Emotions Revisited

NewMe asked this question the other week:

Diane, your posts are incredibly honest and truthful, but I’d be interested in hearing more about how you overcame what was clearly a huge (pardon the pun) problem with emotional eating. What did you do from a psychological point of view to address your emotional need for food? It seems to me that without getting at the psychological reasons for your overeating, you wouldn’t have been able to repress your clearly disordered behaviour and get on a positive track food-wise.

I can definitely pardon the well placed pun for such an important question. NewMe brings up the most common question those who are on their own journey ask. “What about emotions?” She is 100% right. Until we have some sort of victory over the emotional aspects of our relationship with food it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible to lose weight and keep it off indefinitely.

We’ve all seen it happen. A friend or family members gets completely on board with a particular weight loss program and sticks with it. They reach their goal weight and are “over the moon.” But just as rapidly as the weight came off, it slowly begins to come back on. Often times he/she ends up gaining more than they lost in the first place. What happened?

I don’t know the answer in every case, but in many cases I believe it’s because they had not dealt adequately with the reasons they ended up overweight in the beginning. Obviously I’m excluding folks who have medical conditions, etc. from this scenario. But for the average person, there are some emotional issues with food.

For me, the emotions started with a controlling, domineering family. I ate to have something that was all mine. No one could stop me from putting food in my mouth when they weren’t around. In high school and college it wasn’t a tragedy to eat too much because I had a young metabolism and was fairly active. But later in my early adulthood the problem with eating spiraled out of control. And thus did my weight.

After trying everything under the sun to lose weight with no success, I reached the point where I was emotionally ready. I don’t think I did any prep work before that moment, but I certainly had a lot of emotional issues to deal with from that point on. Things like:

♦ Why did I eat in secret?

♦What drove me to binge?

♦Why did I have no control over my choices?

♦What void was I trying to fill?

It would take a book for me to answer those questions here, but suffice it to say that I dealt with each of those issues and more. One of the first things I did was keep an emotions journal. For several weeks after I began my journey I wrote down the emotions I was feeling whenever I ate, whether good emotions or bad. I realized that for me, there was an emotion almost every time. I rarely wanted to eat because I was truly hungry, but rather because I was sad, happy, bored, stressed, comfortable, content, upset, mad, excited, etc. This shouldn’t have been surprising to me, but it was.

Then, after realizing that the majority of my food was eaten based on emotion, I took some steps to separate the emotions out. I still felt the emotions, but instead of eating in response to every emotion I really tried to examine what I was feeling and what I could do to satisfy that feeling without eating. This was not easy. Not easy.

And it didn’t happen overnight. There were many, many times along that weight loss year where I fell off the wagon, but I quickly got back on track by reminding myself of some of those Life Goals I talked about yesterday.

I’d love to know how you are working through the emotional part of your journey. Have you found a strategy that keeps you from eating based solely on emotion? To this day, I still sometimes find myself standing in the pantry after an upsetting phone call. But now I tell myself, “Diane, get out of the stinkin’ pantry and deal with the problem.” Eating because of the phone call wouldn’t do anything except make me mad at myself.  Diane

50 thoughts on “Emotions Revisited

  1. Alixandra Hice says:

    Very interesting post, Diane.

    When I was heavier, sometimes I overate because I was discouraged by being overweight. Does that make sense. It was like, well, I can’t magically change my situation in an instant, so I need something that will make me feel better now… this cake ought to do… But once I got committed to a health and fitness program and began realizing success losing weight, that was a very powerful mojo indeed. Now that I’m in maintenance, it’s really easy to drift into complacency and not pay attention (hello holidays!), but I remind myself every day that I’m not racing for the finish line… I’m on the track and just have to keep focused on staying the course.

    ♥ Alix
    .-= Alixandra Hice´s last blog ..Husband Insurance =-.

  2. Yum Yucky says:

    Does boredom count as emotional eating? This is a serious question. Sometimes I ate stuff that wasn’t even tasty, or kept on after I was already full.

    It’s a horrible feeling. Still tries to grip me but I win 98% of the time. Still working on that 2%. It’s an ugly 2%.
    .-= Yum Yucky´s last blog ..The Hungry Genealogy of Josie =-.

  3. Marcelle says:

    I find I eat out of boredom, still struggling with that in my life as its not as full as it was back home, and back home I never had a weight problem…
    I am still trying to find ways to make my days a little busier so that I stop suffering from boredom and winter its so much harder.
    .-= Marcelle´s last blog ..Did I really?? =-.

  4. Mia says:

    For me, I ate because I was either starving from dieting, blowing my diet, or going on a diet tomorrow so I had better eat everything I won’t be able to. I completely did not know what it felt like to be satiated. Once I quit the diet roller coaster and just started healthy eating and exercising, I became successful at loosing weight and keeping it off.

    I do recognized an emotional component today because like you Diane, I find myself in the pantry after an emotional phone call too! But for me, I tell myself that I may feel bad now, but eating cookies will make me feel worse because I know that will lead to a binge! (Hence, I never keep cookies in the house!) Also, when I have a day of poor eating choices, I give myself a break. I used to feel guilty the next day which was counterproductive. Today, I recognize that I cannot gain back 50 pounds in one Thanksgiving Day Feast. By eating clean and adding a little more exercise over the next week, I will get my weight back where it should be.

    I think it is weird that I didn’t see my emotional eating until after I gave up dieting!


  5. Laura says:

    Diane, I have a comment inspired by the post but that is not related to the post. It is related to eating in secret… or eating in the street.

    As a child, I used to be overweight. When I eat something in the school or in the street, the other children laughed at me, and started saying me that the reason I was overweight was that I eat. Not just the children, also parents did it! And in my slim times, I saw parents told to their children that each or that boy were eating and that was the reason of their overweight.

    It was not overeating. It was only a snack at half of the morning or the afternoon.

    From that days, it’s difficult to me to eat when I’m on the street. You know: yesterday I was eating a snack on the train (two tangerines), and some people were staring at me. I was thinking: oh, they are thinking that I’m eating all day, and it’s the reason that I’m overweight.

    I’m used to not have many time, and sometimes I eat my snacks on the train, or walking in the street. Did you had any problem on eating snacks in the street? I mean, problems of thinking what people would say?

    One month ago, in a train, I was eating also two tangerines. One mother was with her baby, and she said aloud (all the train could hear her comment): “Oh! That girl is eating so much!” I didn’t knew where to look.

    • Diane says:


      I am so sorry that people make you feel like that when you are eating healthy snacks. Or anything for that matter. It is hard to ignore the comments of people who don’t know who you are, and are judging you for what you see.

      Honestly, the more weight I gained, the less food I ate in front of other people. I felt judged by them and felt like they were watching every morsel that was going into my mouth.

      I hope that you will be able to continue getting healthier and try to look past other people who don’t understand your program and your life. Take care of yourself. Diane

  6. Amy H. says:

    I find that I eat if I have too much to do. I also eat if I don’t have enough to do. So, for me, it’s a matter of searching for balance with stress levels. I need just the right amount. Problem is, that’s not really how life is. There’s always too much or too little. I’m learning to deal with it, but as you say, it’s not easy.
    .-= Amy H.´s last blog ..Door Mats n Stuff =-.

  7. Bearfriend says:

    Hi Diane. Since I started my healthy eating plan I have REALLY noticed how my mood dips at times during the day, and I’ve just been noticing my emotions and feelings much more in general. This is because I’m no longer covering them with food. I am sitting with those emotions and feelings and observing them and working out what they might be about. I have been surprised by the amount of clarity I’ve had about a lot of things in my life over the last 2 weeks! And I’m very happy about that.

    So separating food from emotions is essential. Food is healthier and for nutrition and emotions can be recognised for what they are.

    Best wishes,
    Bearfriend xx
    .-= Bearfriend´s last blog ..Day 16: Thoughts on rigidity, chaos and "normal" eating =-.

  8. Christieo says:

    Great post, Diane! I was never really an “emotional” eater. Well I guess sometimes I would bask in some fried goodness on a bad day, so maybe that was part of the problem. But I still think that for me, I was always secretly bitter that I couldn’t eat what I wanted when I wanted. I have one of those stubborn personalities that when someone or something tells me I shouldn’t do something, I go ahead full steam ahead instead! (Drives my husband crazy.) Anyway, my sister and mom were always 110 pounds and never worked out a day in their lives and everything and everything they wanted. They had the most forgiving metabolism. Me? Notsomuch. I was always the fat sister/daughter. I tried to keep up with them but I just grew rounder. So then I’d lose weight and not want to do the “work” to maintain, grow secretly bitter that I needed to do the “work” instead of just living my life and eating what I wanted, I’d stop working out, eat anything I wanted then get heavy again. I hated the awful cycle. I think that it will stick this time because I have overhauled my entire life and fitness (and meeting fitness goals) has become a way of life for me, not just about losing weight. It’s about crossing a finish line literally and metaphorically. I guess I’m kind of on a mission now to find out exactly what I am capable of doing and eating crappy food doesn’t fit into that equation anymore (well, most of the time.) It really just felt good to write that, by the way, I just brought myself a little tear thinking about how much things have changed and how much happier I am now that they did. :)I realize now that competing with them over weight never made any sense because I just wasn’t going to win that one. I’ve stopped comparing my body to other bodies because we are all just built differently. Period.
    .-= Christieo´s last blog ..Don’t Mind Me =-.

  9. miss c. says:

    i’m still working on the emotional issues surrounding eating, but my reasons were similar to yours: a controlling, domineering family. secret eating, binging, hiding food: i’ve done pretty much everything you’ve written about as well.

    thankfully, those kinds of behaviour are behind me now, and when they do creep up, i talk about them with my partner. still not 100% there (i.e. sometimes eating for reasons other than hunger), but i will, eventually.

    [on another note: your blog is a constant source of inspiration, motivation and insight, diane. thank you for being so open and honest!]
    .-= miss c.´s last blog ..it’s thursday, and i’m angry. =-.

    • Diane says:

      Thank you so much for your nice compliment. It means a lot. I’m glad that you have moved past those emotional issues for the most part. It’s a process isn’t it?

  10. Jody - Fit at 52 says:

    Awesome as usual!!! Emotional eating is HUGE!!!! I think a great majority of people are obese due to some sort of emotional eating. I was there.. unhappy with myself, fat, jealous of others… yes, I eat to try to get rid of these issues but it just made it worst. I just got to the point where I was sick of it. I lost the weight but did not overcome the emotional issues.. although I learned to know them & not eat because of them. Now, I just make sure I think things thru so I know if I eat, it is my choice to drown my emotions in food & that rarely happens. I usually step away for 15 minutes or so to “think” about it.

    I also say to myself, don’t let that person or that stupid thing ruin all my hard work!

  11. Sunny says:

    NO ONE is fat/obese who doesn’t have emotional problems with food. No one!

    I knew I had to face that head-on right at the very beginning of this journey, and I did. “The Solution” by Laurie Mellin was critical in helping me in that regard. I highly recommend any of her books to help steer a person down that path easily and quickly.

    Since, I’ve learned to follow a 1,200 calorie South Beach Phase II food plan. 1,200 calories a day really doesn’t allow for mindless snacking. And it’s the snacking from emotional needs that caused the trouble. So it’s worked well, too.

    Great topic, as always. 🙂
    .-= Sunny´s last blog ..Muddling Along… =-.

  12. Brooke says:

    very fitting…given that last night i sat down with a bag of tortilla chips and a dr. pepper right before bed time. not because i was hungry. not because i was craving them. but because i was stressed and i “deserved” to relax before bed. not sure how a sugary, caffeinated beverage relaxes you…

  13. Walk with Me says:

    Wow! I am finally admitting to myself that I am an emotional eater. I am learning to deal with my emotions head on. One of the things I do is a lot of positive affirmations, prayer, meditation, and mindful watching. Being present helps. Instead of obsessing about the past or worrying about the future, I focus on the right now. Focus equals less mindless eating for me.
    .-= Walk with Me´s last blog ..There are days I don’t even recognize myself or all this for a lousy t-shirt =-.

  14. Jen says:

    I have to see, food was my “friend” and protector. It did neither. I have struggled with this. I just read an interesting article this morning that talked about food and depression. I will probably blog about it later.
    .-= Jen´s last blog ..No news =-.

  15. Pam says:

    There is so much truth for so many of us in this post – thank you for writing it! I truly don’t know what caused my overeating, and it eventually just became a habit more than anything. I have had to retrain my thinking and focus, for sure, and it will always be a work in progress, but this time? Its going to work!
    .-= Pam´s last blog ..337 Days — To Celebrate! =-.

  16. MySensei says:

    Boredom plays a huge factor in over-eating for me. Even when I am at work in front of my computer, just like at home in front of the TV, I feel the need to snack on something, even after I just ate lunch or dinner. But Diane you really do get to the bottom of the emotional eating…one has to recognize the struggle with in before trying to fix it.

  17. Andrea@WellnessNotes says:

    Great post, as always!

    For me it was identifying the situations I would overeat. I was mainly overeating at night after a stressful day. It was a way to calm myself down. I carefully planned my dinners and started to do other things (than eating food) to calm myself down (a bath, yoga, reading a book). I still have to be very mindful at night… If I don’t stop to think, I can easily eat way too much…

  18. Hilary says:

    One thing that might also be worth mentioning, is that sometimes we know perfectly well that difficult emotions will crop up when we embark on a weight-loss plan. Sometimes we just don’t feel prepared to struggle through them yet. It’s not a good/bad moral judgment. Sometimes we just don’t have the heart yet to be fighters. But when we are ready to fight, really fight, to achieve our goal, it seems like . . . suddenly we can forge ahead. We put on our mental combat boots and go for it.

    For me, I tend to be very resistant to being “uncomfortable;” I think the psychological term is “low frustration tolerance.” I’ve definitely had to work through some uncomfortable moments on this journey so far, but I’ve also created my weight-loss program using a certain amount of self-knowledge. It helps to set yourself up for success by playing to your own strengths sometimes. For me, it builds confidence.
    .-= Hilary´s last blog ..Skinny Clothes =-.

    • Diane says:

      You bring up some really good points Hilary. I think I may have to write about them! 🙂

      You are doing great, and I am so happy for you. You have done a wonderful job in really figuring out what is working and not working for you, and then just doing it.

  19. Leah says:

    Wow. You know, I’ve been working through so many different emotions this time around and I know it has helped. It has also helped to voice some of them to my husband and let him know what my struggles are. Blogging has also proved a great outlet for me to be open about what I’m going through.

    There have been things popping up this last six months that I had no idea I felt deep inside. Letting go of some of them has been helpful, and I know dealing with the emotional issues is what will make this weight loss attempt the last one I have to deal with.

    DId you say it would “take a book”?? 🙂 Is it almost done? 🙂 *giggle*
    .-= Leah´s last blog ..Stick To It =-.

  20. Larkspur says:

    Two very good and thought provoking posts.

    In my case, I don’t think I had a big binge disorder. I think I had prediabetic eating(eating to feel better physically) which was so often carbs which was exactly the wrong thing to do. And I’m sure just a bit of denial mixed in there too 🙂
    .-= Larkspur´s last blog ..C25K =-.

  21. brenda says:

    Great post! I am exactly that emotional eater. Happy, sad, and the worst is when I am MAD. I have learned to stop myself before I reach for something (because it’s never a healthy food I grab for) and ask myself how I will feel tomorrow if I eat that now…never good. This is exactly why I still have to write down ALL of the next days meals/snacks in a journal. If I am bored/mad/happy and don’t have a plan in place, I will eat without even realizing what all I ate, trying to fill that ’empty space’.
    .-= brenda´s last blog ..It’s begining to look a lot like Christmas! =-.

  22. Deb Willbethin says:

    Such a wonderfully helpful post and comments! I’ll just add a “Me, too!” to most of what has been written. And, an “I’m getting better with this.” Hard, tho.

    I just have to remember to run to Jesus FIRST, rather than AFTER I have binged myself miserable-er. 🙂 I think, perhaps, miserable-er is a new word. chuckle. You saw it here first!

    Onward and forward! Deb
    .-= Deb Willbethin´s last blog ..Who Says I Can’t Be Free?! =-.

  23. Francesca says:

    I’ve struggled with emotional eating for about 30 years. The last year or so is the first time I recall in my life when I’ve been able to deal with the emotions without using food. Consequently your post really struck the right note with me – & I do plan to link to it in my next posting. Thank you
    .-= Francesca´s last blog ..Mindfulness =-.

  24. Lara (Thinspired) says:

    I agree that so many times with weight loss (especially rapid weight loss), the originating issues of overeating are not addressed properly. I believe that very few people are overweight/obese because of a lack of knowledge or education. It is always about emotions, which are so hard to deal with.
    I still fight emotional eating at times but try to remind myself that it NEVER makes me feel better in the end, only worse.
    .-= Lara (Thinspired)´s last blog ..Tw-eat Like Me =-.

  25. Marsha @ Green Mountain at Fox Run says:

    Even after being recovered from bulimia for over 30 years now, I still think about the factors that led me to that. I’ve been reading the Eating Disorder Source Book by Carolyn Costin, and she goes into how our emotional environment can trigger genetic vulnerabilities some of us have for eating disorders/disordered eating. Not all of it is due to the culture of thinness that we have in this country although I think that was a biggie for me. And the dieting I got into as a result. As far as emotions go, it was my failure at dieting that triggered things. Once I gave up dieting, and got involved in a fulfilling life, I no longer had the emotional problems that drove me to binge.

    Great post, Diane. Thanks!

  26. Gigi says:

    It’s all about emotions for me too. Having one overly critical parent was enough to send me to the twinkies for a little (a lot) of comfort. And some old habits never die. It’s taking me a long time to rebuild the self-esteem that was torn down so early in life. But being aware of it gives me a good head start. Great post.
    .-= Gigi´s last blog ..Welcome To Onderland: Population: One More =-.

  27. NewMe says:

    Thanks for this post, Diane (and thanks for the shout-out!). This is an important issue and one that I think is glossed over all too often. People get caught up in the calorie counting and the exercising without acknowledging the root reasons for their disordered eating. You are an influential blogger and people listen to you. Thank you for tackling the topic head on.

  28. Alissa says:

    You said that you could “write a book” on this…YOU SHOULD! 🙂 It’s so important to address emotional issues. I think that’s the reason I over eat, everytime.

    • Diane says:

      I have a finished book – do you know any publishers? Just kidding!

      I know that my overeating was about 96% emotional. It was something I would have denied for years though.

      Take care,

  29. Kat says:

    I definitely battle emotional eating, especially under stress. Exercise and deep breaths ( meditation, prayer, getting still) help me to release the stress, rather than eat it. It is a process and I fall off the wagon sometimes. I am very slowly making positive changes. Reading your blog helps me quite a bit Diane. Thank you.
    .-= Kat´s last blog ..Hot 100 Challenge – Update #7 =-.

  30. mackattack says:

    I don’t know if I’ve overcome it, I have learned techniques to deal with it though and keep certain foods out of my house because I will eat them. That keeps me from emotional eating what I do have…
    .-= mackattack´s last blog ..Gnocchi Sauce =-.

  31. Lori (Finding Radiance) says:

    This post hits home for me as well. I don’t think you ever really get over the old feelings, you just find better ways to deal with them.

    It is a very conscious decision at times to turn *away* from food and it can feel herculean and times to have to do so.

    We do a lot of happy eating in my family, and I think that is the most difficult kind to control.
    .-= Lori (Finding Radiance)´s last blog ..Salad daze =-.

  32. 266 says:

    Good post, Diane. For myself I think that the past couple of years have been focussed on dealing with the emotional stuff in my life and coming more into the person who I am now. I actually believe that – in my case – it was more of a habit than anything else by the time I started on this journey. Basically I feel like I got the majority of that stuff sorted prior to walking this path to weight loss, and that is a big part of why I have seen successful. This isn’t to say that I don’t still have my moments, but having moved beyond the deeper issues and mostly just having to change bad habits into good ones has been a major key for me.
    .-= 266´s last blog ..Furious And Frustrated =-.

  33. Tammy says:

    Oh what a perfect post for me to re-enter Blogland on. Welcome me home!!

    I’ve been at this for 6 months now, and I’m learning to work through the emotional crap that brought me to obesity in the first place. Sometimes I win the battle, sometimes I lose. Last week, when I broke it off with Dwayne, my bf of 5.5 years, I lost big time. I gained 9.6 lbs last week. There really is something about food that helps cover up or stuff down emotions. I can be crying my eyes out, eat a double cheeseburger, and the crying stops. I’m so serious.

    However, the eating leaves you with a much bigger problem to deal with, that affects your life in every way, not just the particular emotional problem you’re having at the moment. I’ve been telling myself that all week while trying to reign in the calories. I wish I could say that I’m far enough along, that last week didn’t happen, but it did, and I had to report it. However, it was ONE week. I’m looking forward to a pretty decent weigh-in tmrw, only a week later, and for me, to turn it around in a week, is HUGE. In the past the bad eating would have went on for months…..that tells me I’m making progress…I’m learning, and I’m healing. 🙂
    .-= Tammy´s last blog ..Bunches of Blog Awards =-.

    • Diane says:

      I was so sorry to hear about your break-up. I think that it is so wonderful though, that you had one bad week, and then stopped before things got really out of control for you. That is a definite sign that you are making a change in your life, not just for the immediate weight loss, but forever.

  34. Michelle@Eatingjourney says:

    I actually hit my head sometimes and say ‘stop listening to mind chatter and listen to your stomach.’ It’s hard to be honest with yourself as to why you’re eating. It’s hard to get down and dirty with the emotions..but you have to.

    sidenote: you need to write a book.
    .-= Michelle@Eatingjourney´s last blog ..Coconut Girls =-.

  35. Hanlie says:

    Dealing with those questions is an ongoing process for me. The results so far have been interesting and enlightening. I now know that not only am I slimming and getting healthier, but I am also evolving in an emotional, mental and spiritual way. It’s all worth it!
    .-= Hanlie´s last blog ..Recipe: Vegetable Paprikash =-.

  36. julie says:

    Like you, I separated the emotions from food. I still don’t consider myself an emotionally healthy person, but I tolerate emotions, no longer eat to numb them. Right, NOT EASY! I still occasionally eat from boredom, or deliberately overeat, but it’s not common and not usually anything heavy enough to cause a gain.
    .-= julie´s last blog ..the unpopular solution =-.

  37. Beth says:

    There are so many emotional factors that COULD be the cause of the problem. How did you pinpoint what was the true cause? How were you “sure”? Or didn’t you feel sure? And did you feel there were multiple causes?
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..A short evaluation =-.

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