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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
Sometimes, out of the blue, the Emotion Eater
finds that she is incredibly hungry, and she almost feels as if she's starving
- 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
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
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
4. Is urgent. Emotional hunger
urges you to eat NOW! There is a desire to instantly ease emotional pain
|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
|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
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
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,
|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.
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
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
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
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.
article was excerpted from The Yo-Yo Diet
Syndrome, ©1997, by Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hay House Inc.,
Doreen Virtue has written several books, among them:
I’d Change My Life if I Had More Time;
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
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