Category Archives: Eating Disorder

Strategies for dealing with an eating disorder and the anxiety, depression, anger, loneliness, and identity confusion associated with it.

Three Strategies for Avoiding Emotional Eating

binge eatingThree Strategies for Avoiding Emotional Eating

Perhaps you’re familiar with one of these scenarios: you walk into the house after a long and frustrating day at work, you leave your boss’s office after a stressful meeting, or you come downstairs after a challenging episode of getting the kids to bed. You’re frustrated, overwhelmed, angry, tired, stressed, lonely, bored, or some combination thereof. You walk into the kitchen or break room and remember the cookies (or cake, or chips, or other comforting foods) that are there. You think to yourself, “I shouldn’t eat that,” but a force that feels almost beyond your control leads you to the object of temptation. You begin to eat, and almost instantly feel soothed and relieved- but also guilty.

You proceed to tell yourself to stop eating, several times, but continue anyway. Soon you’ve consumed a great deal of food, and feelings of shame and self-loathing set in. Questions like, “Why did I do that?” and “Don’t I have any will-power?” fill your mind. You promise yourself that tomorrow will be a better day and that you will eat in a healthy way from dusk to dawn……but unfortunately you find yourself in this position time and again. How do you avoid these emotional eating binges and the shame that accompanies them? Here are some quick, mindful strategies to help you do just that:

  1. Address the emotion that is driving the binge: Before opening the candy-stash drawer, take just one minute and simply close your eyes, breathe deeply, and notice what you’re feeling. Let your feeling(s) wash over you completely. Next, do whatever you need to address those feelings: lie down and rest, cry, vent your anger (by talking to a loved one, journaling, or exercising), or do a #meditation or #relaxation exercise to calm your body and mind. Most eating binges can be successfully thwarted by simply resting, crying, venting, or meditating! Once you have addressed the emotion that is driving the binge, you’re much better able to listen to your body and feed it what it truly needs, when it truly needs it.
  1. Change your environment: Emotional eating is often triggered by something or someone in your immediate environment (e.g., the stress of work, the loneliness of being home by yourself, the tension that you feel with a roommate). Therefore, it is often helpful to notice such environmental triggers and change your environment the minute you feel compelled to overeat. Take a walk, visit someone, go for a quick drive, move to a different part of your home, or simply go outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery. By removing yourself from the environmental trigger that is driving the binge, you’re both caring for your emotional needs and putting yourself in a better position to make healthy food-related choices.
  1. Preemptively create a list of things to do when you’re bored: When I ask my patients what they were feeling prior to an eating binge, I frequently hear, “I was just bored!” If you too have a tendency to overeat when you’re bored, I encourage you to preemptively create a list of meaningful, authentic, enjoyable activities to engage in when boredom sets in. Some activities that have made my patients’ lists are: research travel destinations, look though old photo albums, write a snail-mail letter to a loved one, organize photos, call a loved one, do a craft, read something you’ve wanted to read for a long time, watch a movie, try a new exercise or dance DVD, watch music videos on YouTube, do a yoga practice, plant flowers, create some art, take a walk in nature, or do a meditation or conscious relaxation exercise (my meditation and relaxation exercises can be found here). I encourage you to make such a list and have it readily available when the “bored munchies” (as one of my patients calls it) set in.

I sincerely hope that with these strategies, you will eliminate emotional eating and become more aware of, and attentive to, your emotional needs.

Take care,


Mindfulness: Freedom from Emotional Eating

binge eatingMindfulness: The Key to Freedom from Emotional Eating

“For as long as I can remember, I’ve either been on a diet or an extended binge- I don’t even know when I’m hungry anymore.”  This was a recent quote by my patient, Sarah, who had come to me to address emotional eating prior to her upcoming weight loss surgery. Sarah’s experience was a phenomenon that I’d encountered countless times- individuals who restrict calories in order to lose weight, but then binge when the feelings of deprivation become overwhelming. When caught in this cycle, all awareness of internal hunger cues gets lost: the individual has no idea when she is hungry or full. She eats what she “should” for a period of time, only to eventually binge on what she “shouldn’t.” Weight is lost and regained. Feelings of frustration and hopelessness return repeatedly.

How can you break this “restrict-binge cycle” and regain touch with your body’s wisdom? To help my patients do this, I developed four mindfulness-based questions for guidance and introduced them in my book, The Weight Loss Surgery Coping Companion. What do I mean by mindfulness? When applied to eating, mindfulness means taking a break from the cell phone, television, kids, etc. and really noticing if you are hungry or not. Also, it means really noticing if you are confusing physical hunger with emotional hunger. Finally, it means really noticing your experience of eating (e.g., the taste, smell, and texture of your food); and then really noticing when your body is truly satisfied with the amount you have eaten.

Below are the four mindfulness-based questions that you can use anytime you feel compelled to eat:

Question #1

“Am I physically hungry or emotionally hungry?”

To answer this question, close your eyes, relax your body, and scan for signs of physical hunger: does your stomach feel hollow? Do you feel weak? Dizzy? Are you mildly nauseous? Don’t worry about what you’ve eaten so far today, what time it is, or what you “should” feel. Take your time and really listen to your body. Do you need food for fuel?

Next, scan for signs of emotional hunger. Close your eyes, take some deep breaths, and attend to your internal experience. Do you notice feelings of sadness, anxiety, anger, or loneliness? Do you feel agitated or “at loose ends?” Are you bored? Tired? Do you feel like yelling, crying, or resting? Gently notice what your emotional self is telling you.

Question #2

If your answer to question #1 is physically hungry, then ask yourself, “What is my body truly craving?

Think carefully about the foods below and actually imagine yourself eating them. How would they feel in your body? Which one(s) is your body craving in order to feel nourished right now? If you truly listen to your body, you will find that it craves a healthy combination of the foods listed below:

Fruits (e.g., oranges, bananas, grapes)

Vegetables (e.g., salad, carrots, broccoli)

Protein (e.g., nuts, eggs, beans, meat)

Dairy (e.g., cottage cheese, a yogurt smoothie)

Carbohydrates (e.g., bread, pasta)

Whole grains (e.g., whole grain bread, crackers)

Liquids, as thirst is often mistaken for hunger (e.g., water, juice)

Once you have identified what your body is craving, mindfully eat whatever you are cravingEat slowly and really notice the sight, smell, taste and texture of your food.  Continue eating until you feel satisfied.  How can you determine when you’re satisfied? My favorite way to determine this is to ask yourself this question: do you have a sense of fullness, but could still comfortably dance or take a brisk walk? As you’re mindfully eating a meal, periodically check-in with yourself and ask this question. When you reach this point, stop eating and mindfully enjoy the satisfied sensation. Know that you will eat again soon, whenever your body signals that it is physically hungry once more.

Question #3:

If your answer to question #1 was emotionally hungry, then ask yourself, “What am I feeling and needing emotionally right now?

Again, close your eyes, take deep breaths, and notice your emotional experience. What are you feeling and needing right now? Are you feeling lonely, anxious, angry, or depressed? Are you agitated? Do you feel bored? Tired?  Do you need support, connection with others, rest, relaxation, or nurturing?  Do you need to express a feeling such as anger?  Let your feelings wash over you- really experience them- and meet these feelings with compassion.

Question #4:

If your answer to question #1 was emotionally hungry, then ask yourself, “What can I do right now to soothe myself that does not involve food?

What could you do right now to honor your emotional needs? Do you need to slow down, lie down, and get some rest? Would it help to write in a journal? Get out of the house and go to a store? Take a walk in nature? Connect with someone? Watch a movie? Take a step towards resolving an issue with someone? Honor your feelings and give yourself whatever you need!

I’m happy to report that Sarah is on a healthy path to rediscovering her body’s wisdom. She takes time each day to nourish her mind, body, and spirit through mindful eating and emotional self-care; and is approaching her weight loss surgery with a much healthier relationship with food. I truly hope that these four questions are equally helpful to you!

Take care,