“Dieting” is not an action — it’s a state of mind

While there is shockingly little conclusive research about “emotional eating” (i.e. eating over feelings), one thing we know is that dieters tend to eat their feelings, and non-dieters tend to not-eat their feelings.

In other words, we have reason to believe that dieting in and of itself encourages emotional eating (which makes perfect sense for a variety of reasons, some of which I described in last week’s blog post).

The question then becomes,

if “dieting” is contributing to or even directly causing us to eat emotionally (a distinct possibility), what does “dieting” really mean and how can we avoid it??

I hear women say to me over and over again: “I gave up dieting and now I can’t stop eating Nutella out of a jar…”

And I can’t help but say back,

But did you REALLY give up “dieting?” Or did you just start eating bread again, and thought that would “fix” it? 

Let me explain…

One thing I find over and over again, is that 9 times out of 10, women who “give up” dieting, are still thinking like dieters — their emotional response to food is the same as it would be if they still were actively manipulating their food…

They’re still conscious of everything they eat (and usually judgmental of what they eat),

They feel ashamed whenever they think they’ve “eaten too much,”

They’re often still trying to control themselves around food even if not “technically” following a specific plan of eating,

And, generally speaking, they maintain a moralistic and fear-based perspective on food, rather than deriving gratitude, joy, and pleasure from the life-sustaining force that food actually represents.

You see, “dieting” (and the compulsive behaviors associated with it), has little to do with what you are or are not putting in your mouth — and everything to do with how you feel and think about what you put in your mouth. 

Unless your thinking changes, neither will your behaviors. 

(I also talk about this at length in this blog post about the real difference between “normal” and “emotional” eaters).

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What “Body Love” Actually Means…

body-as-artI recently heard a client say that it’s easier to love her body when she’s working out, “eating well,” or otherwise perceives herself to be succeeding at society’s “thin rules.”

And I get it.

In a world that’s constantly telling you that your value in society is directly related to your performance of the thin ideal,  it may feel easier to find yourself attractive or fashionable in those moments you’re conforming to, and validated by, the normative culture around you.

That being said, this definition of “body love,” meaning, to have a certain opinion of yourself—whether it be attractive, fashionable, or any other opinion—is not, in my experience, the deepest expression of the word “love.” 

I want you to really think about what the term “love” means to you. I want you to think about the people that you love in your life—your children, your parents, your sisters or brothers.

Maybe you find them attractive, maybe you don’t. Maybe you find them aesthetically pleasing, maybe you don’t. Maybe you approve of their shape, maybe you don’t.

But are any of those things what it means to love them? Or is loving them something entirely different?

A mother doesn’t love her baby because she thinks it’s cute. She loves her baby, because it’s her baby.

She was put on this planet to love that baby, whether it kicks and screams or goes to sleep easy; whether it goes to college, or drops out; whether it gets tattoos, takes drugs at school, or f’ing murders someone, she loves that baby, for no other reason than because it’s her baby. 

It’s an unconditional, selfless kind of love—a love of someone because she is part of you, because she is your family, because she beats your heart for you. 

I’m talking about something greater than fashion, or aesthetic approval

…although, I also know that finding something beautiful or attractive almost always feels easier when you’re awake to this deeper kind of love.

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How to Recover from a Painful Binge-Eating Episode

Stomach AcheOne of the most powerful tools I ever developed for recovering from a “bad binge,”

was simply learning how to separate whatever physical pain I experienced post-binge,
from the emotional pain I experienced post-binge.

When I took the time to notice, I realized that the physical pain of bingeing,
even the kind that leaves you in bed in the fetal position for hours,
is really not much more uncomfortable than having to pee really badly, or having a bad rash, or hangover, or some other arbitrary physical irritation.  

The true bulk of my suffering at the “hands of a binge,”
was actually the result of emotional pain

that is, my shame at having failed,
my fear of gaining weight,
and my belief that there was something deeply wrong with me for not being able to “control myself around food.”

(It didn’t occur to me that most people can’t “control” —aka restrict— their food for very long, and that most people binge when they try.)

While there’s no safe way to eliminate the physical discomfort of a binge after-the-fact (other than wait it out, listen to your body, and take care of yourself like you would a hangover),

our emotional discomfort,
which is the much more painful part of bingeing in my experience,
can be alleviated in an instant,
through challenging our weight-normative beliefs,
our morality of food and eating,
and developing compassionate understanding of what diet-culture has put us through.  

(And don’t worry, the physical discomfort part goes away pretty quickly on it’s own once we get back to listening to our bodies–just like a hangover).

Like this post? Check out my free video series about ending the diet-binge cycle here!

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The Most Common “Emotional Eating” Mistake

Emotional eating, at the end of the day, is just a coping mechanism.

I’m all about “feeling your feelings,” and there is no doubt that getting in touch with your emotions is incredibly important for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you eat over them,

but unless we practice new coping mechanisms, we will continue to eat when emotionally uncomfortable.

Thinking we can live a life without coping mechanisms is totally unrealistic — it goes against our biological instincts to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

Not to mention that coping mechanisms are what allow us to function during times of emotional duress. We need breaks from crying when trauma occurs. Feelings can’t be processed every moment of every day. We have to get out of bed, go to work, pick up the kids, do our laundry…coping mechanisms take the edge off so we can show up for life in the midst of discomfort.

Now the problem for most “emotional eaters” is that they focus on “not eating” instead of focusing on developing new ways of dealing with their feelings.

Of course, the more we try to resist food, (i.e. the more we think about food), the more practiced we become at leaning on food as a coping mechanism. (I know, catch-22 from hell…)

Eventually, we fall out of practicing other coping mechanisms altogether and become dependent on food to take care of all our problems, especially as we obsess, worry and generally freak out about our bodies.

So here’s a new way to think about emotional eating…

instead of telling yourself “don’t eat emotionally,” I want you to start thinking about all the other ways you could possibly “cope,” and start practicing them…regardless of whether or not you eat as well. 

Ultimately, diversifying and expanding our coping mechanisms without worrying about the food is far more effective, than trying to resist (and therefore binge) over it later.

BTW – If you’re not quite sure the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,” this is something I cover in my free video training series, which you can sign up for here. All three videos of the series are out, so the videos will be emailed to you immediately after you enter your name and email at the bottom of the page. Enjoy!

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