Why Do Most People Fail At Ending Their Emotional Eating?

by mortylefkoe on October 15, 2010

Emotional eating is a problem that keeps many people from enjoying vibrant health and causes anguish and feelings of helplessness for many. As a result, therapists, coaches, and self-help authors have tried to
help emotional eaters stop overeating in response to emotions. And
unfortunately all of them have failed you.

Why?

Because they didn’t fully understand the true cause of most
emotional eating.

After 25 years and about 13,000 clients, I finally figured out what causes
emotional eating. Although beliefs are, in fact, responsible for most of the
problems that plague us—such as anxiety, the fear of rejection, worrying
what others think of us, anger, lack of confidence, and most relationship
issues—they are not the primary cause of emotional eating.

Over the years I tried to help some people with emotional eating by
helping them eliminate the beliefs that seemed to cause the problem.
Unfortunately, the results weren’t great. We worked on belief after belief
and many aspects of their lives improved significantly. But one thing didn’t
change—their eating habits.

But because I knew from years of experience that change can be easy
and lasting, when presented with a behavior I couldn’t change by eliminating
beliefs (like eating), I didn’t conclude it couldn’t be done. Instead, I decided
there must be a way to help people like you, and I just hadn’t figured it out
yet.

The Turning Point

I started figuring out a solution to emotional eating in August 2009, when
a close friend of mine asked me to help him with his emotional eating
problem.

Because I had realized that beliefs have little to do with emotional
eating in most cases, I looked elsewhere. Here’s what I discovered in the
process of working with my friend and other emotional eating clients since
then.

Emotional eating has just one primary cause: a unique type of
conditioning that appears to only apply to eating. In addition to this
conditioning, some emotional eating can also be traced to a few beliefs.

Conditioning of eating happens in one of two ways. The first and most
common is when you have some negative feeling or experience and then just
happen to eat and experience a “pleasurable distraction.” In other words,
when you eat you experience a pleasurable feeling instead of a negative
feeling and you also have a distraction from the negative feeling.

After (unconsciously) noticing many times that eating provides a
pleasurable distraction in that situation, you get conditioned to eat
whenever that situation occurs in the future.

The second way conditioning happens is when you want a “reward,” such
as wanting to feel good or comfortable, or to celebrate. You eat and then
discover that you are experiencing the reward you want; after numerous
connections between eating and the “reward,” eating gets conditioned to
occur whenever you desire one of the rewards.

In a blog post I wrote about eating in October 2009, I pointed out:
…if your parents continually rewarded you for special things you
did as a child by giving you a special meal with the food you really
liked, you could get conditioned to eat whenever you wanted to feel
acknowledged for something you did.

I call this process “conditioning” because the behavior (eating) is
experienced as compulsive, as driven. Eating happens automatically and
requires considerable will power to stop.

This conditioning is the emotional equivalent of a belief: You have the
emotional sense that the behavior in question is the best way to get what you
want. In the case of emotional eating, it feels as if eating is the best way to
give yourself pleasure, to reward yourself, to provide a pleasurable
distraction from something negative, etc. It’s like an emotional, rather than
a cognitive, conclusion.

At that point I realized that one way to describe emotional eating is
that, for the most part, it’s “set off” both by “triggers” and “rewards.”
Eating to achieve a reward is when you eat when you want to get a
positive feeling or to celebrate. Triggered eating is eating that provides a
pleasurable distraction from negative feelings or events. So the eating is
“triggered” by these negative experiences.

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