Emotional Eating – Addictions to Food
David is working through the issue of his unhealthy food addiction. He often binges on sweets like ice cream, candy bars, and soda pop. This isn’t a matter of simple stupidity. He’s a smart guy, a software engineer that stays busy working. He knows they are bad habits and he is aware of a list of negative consequences to his health. In spite of this and a desire to change, his food addiction behavior has challenged him for years.
It wasn’t an issue when he was younger because he exercised a lot and burned it off. That isn’t the case anymore. Due to his age he can’t exercise the same way and so his eating behavior is overtaking his weight and this health. Over the years he’s attempted multiple approaches like NLP and therapy and only gotten temporary results. He still covets his sweets and gets defensive when he considers giving them up.
David started in on the Self Mastery course on line and began to become aware of some factors behind his behavior that he hadn’t seen before. A couple coaching phone consultations for some added clarity and David developed more understanding about what was driving his addictive eating. David was surprised to find out that his junk food addiction wasn’t really about the food. David’s eating patterns were really about emotions.
David has a mind full of fears and self judgments that nurture a steady state of anxiety. As relief from his anxiety his unconscious mind has carved out a space and time where he can experience peace and calm. In those moments he is so focused on his food that the fear, anxiety, and self judgment is suspended. That space of peace and calm happens when he devours his donuts, ice cream, Dr. Pepper and candy bars.
Some might call it comfort food. I see that as a vague description that hides other issues. For starters what is it that one needs comfort from? It is in these explorations into ones emotions and beliefs that we find the devil in the details. That answer usually involves emotions and the core beliefs they stem from. In David’s case it is the fear and anxiety stemming from self judgments. Although he doesn’t usually notice this layer because he is so busy with the compensating strategy pleasing everyone around him all the time in hopes of getting their approval and acceptance.
Following rules or programs didn’t work
David had tried to follow some simple rules and principles about eating healthy many times before. This generated an intern conflict that he tried to win but always failed. He would get cranky, and even angry, and fight himself until he gave into his food addiction. Afterwards his inner judge would tell him he was weak for giving in. He ended up feeling like a failure. Of course the emotional consequence of this type of inner dialog would drive him towards more comfort food.
Why did he always fail to follow his own healthy eating rules? Because taking away his ice cream and candy bar was also taking away his emotions of peace and calm. The love he expressed towards his ice cream and candy bar gave him a feeling of peace and calm. These were the moments of the greatest joy during his day. To David’s belief system giving up sweets was equivalent to giving up the happiest moments of his day.
David doesn’t create much in the way of love and happiness outside of his eating moments. The anxiety from an internal dialog of self judgment and fears create an emotional desert. His love for sweets was an oasis in the midst of that emotional emptiness.
What would you do if someone wanted to take away the happiest moments of your day? You might get defensive or even angry about it. We’ll that’s the emotional attachment that David was unconsciously dealing with. His intellect wanted to take away his treats, but his emotions wanted to be happy. The emotions won time and time again. Even if it was physically healthier for his body, his belief system had emotional attachments related to his food. His intellect would lose out to the core beliefs driving his emotions.
At the surface it looks like a logical choice for his health of his body. But as David gained self awareness he realized it was an unconscious choice for his happiness. The unconscious choice for his happiness kept winning out even when it was tied to poisoning his body with sugar. David couldn’t recall when he had made the beliefs that associated snack food filled with sugar and emotions of peace and calm, but the beliefs were there.
Steps towards changing Emotional Eating
Sometimes we hope to change certain behaviors in one step as if there were some switch to flip. Usually when there are multiple intertwined beliefs it is necessary to make changes in steps. One of the traps that David will have to change is making the expression of calm and joy solely dependent on the trigger of food. To break this pattern he will have to retrain his emotional system to express and create those emotions at other times. Starving himself emotionally until he gets a sugar snack is part of the belief system routine. If he becomes satisfied emotionally during other parts of the day, he won’t be starved for the emotional eating version of peace and calm. .
Changing Food Habits or Behaviors
For most people changing a habit or behavior is much more challenging than deciding to adopt a new routine. Not only do you have to adopt a new pattern in your actions, but you have to invest some emotions into the new habit. You also have to challenge the emotional attachments of the old habits. In David’s case this includes what he is doing with his emotions when he is away from food.
These attachments exist as thoughts and beliefs that connect certain emotions to food. There are also certain emotions to not having his snacks. In David’s case the emotion of peace and calm is associated to ice cream and donuts. Only after David builds new ways to create peace and calm will he will have a solid chance of dropping his eating addiction. One effective way to do this is to dissolve the self judgments. These create a lot of the fear and anxiety that make it difficult to have the enjoyment of peace and calm during the regular day.
David already knows what he should and shouldn’t eat and why he should do it. This is usually true of people with food and emotional eating addictions. It isn’t just a matter of deciding to do something and doing it. It is more subtle and powerful than that. It’s emotional.
Serious about Change
To make real change you will have to break the old emotional attachments and build new ones. To do this you will have to identify and break the core beliefs that drive these various emotions. This kind of self reflective work requires a bit more introspection than passively reading a book or an article. Your beliefs aren’t in a book, they are in your mind and that is where you will have to look.
Practicing awareness of your beliefs and emotions, including the unpleasant ones, isn’t always glamorous work. Nor does it fit with the positive image that we like to have of our self. Emotional awareness is often uncomfortable, particularly when it has to do with fears, guilt, shame, or anger. Because our natural instinct is toward happiness our mind tends to shy away from this self reflection that is required for change.
However there is tremendous benefit when we deal with these emotional core belief issues. Once they have been addressed we can live free of those uncomfortable emotions and behaviors every day of our life for the rest of our life. That’s a long and rewarding return on your investment for a short bit of up front work.
Emotion is much more powerful than logic. Emotion can be a powerful force that inspires us to action and to create something marvelous. Through limiting core beliefs emotion can also create attachments that cause us to feel trapped and unable to change. The key to unlocking these emotional attachments is to inventory and change the core beliefs they are built on. When you learn to master what you believe, you are able to master your emotions.
Mastering your emotions makes it easy to change any habit or behavior at will.
For lessons on identifying and changing your core beliefs you can sign up for the first Self Mastery audio sessions for free.