Category Archives: Eating and Self-Care

What I Learned from Taking a Drug that Causes Weight Gain

Today’s post will be somewhat personal because I’ve been quite sick. The problem, as usual, is my digestive system – the ulcerative colitis that originally inspired the Normal Eating method. When an emotional eater has health-mandated eating restrictions, he or she must resolve emotional eating in a very deep way to avoid getting triggered. And thus the Normal Eating method was born.

This time around my challenge was a little different. I wasn’t trying to follow a special diet that I hoped would cure me (though I did make certain changes I’ll talk about shortly). I was – and am – taking a drug that I know from past experience causes pronounced increase in appetite and water retention, potentially leading to rapid weight gain and "moonface" (puffed out cheeks): the dreaded Prednisone.

First key point: When you are sick enough to need this drug, it puts the importance of appearance in perspective. When you are so sick that you cannot leave home or enjoy life at all, a fast 20 pound weight gain and a head like a basketball seems a small price to pay to be functional and pain-free. That said, I did not gain 20 pounds this time.

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Self-Deprivation Mindset: No Pleasure in Eating

Emotional eaters often feel enormous guilt about eating – and especially enjoyment of eating. This may seem like a small matter, but in fact guilt-free enjoyment of food is a key factor in recovery. From my book, Normal Eating® for Normal Weight:

Our modern society views enjoyment of eating in much the same way as Victorians viewed enjoyment of sex – dangerous and sinful, something to feel guilty about. It’s considered almost obscene not to be on a diet that restricts what you eat.

A few weeks ago, someone posted a message in the forum with the subject "Mindful eating feels like a punishment". Here’s an excerpt from it:

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How Other People Affect Your Eating

Most of us don’t live in isolation. The people closest to you usually know all about your struggles with weight and eating, and can have a profound effect on your Normal Eating journey.

When you’re coming from the diet world, you’re coming from a world in which it’s assumed that you don’t have the self-control or judgment to manage your eating on your own. At one time or another, you may even have recruited friends and family to help you stick to your diet and monitor what you eat.

But in Normal Eating, taking full responsibility for your eating choices is crucial. Normal Eating teaches you to trust yourself – teaches you that you can trust yourself. So when you stop dieting and make the shift to Normal Eating, the "helpful" interjections from family and friends to not eat this or that are no longer welcome – and in fact, interfere with your progress.

The people close to you can sidetrack your efforts in more subtle ways, as well. Whenever someone changes – even when the change is positive – there will be some resistance to the change from those close to the person.

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5 Main Triggers for Emotional Eating

When you’re in the moment of craving – wanting to eat, though you’re not hungry – it doesn’t help to have abstract knowledge of why you eat. If you know that you eat when you’re angry, for example, that doesn’t help much in the moment that you’re angry. You’re still angry and you still want to eat.

The only way to dissolve the craving is to figure out the true need underneath the emotion, and take action to address the true need. Simply recognizing that you’re angry doesn’t help. You need to uncover the reasons below the anger – the unfilled needs or boundary violations that triggered the anger.

Connecting with yourself on this deeper level is hard when you’ve spent years ignoring your own needs, but it’s necessary. If all you know is that you’re unhappy, the only way out is a comfort behavior like eating. If you know the underlying need, then you can work on meeting it.

Over the years of working with emotional eaters, I’ve noticed five main themes:

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Self-Discipline versus Self-Care for Weight Loss

There was an interesting discussion in the forum this week about whether – even after you stop emotional eating – you need self-discipline to lose weight. Here is the argument in favor, from a Normal Eating Support Group member:

I think the issue of discipline is important in Stage 4. Health and fitness does not come naturally in most adults, and requires a lot of work and restriction. The real work is transforming restriction into self-love, and befriending the mechanisms of self-discipline can be useful. At least that’s how I see it, and how I observe many adults around me with no eating issues, who are very strict with their food intake and their exercise routines. Within a solid stage 4, those mental push-ups can bring enormous benefits.

This is diet-think, turning Normal Eating into the “eat when hungry” diet. It sounds reasonable only because this is the attitude of the culture at large – that if we follow our natural instincts, we will not do the right thing.

This is not my personal experience, nor the experience of many others I’ve worked with over the years. Intuitively eating to fuel our bodies – without particular stress or effort – is our natural state. Once emotional eating is resolved and we are reconnected with body wisdom, we don’t have to fight ourselves anymore – there is nothing to curb or discipline.

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Emotional Eating in Men and Boys

Since I started the original Normal Eating Support Group in 2002, only a tiny fraction of members have been men – well under 1%. And those few men who joined have never stuck around. In contrast, many of our female members have been active participants for years. (I’m very grateful to those who have found recovery and stay to help newcomers.)

When I developed the Normal Eating logo with the silhouette of a woman, a member wrote to me and said I shouldn’t use that because it will make men feel less welcome. I considered her point, but men weren’t joining the forum anyway, so I just went with it.

Recently I did a Web search on emotional eating in men and it’s generally thought that men constitute just 10% of emotional eaters. But I’m not sure I believe this. I wonder if men are just less likely to admit it. I had an experience today that reinforced this idea.

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Is the Recession Affecting Your Eating?

Are you worried about money? Be careful not to add weight gain to your list of problems. There’s a well-known correlation between low income and obesity. For one thing, high calorie foods are cheaper. For another, lack of money — or fear of lack of money — is very stressful. Feeling trapped in a bad situation is the #1 trigger for emotional eating, and a recession can make you feel very trapped.

So fight back! Innoculate yourself by taking action. The more you do, the better you’ll feel, even if you can’t completely fix the problem.

Don’t know what to do? Start in the kitchen. People are eating out less, and eating at home can mean healthier eating, but not necessarily.

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A New Year, A New Start

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.

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New Year Resolutions that Work

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.

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