Tag Archives: compulsive eating

Sugar: Physical Addiction, Emotional Craving?

This is Part 4 in a 4-part series on Sugar and Other Sweeteners.

(1) Sugar Is Toxic: Heart Disease, Cancer & More
(2) Sugar: How Much Is Too Much?
(3) Artificial Sweeteners Make You Fat (3a: Health Risks of No-Calorie Sweeteners)
(4) Sugar: Physical Addiction or Emotional Craving?


One of the most frequent questions in the Normal Eating Support Forum is whether to cut out sugar in the early stages of recovery. For most emotional eaters, sugar is a two-edged sword: They feel out of control with it so cutting it out completely seems like the only solution. But when they cut it out completely, they eventually end up bingeing on it.

Is this apparent addiction physical or emotional, and what is the way out? Is it possible for an emotional eater to become a normal eater who eats sugar occasionally, as described in Part 2 of this series?

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2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits

This is Part 3 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


Habits are automatic behavior cued by context (where you are, what you’re doing), performed without intention, and with minimal thought. In Part 1 of this series I described how they’re created and why. In Part 2, I described three strategies for blocking or interrupting habits that have already been cued. In this third and last article in the series, I will describe the most effective way to break a habit – avoiding the cue – and how to create new, positive habits.

There are thousands of blog posts about how to break habits and create new ones. My advice will be a little different. As with the previous articles in this series, the strategies I recommend are based on controlled studies written by psychologists and published in refereed professional journals.

Continue reading 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits

3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits

This is Part 2 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


In Part 1 of this series, I described what habits are, how they are created, and how you can tell the difference between emotional eating and habit eating. It takes many rewarded repetitions for a habit to be created and that’s good, because once habits are created they are extremely hard to break. Habits are automatic behavior cued by context (where you are, what you’re doing), performed without intention, and with minimal thought. When performing a habit your mind is not engaged, and that’s a huge obstacle to change. Resolving to do better, an effective strategy for non-habits, doesn’t help with habits, though thousands of blog posts offer this type of advice.

In researching this article, I read controlled studies written by psychologists and published in refereed professional journals to find out what really works. There are two general strategies: (1) avoid the context that cues the habit routine, or (2) block or interrupt the habit routine after it’s been cued. Avoiding cues is most effective, but not always practical. I’ll talk about that in Part 3 since it’s related to creating new habits. In this article I’ll describe three strategies for blocking or interrupting habit routines after they’ve been cued.

Continue reading 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits

How Habits Can Control Your Eating

This is Part 1 in a 3-part series on Habit Eating.

(1) How Habits Can Control Your Eating
(2) 3 Proven Strategies for Breaking Habits
(3) 2 Key Principles in Creating New Habits


Sometimes you eat because you’re hungry and the food tastes good. But often you eat because it’s noon and you always eat at noon. Or you just got home and you always eat when you first get home. You may not be hungry and the food may not be tasty, but you eat it anyway. Then afterwards you think, "Why did I eat that? Next time I won’t!" But next time, you do it again.

This is habit eating. Habits are overlearned behaviors that are cued by something in your environment (for example, time of day or just arriving home), and performed automatically with little attention or thought. Habits are not goal-directed – you’re not eating to satisfy hunger or experience taste. So why are you eating??

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How to Stop Emotional Eating in the Evening

Do you eat in the evening – and eat and eat? If so, you are not alone! Here is a sampling of the many posts about this in the forum:

“Night eating has been my number one curse. When I initiated that terrible habit then the pounds really started a rampant escalation. I have found that this is the time of night I’m fatigued, anxious, lonely and bored. Sadly to say, that an infusion of sugars actually temporarily reduces the anxiousness I feel.”

“Evenings have always been my time to graze, binge, overeat and numb out. There isn’t one simple reason for it with me, it happens for a variety of reasons but one of the primary reasons is that at the end of the day I feel “empty” and I am seeking something to fill the void with.”

“One of my issued is I am a perfectionist and would do well all day and then in the evening eat everything sweet in sight because “I was not perfect today” so I’ll eat as much as I can and surely tomorrow I will be perfect. Never happened.”

“I’ve been fine each morning and early afternoon, but once evening hits, so does my eating. I eat from early evening until I go to bed. I don’t know why, and I’m not sure how to stop it, but I need to.”

“Evenings make me anxious because of their frustrating, ambivalent nature. Is it my time of rest and relaxation, or is it the time to be productive around home, after the whole day of being productive at work? If I sit and relax, I feel guilty at the housework piling up. If I apply myself to housework, I feel resentful. The push to munch serves the purpose of dodging the issue.”

You can break out of this! Here’s how.

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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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Eating Out of Loneliness (or Is It?)

The Normal Eating® approach is to figure out the reasons behind emotional eating, and then take steps towards fixing the real problem. So if you’re eating out of loneliness, you’d take steps towards enriching your social life.

The tricky part is figuring out the real problem. It’s not always obvious. For example, consider this question from a Normal Eating Support Group member:

What’s the solution for feeling a drab kind of emptiness at nighttime? Or feeling lonely? I do have lots of friends, and I see them regularly. But still I feel lonely when I come home at night.

I don’t think loneliness is the real problem here.

Continue reading Eating Out of Loneliness (or Is It?)

A Simple Tip to Stop Compulsive Overeating

Not all emotional eating comes from the expectation of future deprivation, but some of it does. How many people, for example, decide to start a diet on June 1, and then spend May 22 to May 31 overeating — getting while the getting is good? A lot!

Even if you’ve sworn off dieting, a sense of deprivation can keep you eating after your body has had enough. Your conscious thought may be, “This is so good — I’m full but I can’t stop.” But what’s driving the compulsion, under the surface, is the feeling that not eating it now would be a flat-out loss because there likely won’t be another chance.

There is a very simple but effective solution.

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