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How To Stop Emotional Eating Habits
Alternatives to emotional eating
- If you’re depressed or lonely, call someone who always makes you feel better, play with your dog or cat, or look at a favorite photo or cherished memento.
- If you’re anxious, expend your nervous energy by dancing to your favorite song, squeezing a stress ball, or taking a brisk walk.
- If you’re exhausted, treat yourself with a hot cup of tea, take a bath, light some scented candles, or wrap yourself in a warm blanket.
- If you’re bored, read a good book, watch a comedy show, explore the outdoors, or turn to an activity you enjoy (woodworking, playing the guitar, shooting hoops, scrapbooking, etc.).
Most emotional eaters feel powerless over their food cravings. When the urge to eat hits, it’s all you can think about. You feel an almost unbearable tension that demands to be fed, right now! Because you’ve tried to resist in the past and failed, you believe that your willpower just isn’t up to snuff. But the truth is that you have more power over your cravings than you think.
Take 5 before you give in to a craving
Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for a tub of ice cream and polished off half of it. But if you can take a moment to pause and reflect when you’re hit with a craving, you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.
Can you put off eating for five minutes, or just start with one minute. Don’t tell yourself you can’t give in to the craving; remember, the forbidden is extremely tempting. Just tell yourself to wait. While you’re waiting, check in with yourself. How are you feeling? What’s going on emotionally? Even if you end up eating, you’ll have a better understanding of why you did it. This can help you set yourself up for a different response next time.
Learn to accept your feelings—even the bad ones
While it may seem that the core problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually stems from feeling powerless over your emotions. You don’t feel capable of dealing with your feelings head on, so you avoid them with food.
Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. To do this you need to become mindful and learn how to stay connected to your moment-to-moment emotional experience. This can enable you to rein in stress and repair emotional problems that often trigger emotional eating.
8 steps to mindful eating
This ancient practice can transform the way you think about food and set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Like most of us, you’ve probably eaten something in the past few hours. And, like many of us, you may not be able to recall everything you ate, let alone the sensation of eating it. Because we’re working, driving, reading, watching television, or fiddling with an electronic device, we’re not fully aware of what we’re eating.
By truly paying attention to the food you eat, you may indulge in foods like a cheeseburger and fries less often. In essence, mindful eating means being fully attentive to your food—as you buy, prepare, serve, and consume it. In the book Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life, Dr. Lillian Cheung and her co-author, Buddhist spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hanh, suggest several practices that can help you get there, including those listed below.
1. Begin with your shopping list. Consider the health value of every item you add to your list and stick to it to avoid impulse buying when you’re shopping. Fill most of your cart in the produce section and avoid the center aisles—which are heavy with processed foods—and the chips and candy at the check-out counter.
2. Come to the table with an appetite—but not when ravenously hungry. If you skip meals, you may be so eager to get anything in your stomach that your first priority is filling the void instead of enjoying your food.
3. Start with a small portion. It may be helpful to limit the size of your plate to nine inches or less.
4. Appreciate your food. Pause for a minute or two before you begin eating to contemplate everything and everyone it took to bring the meal to your table. Silently express your gratitude for the opportunity to enjoy delicious food and the companions you’re enjoying it with.
5. Bring all your senses to the meal. When you’re cooking, serving, and eating your food, be attentive to color, texture, aroma, and even the sounds different foods make as you prepare them. As you chew your food, try identifying all the ingredients, especially seasonings.
6. Take small bites. It’s easier to taste food completely when your mouth isn’t full. Put down your utensil between bites.
7. Chew thoroughly. Chew well until you can taste the essence of the food. (You may have to chew each mouthful 20 to 40 times, depending on the food.) You may be surprised at all the flavors that are released.
8. Eat slowly. If you follow the advice above, you won’t bolt your food down. Devote at least five minutes to mindful eating before you chat with your tablemates.
Do you understand the difference between being neat and tighty and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Do you know what to a Panic Attack really is? Is a dislike of cats or heights mean that you have a phobia? How does someone develop a social anxiety when being called on in class or having to answer the phone? Learn more…
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The Six Best Ways to Manage Anxiety – From Psychology Today
(1) Reevaluating the probability of the threatening event actually happening
Anxiety makes us feel threat is imminent yet most of the time what we worry about never happens. By recording our worries and how many came true, we can notice how much we overestimate the prospect of negative events.
Even if a bad event happened, we may still be able to handle it by using our coping skills and problem-solving abilities or by enlisting others to help. Although not pleasant, we could still survive encountering a spider, having a panic attack, or losing money. It’s important to realize that very few things are the end of the world.
(3) Using deep breathing and relaxation to calm down
By deliberately relaxing our muscles we begin to calm down so we can think clearly. If you practice this without a threat present at first, it can start to become automic and will be easier to use in the moment when you face a threat. Deep breathing engages the parasympathetic nervous system to put the brakes on sympathetic arousal.
(4) Becoming mindful of our own physical and mental reactions
The skill of mindfulness involves calmly observing our own reactions, including fear, without panic or feeling compelled to act. It is something that can be taught in therapy and improves with practice.
(5) Accepting the Fear and Committing to Living a Life Based on Core Values
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an approach that encourages people to accept the inevitability of negative thoughts and feelings and not try to repress or control them. By directing attention away from the fear and back onto life tasks and valued goals, we can live a full life despite the fear.
Exposure is the most powerful technique for anxiety and it involves facing what we fear and staying in the situation long enough for the fear to habituate or go down, as it naturally does. Fear makes us avoid or run away, so our minds and bodies never learn that much of what we fear is not truly dangerous.
Mrs. Roosth was tall and gaunt, uncomfortably quiet, with small eyes and angry hands.
I leaned back too far in my chair and landed with a thump on the classroom floor. She wrapped her bony fingers around my arm, yanked me up to my feet and just about threw me into the nearest corner to stand for the rest of the day. A few hours. I was in the first grade.
My stomach hurt. My muscles spasmed in my back. My chest grew tight. I thought I might die. But I didn’t say a word.
That’s my earliest memory of serious anxiety. But not my last. Or worst.
I missed a Homecoming dance in high school because anxiety so debilitated me that I couldn’t stand and walk.
I was so heavily medicated on my wedding day that I slept through the first night of the honeymoon!
I turned down my first offer of a record deal because I fear traveling. And just the worrying about it doubled me over in pain and sent me to bed for the better part of a day.
But since eventually signing that record deal, I’ve traveled to around 100 cities every year for twelve years. As a musician and speaker I’ve stood on stage and done my thing in front of tens of thousands of people. Sometimes all at once. As a spokesperson for Compassion International, I’ve traveled to ten developing countries with questionable airplanes, eaten grub worms and guinea pig, and lunched with posh dignitaries and mobs of slum children.
No more debilitating anxiety. How’d that happen? And how can we as parents stave off the anxiety of our children?
My mother is as close to a perfect parent as there is. But even she made mistakes. Just two.
When I became anxious she made it worse by doing two things:
Telling Me To Stop It
I couldn’t stop being anxious any more than I could stop being a boy. It didn’t feel like a choice. Telling me to stop being anxious made me feel defective, abnormal, like I couldn’t do something everyone else could. Telling me to stop worrying gave me more things to worry about! Does my mom think I’m a weirdo? Will everyone else think I’m a weirdo? What’s wrong with me?
Telling Me What Would Happen If I Didn’t Stop
My mother is a worrier too. And when I worried to the point of dysfunction, she worried out loud. On my wedding day: What if you don’t get better…people are already at the church…we can’t move a wedding…you don’t want that do you? And of course I didn’t want that and I didn’t want my mother to worry either so I tried to reassure her, which is quite the opposite of relaxing.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
Today I have four children and one of them is anxious. Here’s what I do when her anxiety prevents her from fully living:
I don’t push her to play in the piano recital that has her in knots. Making her feel like a lot is riding on her getting over her anxiety will only make it worse.
I ask her what she’s feeling and listen. When she takes a breath I hand her a tissue and listen some more. The feelings are the effect. I want to listen until I hear the cause.
People with chronic debilitating anxiety are often ruminators. They are people whose thoughts get stuck in a groove like a needle on a record, going round and round playing the same anxious thoughts again and again until it’s all they can hear. So it’s important to interrupt my daughter once I think I understand her feelings and what’s causing them. I tell her what I think she’s said to me and ask her if I’m right. If she says I am but then tries to restate it all again – ruminating some more – I cut her off.
Imagine The Worst
This is counterintuitive but I ask her to imagine the worst thing that could happen at the piano recital. I’ll freak out and forget my music and everyone will stare at me and I’ll be embarrassed.
I ask her if there’s anything she could do to prevent this from happening. In the case of the piano recital, does she have to play the music from memory or would the teacher let her have sheet music nearby just in case?
We figure out together what we’ll both do if the worst actually happens. I promise I won’t laugh or be embarrassed or love her any less or think she’s any less talented. Recitals are bad measures of talent. And talent isn’t why I or anyone else in that concert hall loves her.
But what will she do is the worst happens? She may decide that she’ll take the sheet music with her and use it if she forgets the notes. She may come up with a self-depreicating joke she can make to ease the tension and get the audience on her side (I still do this all the time). If she can’t come up with a plan, thenI help out but I really want this to be her idea, because I want her to be able to do this for herself when I’m not around.
When the piano recital ended without disaster we talked about how brave she was, how proud I was of her for facing her fears, and we had dessert. We celebrated the success. For me, successes, even the smallest ones, give me confidence that the worst rarely – if ever – happens.
Parenting myself this way over many years has destroyed anxiety. There are still things I’m afraid of, worried about – especially when bills are due. That’s normal. But I’m no longer disabled, half-living because of severe anxiety.
The next time your child is too afraid to live fully, please don’t push. Instead, help them understand their fears, make a plan and move forward. Who knows what kind of life is waiting on the other side of their anxiety? Help them get there.
Do you struggle with anxiety? What has helped you break free?
SHARE: Do you struggle with anxiety? What has helped you break free?
John M Goldenring, MD, JD, MPH
Eating disorders in children and teens cause serious changes in eating
habits that can lead to major, even life threatening health problems. The three
main types of eating disorders are:
Anorexia, a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate
calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
Bulimia, a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and
then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
Binge eating, a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on
food, but without purging
In children and teens, eating disorders can overlap. For example, some
children alternate between periods of anorexia and bulimia.
Eating disorders typically develop during adolescence or early adulthood.
However, they can start in childhood, too. Females are much more vulnerable.
Only an estimated 5% to 15% of people with anorexia or bulimia are male. With
binge eating, the number rises to 35% male.
What causes eating disorders?
Doctors aren’t certain what cause eating disorders. They suspect a
combination of biological, behavioral, and social factors. For instance, young
people may be influenced by cultural images that favor bodies too underweight
to be healthy. Also, many children and teens with eating disorders struggle
with one or more of the following problems:
- fear of becoming overweight
- feelings of helplessness
- low self-esteem
To cope with these issues, children and teens may adopt harmful eating
habits. In fact, eating disorders often go hand-in-hand with other psychiatric
problems such as the following:
- anxiety disorders
- substance abuse
The dangers of eating disorders
Eating disorders in children and teens can lead to a host of serious
physical problems and even death. If you spot any of the signs of the eating
disorders listed below, call your child’s doctor right away. Eating disorders
are not overcome through sheer willpower. Your child will need treatment to
help restore normal weight and eating habits. Treatment also addresses
underlying psychological issues. Remember that the best results occur when
eating disorders are treated at the earliest stages.
Anorexia in children and teens
Children and teens with anorexia have a distorted body image. People with
anorexia view themselves as heavy, even when they are dangerously skinny. They
are obsessed with being thin and refuse to maintain even a minimally normal
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, roughly one out of
every 25 girls and women will have anorexia in their lifetime. Most will deny
that they have an eating disorder.
Symptoms of anorexia include:
- anxiety, depression, perfectionism, or being highly self-critical
- dieting even when one is thin or emaciated
- excessive or compulsive exercising
- intense fear of becoming fat, even though one is underweight
- menstruation that becomes infrequent or stops
- rapid weight loss, which the person may try to conceal with loose
- strange eating habits, such as avoiding meals, eating in secret, monitoring
every bite of food, or eating only certain foods in small amounts
- unusual interest in food
Ron Huxley’s remarks: Eating disorders are very difficult things to treat, in my experience, as they tend to be so self-reinforcing and have such strong social reactions. This blog post by WebMd is an excellent overview. What it doesn’t address is the feeling of “control” it gives individuals who feel so out of control in life. One’s body can be one area that no one can tell you how to live or act. Finding a substitute that allows for control in a less dangerous way is very important. Ongoing treatment with a specialist and group therapies are also beneficial. How have you dealt with eating disorders with your child? Share!
Did you know that children’s mental health statistics suggest as many as 1 in 10 young people may have an anxiety disorder?
Did you know that 8 percent of children between the ages of 13-18 have an anxiety disorder? The National Institute of Mental Health notes that symptoms commonly emerge around age 6. However, of the children who experience symptoms of anxiety, only 18 percent received mental health care. And if you are a parent who is anxious, studies suggest that children or adolescents are more likely to have an anxiety disorder if their parents have anxiety disorders (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services).
Stress, worries, anxiety, fear- it’s all part of life. Yet, if we are not given the opportunity to express our fears and realize that it’s okay to feel scared (worried, etc) and learn tools to manage these feelings we may develop an anxious disposition. Part of it may be biological, just the way we are hardwired. However, it is believed that genetics only shapes us by 50%, the remaining 50% is environment, situations, people, and perceptions. So we have control over half of our worries and can learn the tools to manage these feelings. The interesting thing about anxiety is that it is often overlooked, yet it has lasting impacts. If a child is anxious they often internalize their feelings and they do not get the attention that a child who is acting out gets. However, this internalization may lead to feeling of inadequacy, self-criticism, and may trigger addictive and self-harming behavior.
The National Institute of Mental Health noted that, “studies on treating childhood anxiety disorders found that high-quality cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), given with or without medication, can effectively treat anxiety disorders in children. One small study even found that a behavioral therapy designed to treat social phobia in children was more effective than an antidepressant medication.” Essentially, if your child suffers from anxiety, they can be helped in therapy, and they can learn strategies to reduce their anxiety.
Okay- so what’s a parent to do? Here’s a creative solution. Ask your child to create an image of what is bothering them. So if there is a certain situation (like homework or going back to school) or person (like a classmate) that triggers their anxiety and worries ask them to make a picture of it. Allow them to create without censorship or judgment. Ask them if they would like share what they created (“no” is an acceptable answer). Here’s the important part, listen to what they say without offering your perspective. Instead be empathetic and validate their feelings. After listening without offering advice ask your child questions about what the person in the drawing could do or think differently so they feel more in control and less worried. Allow your child to be creative in their responses.
Allowing flexible creative divergent thinking helpings your child re-pattern their brain neural pathways helping your child think in terms of what’s possible. There are other specific cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) strategies we will be teaching in our art therapy group to help your child reduce the physiological impacts of anxiety and stress. Even if your child has normal worries about homework and friends this fun and creative group will give your child some cognitive and behavioral tools to tackle worries when they arise!
Ron Huxley’s Review: The author of this article does a nice job of explaining the scope of anxiety disorders in children and some practical ideas for parents to help their child cope. I like practical tools!
One additional strategy I would like to add is the area of sensory diet experiences. Many children with classic diagnoses have sensory issues that manifest as “defensiveness” or “seeking” behaviors. In the case of the former, children react negatively to sights, sounds, textures, etc. that feel overwhelming. In the case of the latter, children have a graving for sensations. Both types cause disruptions at schools and home and are often misunderstood. Consequently, inappropriate interventions are used to manage the behaviors.