Recently I have been watching a program on SBS called “What’s the Right Diet for you.” This is a 3 part program which highlights how understanding the brain helps us discover what makes us comfort eat.
75 over-eater volunteers across the UK were put on a diet that would best suit them taking into account both their biology and genetics, as well as their mental health, being the ways in which they respond to distressing circumstances and their abilities to regulate their own emotions.
The volunteers were set up into three different categories and each group was put on a different diet designed to deal with their reasons for overeating:
- Constant Cravers – The genetic make up of these individuals increases their risk of obesity.
- Emotional Eaters – Those who comfort eat in response to negative feelings.
- Feasters – Individuals who produce less of a particular hormone that tells them when they are full.
Interestingly, in order to highlight the impact of distressing situations on our eating patterns, the Emotional Eating group was subjected to a driving test. During this driving test, they were constantly told they were failing whether it was true or not, and as a result of the stress and uncomfortable emotions that were coming up for these individuals, they consumed hundreds more calories than the other two groups upon completion of the task
On the other hand, the importance and power of self-soothing in order to overcome distressing situations was demonstrated by taking the volunteers abseiling.
Despite many in the Emotional Eaters group becoming obviously distressed and nearly unable to complete the task, with peer support and positive self-talk they were all able to overcome the distressing mind and body response created when they sensed danger from the top of the abseiling wall, and they were able to scale down and complete the task.
These two examples highlight how the power of emotional distress can lead us to self-sabotage our diets, but also how the ability to soothe ourselves both through peer support and positive self talk can help us regulate our emotions and not let them overwhelm us or prohibited us from achieving the goals we want to.
But how can I tel if I am Emotional Eater?
Typically, we all emotionally eat to a certain extent, but if you are concerned about your eating habits or weight, consider the following:
1. Eating to the point of feeling uncomfortably full
2. Gaining weight and not knowing why
3. Feeling as if you cannot control what or how much you are eating
4. Craving and eating energy rich foods
5. Feeling upset or guilty after binge eating, or hiding your eating habits/feeling ashamed of them
6. Eating even when not hungry
7. Binge eating at least once per week over an extended period of time (possibly even years).
Alyce Mayman, Counsellor and Psychotherapist
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