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Want to Stop Emotional Eating? Ask Yourself These 6 Questions

By Shari Broder November 23, 2022 Health and Fitness

Have you ever thought about the tiny number of things over which we have actual control?

There are so many things in life that go on regardless of us actually ‘doing’ anything to make them happen. Trees get leaves and plants grow. It rains. The earth turns on its axis.

Our bodies alone do amazing things every minute of every day without us having to direct any of it. Our hearts beat. We breathe. We don’t have to think, “Time to release some gastrin so I have enough acid in my stomach to digest my lunch!”

Yet we waste a lot of energy trying to control things that we can’t. We allow our inability to control these things make us miserable. And we don’t control some of the things in our lives that are within our control.

As a weight loss coach, I see how these factors seriously interfere with a person’s ability to lose weight and keep it off.

Here’s an example of what I mean. Karen’s 22-year-old daughter Lily (who has her own apartment) gets a job as a server at Hooters.

Karen is very alarmed by this and doesn’t want her daughter to work there. Karen tries to convince Lily to get a different job, but Lily refuses. She’s making a good wage there, and the customers do not touch her, as that is not allowed.

The more Karen tries to convince Lily to switch jobs, the worse her relationship with Lily becomes. Lily starts avoiding Karen because she’s sick of her mom bugging her about this job, which Lily actually enjoys.

So, Karen eats as a way to distract herself from her feelings about the situation. Karen had been trying to lose weight, but because of her emotional eating, she’s gained weight.

Looking at the Problem

What is the problem here? It isn’t that Lily got a job at Hooters. The problem is how Karen is thinking about it.

Because Lily is an adult, Karen can’t control where Lily works. Karen’s efforts at trying to control the situation are alienating her daughter from her. And by allowing her thoughts to make her miserable about the situation, Karen has lost control of one thing she can control: what she puts in her own body.

So what should Karen do? The only thing she realistically can do under the circumstances. Manage her thinking.

One of the few things in life over which we do have control is how we think and what we think about. Knowing how to manage our thinking is not only the key to a happy life but is also the key to losing weight and keeping it off.

Because our thoughts create our feelings, we can actually change our feelings by changing our thoughts.

I’m not saying it is always easy to do this, but as humans, the most evolved part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, actually allows us to control our own thinking. With practice, we get better at it.

So back to our friend Karen. Not only is she upset about her daughter’s job, but now she’s also upset about the weight she’s gaining because of dealing with the situation by eating when she isn’t hungry.

What can she do to change her thinking and get back on track with weight loss? She can ask herself these six questions:

What Am I Feeling that I’m Trying to Avoid by Wanting to Eat?

I’m feeling disgusted, scared and angry because my daughter is working at Hooters.

What Is the Painful Story or Thought I’m Telling Myself That Is Causing That Feeling?

Working at Hooters is not only offensive to my feminist values, but it is dangerous. Creepy men will be staring at my daughter’s body and trying to grope her boobs and butt! What if she gets raped by some perverted patron?

Is That Thought or Story True? I Mean, Really True?

Could you prove this story factually, with evidence to a jury? Values are a judgment, which means they are a thought, not a fact. Although Karen is entitled to have her feminist values, she cannot expect other people to have the same values as she does, even her own daughter.

What about the groping and rape part? Lily has told Karen that the customers are not allowed to touch her and that they are normal people.

Karen doesn’t have any evidence that the customers Lily is serving are dangerous or threatening to her. She’s never read about anything bad happening to Hooters servers. Karen can’t prove that this story is true.

When I Think This Thought, What Do I Do?

Karen eats when she isn’t hungry. Then her body stores that energy as fat. The result is that she gains weight when she wanted to lose weight.

How Do I Want to Feel?

Karen just wants to feel at peace about Lily’s choice, have a good relationship with her daughter and not let it upset her every time she thinks about it.

What Can I Think Instead to Feel the Way I Want to Feel?

Karen can think that she can be less judgmental about Lily’s choices and more accepting, even if she doesn’t understand Lily’s choice.

She can think that Lily may be going through a phase and that she will not make this her life career. Lily has made a choice for now for financial reasons, and her job is not dangerous.

By using her prefrontal cortex to reason about the situation and to purposely choose how to think about it, Karen can be at peace with the situation. She feels better. She stops her emotional eating, and she starts losing weight again.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Are you an emotional eater? What do you do to avoid indulging and instead stick with a healthy eating regime? Let’s discuss the issue in the comments below.

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We are emotional eaters for many reasons. 1. Our DNA holds the Hunter-Gatherer skills and behaviour of our ancestors. We also have deep within ‘fight or flight’. I keep this is mind at all times. So – if you have been ‘grazing’ all day, make sure at meal times that you eat a light nutritous mea. I have learnt and recognised over the years that in our psyche food is rewarding. As human beings we cannot shrug this feeling off. It helps to protect us from starvation. i.e. enjoying the food that we have acquired. It charges our memotional batteries to go out, task another risk of hunting for our food. For fifty years I have grown my own food. As I dart around my huge vegetable garden I feel charged when I find the first ripe raspberry or a juicy strawberry nestled under a leaf. It’s not hard for me to connect to the excitement and emotional reward fo food that out ancestors experienced for hundreds of years. I make healthy ‘nibble’ snacks and keep them in the freezer. Hunter-gatherer anticipation: when I feel like a couple of nibbles, I take three out of the freezer, wait 5 mins for them to defrost, chew or suck slowly to capture all the taste sensations. I have a rare spinal disease and my husband has a genetic kidney disease. In 2019 our property was completely destroyed by bush fire. So for the past few years, stress has travelled hand in hand with us. Although we have a new home the landscape looks like a bombed out battle zone. Out stress is loss and lack of money to recover the landscape.


I know I am an emotional eater. I enjoyed the article but where are the 6 questions.


They are in bold in the article above.

The Author

Shari Broder retired from being a health coach. She recorded a whole lot of podcast episodes on her Weight Loss for Foodies podcast before she unplugged from work and decided to travel the world instead. She has extensive experience working with foodies who want to be a healthy weight. She's taught women how to ditch diets, stop emotional eating, and enjoy the foods they love while losing their desire to overeat along with their excess weight. All resources on her website are free.

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