiencing a craving.
- Pausing before acting on a craving is extremely uncomfortable, but it’s the path to true freedom.
- Every pause is a victory — even a short pause — because pausing eventually leads to stopping.
- Anyone can learn to be a normal eater, including you!
The first truth is crucial because if you don’t believe it, you can’t become a normal eater. From the chapter on Stage 1:
If, in the back of your mind, you are thinking that if Normal Eating doesn’t work you will go back to dieting, then the deprivation mindset will never go away. You will never truly believe that your free access to food is permanent, so you’ll tend to eat more than usual to "get while the getting is good". Normal Eating requires a change in thinking that can’t be faked.
The reason people have trouble committing to Normal Eating is lack of trust in themselves. Also from the chapter on Stage 1:
Learning to trust yourself is a core element of Normal Eating, and I’m not just talking about eating choices. We are integrated beings. Either we trust ourselves, or we don’t. If you distrust yourself in one area, you will tend to distrust yourself in all areas — food, relationships, money, or whatever.
As you learn to trust yourself with food, you will trust yourself more in other areas as well. In the end you will achieve much more than a normal weight; your whole life will improve.
Something to Try…
Do you trust yourself around food? Do you feel you’re capable of learning to make good eating choices? It’s hard to trust yourself when you’ve let yourself down repeatedly, perhaps for years.
So start small. Make a promise to yourself that you know you can keep, and then keep it. For example, promise yourself that you won’t eat anything between 10 and 11 one morning this week. That may seem like no big deal, but it is a big deal when you make a promise to yourself and keep it. It builds trust in yourself.
This article was also published in the May 2009 newsletter.