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Emotional Eaters

by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.

Emotion Eaters are often at a loss to explain why the pounds they've lost creep back again, and they may blame themselves for their lack of willpower. But, in truth, it's really a lack of self-awareness that's to blame -- not being aware of what it is that drives them to eat so much.

Here are the characteristics:

  • The Emotion Eater only overeats when she's feeling a strong emotion, such as anger or depression.

  • The Emotion Eater frequently overeats immediately after getting home from work.

  • The Emotion Eater tends to eat whenever she is bored.

  • Sometimes, out of the blue, the Emotion Eater finds that she is incredibly hungry, and she almost feels as if she's starving for food.

  • The Emotion Eater usually feels uncomfortable openly displaying or talking about her feelings.

The metaphysical basis of emotion eating is a belief that other people keep interfering with her attempts to fulfill her life purpose. She believes that if only her children, neighbors, boss, co-workers, teachers, parents, and lover would cooperate, she could get to work on her purpose.

The affirmation for the Emotion Eater is:

"I am the sole creator of my life. I choose now to put loving, creative, and consistent energy and enthusiastic effort into discovering and fulfilling my life purpose. I take total responsibility for structuring my time."

One of the main "problems" that Emotion Eaters face is that they feel hungry a great deal of the time. Their solution in the past has been to eat every time they felt hungry. Unfortunately, since they were often so hungry, this meant that they would eat a lot of food and gain a lot of weight in the process.

Step #1: Identify Your Fattening Feelings

If you are someone who eats to quell emotions, it's important, at this point, to start paying attention to your feelings of hunger. What you'll probably discover in doing so is that much of what you've labeled hunger is actually something else -- anger, boredom, fatigue, depression, or loneliness.

There are huge differences between emotional hunger and physical hunger, as the chart that follows outlines:

The Eight Traits of Emotional Hunger

 Emotional Hunger

Physical Hunger

1. Is sudden. One minute you're not even thinking about food, the next minute you're starving. You hunger goes from 0-60 within a short period of time.

Is gradual. Your stomach rumbles. One hour later, it growls. Physical hunger gives you steadily progressive clues that it's time to eat.

2. Is for a specific food. Your cravings are for one certain type of food, such as pasta, chocolate, or a cheeseburger. With emotional eating, you feel that you need to eat that particular food. No substitute will do!

Is open to different foods. With physical hunger, you may have food preferences, but they are flexible. You are open to alternate choices.

3. Is "above the neck." An emotionally based craving begins in the mouth and the mind. Your mouth wants to taste the pizza, chocolate, or doughnut. Your mind whirls with thoughts about your desired food.

Is based in the stomach. Physical hunger is recognizable by stomach sensations. You feel gnawing, rumbling, emptiness, and even pain in your stomach with physical hunger.

4. Is urgent. Emotional hunger urges you to eat NOW! There is a desire to instantly ease emotional pain with food.

Is patient. Physical hunger would prefer that you ate soon, but doesn't command you to eat right at that very instant.

5. Is paired with an upsetting emotion. Your boss yelled at you. Your child is in trouble at school. Your spouse is in a bad mood. Emotional hunger occurs in conjunction with an upsetting situation.

Happens out of physical need. Physical hunger occurs because it has been four or five hours since your last meal. You may experience light-headedness or low energy if overly hungry.

6. Involves automatic or absent-minded eating. Emotional eating can feel as if someone else's hand is scooping up the ice cream and putting it into your mouth ("automatic eating"). You may not notice that you've just eaten a whole bag of cookies ("absent-minded eating").

Involves deliberate choices and awareness of the eating. With physical hunger, you're aware of the food on your fork, in your mouth, and in your stomach. You consciously choose whether to eat half of your sandwich or the whole thing.

7. Does not stop eating in response to fullness. Emotional overeating stems from a desire to cover up painful feelings. The person stuffs herself to deaden her troubling emotions, and she will eat second and third helpings even though her stomach may hurt from being overly full.

Stops when full. Physical hunger stems from a desire to fuel and nourish the body. As soon as that intention is fulfilled, the person stops eating.

8. Feels guilty about eating. The paradox of emotional overeating is that the person eats to feel better, and then ends up berating herself for eating cookies, cakes, or cheeseburgers. She promises to atone ("I'll exercise, diet, skip meals, etc., tomorrow").

Realizes eating is necessary. When the intent behind eating is based in physical hunger, there's no guilt or shame. The person realizes that eating, like breathing oxygen, is a necessary behavior.

(Chart from Constant Craving : What Your Food Cravings Mean and How to Overcome Them, by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D., published by Hay House, Inc., 1995)

Emotion Eaters must become acutely aware of their motivations for wanting to eat. You need this awareness in order to tell whether your stomach's actually empty or you're upset about something and just want to eat to feel better. First, spend the next week analyzing the feelings you have when you're hungry. The best way to do this is to keep a journal recording how you feel before, during, and after you eat. The journal is a black-and-white way of finding patterns in the emotional reasons why you overeat.

Second, the next time you feel like eating, ask yourself if you could possibly be upset instead of hungry. Don't go to the kitchen automatically when you feel hunger pangs. Instead -- and this is important -- give yourself a mandatory 15-minute "time out" whenever you think you're hungry.

Intuition Integration for Emotion Eaters

Whenever you feel upset or hungry, contact your inner voice and spiritual support system! Remember that you are meant to feel happy and healthy, and emotional pain and an out-of-control appetite are signs that some part of your life is out of balance. Your intuition will guide you as to the best route to take to rebalance your life and return to a state of peace of mind and a normal appetite. During that moment when you think, "I can't stand this painful feeling. I must eat now!" or "I'm famished and feel absolutely drained and empty," stop and go to a quiet place where you can hear your intuitive voice.

Many Emotion Eaters ignore their intuition because they don't believe they are "strong" enough to endure life changes and challenges. They fear that if they follow the inner guidance to change their careers or love lives, they will face unbearable emotional burdens. This is a rational fear for Emotion Eaters, because emotional pain has accompanied many of their past endeavors. It's easier to remain in the status quo, believes the Emotion Eater, and ignore the intuitive urges to work on life improvements.

Emotion Eaters often carry years of resentment and grudges that clog their intuitive ears. You can unleash the full power and positive force of your intuition through a "forgiveness session." Based on the work of author John Randolph Price, here is a method that I prescribe for all my clients who are Emotion Eaters:

Go to a room where you'll be alone and uninterrupted (put a "do not disturb" sign on the door and turn off the telephone ringer) for at least one hour. On one or more sheets of paper, write the name of every person or animal (living or deceased, personally known or unknown to you) who has ever irritated or infuriated you. Start with whatever name comes to mind, and keep going. You'll likely remember the names of people you haven't thought about in years. If you can't recall their names, but just their persona, write whatever descriptive phrase comes to mind (for example, "The head cheerleader with blonde hair from ninth grade"). Most people have a very long list, and usually their own name appears near the top.

Next, say this phrase to each person on the list one by one (either mentally or aloud): "I forgive you completely and release you now into the love that is the truth about us both. I only retain the part of our relationship that is healed and based in love. I ask that all effects from mistakes from the past be undone and forgotten forever in time."

Remember that you are forgiving the person, and not necessarily their actions (which are false illusions of the ego, no matter how hurtful they were). This forgiveness session will go further toward lightening your spirit and ultimately lightening your body than just about anything else you could do.

During the days following your session, you will see or dream about people who remind you of some names on your forgiveness list. This is no accident or coincidence, but is the Holy Spirit's way of showing you which persons you still hold grudges toward. As you get these reminders, keep saying the paragraph of release above, or pray for spiritual intervention to help you completely forgive. The more you release, the louder will be the voice of your intuition, and overwhelming desires to eat will reduce or even vanish.

Your intuition will guide you through every seeming problem you believe you have. You can tell the difference between your intuitive voice and the voice of the ego because the intuition is calm and loving, and the ego is abusive and anxious. For example, the intuition might say, "I believe I'd benefit from taking courses in yoga. I know the value of relaxing and honoring some quiet peace within, and I will now call the local yoga studio and follow through by attending the next class they offer."

The ego's spin on the same message would sound more like this: "Who has time for relaxation? If I don't keep busy, something awful is likely to happen to my job or marriage. Besides, I don't want Tom to think I'm worthless, and that's what he'll probably say if I did something selfish like taking a yoga class. He's so judgmental and unspiritual; he'd never understand why I took time away from the family to indulge myself!"

Decisions based on the ego voice rarely lead to happy outcomes. How does Tom act if you hold images of him as a judgmental or unspiritual being? How do you feel about yourself if you always have to look over your shoulder to guard against attacks by others? Judgments and resentment that the ego holds about other people always boomerang back to us as emotional pain. However, if you followed the intuitive voice, you would act in a loving way toward yourself and others. By focusing on the true loving and spiritual self of others, you invoke their true self to come shining through. Your life stays in harmony in this way, and you don't instigate situations that trigger emotional eating.

No longer will you cover up your intuition's voice with food! You have committed yourself to healing your appetite and weight, so today you fearlessly face the contents of your inner guide's message. Then you find that your intuition makes a lot of sense, and that it directs you to take steps that ultimately make your career, love life, and health dreams come true. The more you follow your intuition, the more your life improves, your self-assurance increases, and your hunger dissipates.

At this point during your Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome healing process, you may notice an increasing awareness of your eating behavior. Some of the information you're reading may trigger some fattening feelings and may make you feel hungry for food. You may be, at this point, almost painfully aware that you don't eat because you are physically hungry. You eat because of emotional hunger. Understanding the reasons for overeating is an important step for Emotion Eaters. By becoming aware of the differences between physical and emotional hunger, your tendency to automatically eat due to fattening feelings will diminish.

Now remember to keep the 15-minute rule in mind at all times: The minute your mind veers toward thoughts of food and eating, note what time it is. For the next 15 minutes, don't go anywhere near food.

Keep believing in yourself. You have so much power to make your dreams come true. You can do it!


Another article on
Emotional Eating vs. Physical Hunger.

This article was excerpted from The Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome, 1997, by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission of the publisher, Hay House Inc., www.hayhouse.com
 

Info/Order this book.

 


About The Author

Dr. Doreen Virtue has written several books, among them: Id Change My Life if I Had More Time; Constant Craving; Losing Your Pounds of Pain; and The Yo-Yo Diet Syndrome. Dr. Virtue is a frequent guest on such talk shows such as Oprah, Geraldo, and Sally Jessy Raphael. Her articles have appeared in dozens of popular magazines and she is a contributing editor for Complete Woman. Her website is www.angeltherapy.com.



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