Eating as a response to living in a pandemic
In this pandemic we find ourselves in strange and unsettling times. One of the unfortunate side effects of shelter-in-place is increased emotional eating and food cravings. With most of us spending so much time at home near our fridge, it makes sense why we turn to food to cope with boredom and other negative emotions.
For some of us this is merely a brief episode of eating a bit more than we should, and it will clear up once things return to normal. However, there are many others whose emotional eating feels a lot more out of control and pervasive. In this article I aim to discuss some of the common themes those with persistent emotional eating may experience. I will also share Emotional Freedom Techniques tools for taking back control over your eating and your emotions.
I am a psychologist and an EFT practitioner. As such, I have had the privilege of working with clients who struggle with emotional eating and Binge Eating Disorder. (This is a more severe form of emotional eating). Here are what common themes and beliefs I observed in my clients and loved ones.
Common themes and beliefs
Emotional eating is very often triggered by an upsetting event or thought. This trigger frequently flies under the radar of our conscious awareness. This then creates an emotion that is not released or felt fully, and instead an attempt is made to feel better through eating.
Frequently, people who engage in more severe form of emotional eating have a difficult time being aware of and managing their feelings. Food is an attempt to numb themselves.
During emotional eating, someone can enter into an almost dissociative state of mind and consume a very large amount of food. Afterwards, they may feel regret and self-disgust, and attempt to diet for a period of time. This, however, only fuels more negative emotions and the negative cycle of emotionally eating.
Some reasons behind overeating
There is evidence that those who struggle with emotional and binge eating have grown up in families where emotions were constantly invalidated. Sometimes one or more parent had been self-absorbed. Negative experiences involving food are common as well. A person grows up not knowing how to regulate and manage difficult emotions, and experiences them excessively in a way that can be overwhelming. Emotional abuse and past trauma can frequently be the underlying factors in emotional eating.
There are frequently unconscious blocks to resolving severe emotional eating. Finding and addressing them is crucial for the therapeutic work to succeed. Common underlying beliefs that help maintain binge and emotional eating include:
I will always be this weight or eat this way'
There is no way I can control my eating,”
I am bad,”
It’s unsafe to change my eating and my weight,”
I need others to control eating for me because I can’t do it myself.”
How to Target EFT Work for Emotional Eating
EFT can be a powerful tool to help resolve emotional eating. An understanding of emotional eating and its driving mechanisms is needed for this process to work optimally. As a client, you can use EFT to help yourself heal from this frustrating pattern. Please seek professional help if you have a prolonged history of emotional abuse or trauma. I am sharing three strategies below for working with emotional eating.
The first strategy involves working with negative beliefs. Here is an example of how I may work with a negative belief: “
I will never get over emotional eating, it’s impossible.”
I ask client to rate this belief, and they say it is 9 out of 10. When I ask when the client felt this way, they say it was the last time they saw themselves in a mirror. I tap through when they saw themselves in a mirror, then another event comes up and we tap through it too. At this point I re-rate the belief:
I will never get over emotional eating.”
The rating of belief dropped to 6. In subsequent sessions I keep track of intensity of this belief and ask for more situations for us to clear up that are connected to this belief.
Another method I use is to tap on all things that occurred before client began to emotionally eat for the first time. Was it stress, a negative interaction with a friend, an illness, a romantic disappointment, a work-related problem? How did it make them feel? Drill down to specifics and ask what, when and where. Tap through all aspects, and surprising and amazing connections can be made as a result.
For example, I began to emotionally eat after my toddler had a particularly bad temper tantrum. I was very angry then but had to maintain a calm exterior with my child. There was a strong urge to eat ice cream. I gave myself permission to indulge in that ice cream, an entire quart of it.
If I were to work on myself with the above example, I would go back to that initial binge episode and preceding tantrum and tap on my suppressed anger and then my urge to eat ice cream, thoroughly tapping each down to 0.
My third strategy is to explore possible benefits of the emotional eating the client is holding on to. It may be a strategy that keeps scary or unsafe emotions at bay, or keeps them safe from the envy of others if they were to attain their weight loss goals. I tap on their ambivalence about change in the following way:
Set up phrase:
Even though part of me is frustrated (or another feeling) with this behavior (emotional eating), another part of me is hesitant to give it up. I deeply and completely accept both parts of myself.”
Reminder phrase is:
Part of me feels this, part of me feels that.”
I credit my mentor Craig Weiner with giving me this strategy to use.
Emotional eating traps us in its cycle via several beliefs and processes. If we identify and target these with EFT, with patience and persistence we can change the way we relate to food, our body and our emotions.
Masha is an Accredited Practitioner, who specialises in working with Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Complex Issues
Thanks to Tamas Pap for sharing this photo on Unsplash
Alexandra Gkouma says
Great article! Thank you for sharing these strategies.
Great article. Thank you.
Craig Weiner says
Fabulous article by Masha Brown! So great to have a psychologist who specializes in eating disorders with her kind of clinical background and EFT certification training, such a great resource and referral for those who are dealing with emotional eating and eating disorder issues.