Don’t Swallow Your Emotions:

Cameron Hypnotics, Newcastle Hypnotherapy, Don't Swallow your Emotions

Don’t Swallow Your Emotions:


  • Do you ever find yourself in the middle of a bag of chips and wonder how you got there?
  • Does a clash with a co-worker mean a knee-jerk trip to the lolly jar in reception?
  • Are you so determined to be perfect that each fall from the pedestal sends you straight to the kitchen?

Many of us at some time in our life have said yes to one or all of the above. The details may differ, but the result is the same:

Eating tied to our emotions creates a “feel-bad” pattern that’s tough to break, puts on weight and makes us feel worse.

“Emotional eating is a coping mechanism,” says Connie Diekman, R.D., director of nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. “Food is easy to get, it’s always there and it’s a quick fix. The downside is that emotional eating triggers guilt because it usually involves too much quantity, bad food choices and a feeling of a lack of control.”

In an age when three out of five adults weigh too much — putting them at risk for a slew of health problems — it’s wise to disconnect your uncomfortable feelings from emotional eating. The Newcastle Herald 8 March 2013 listed The Hunter Valley as one of the most obese regions in Australia. This is a national problem … it is a local problem … and it is an individual problem.

Step one is to identify the triggers that get you in trouble. That helps you manage them instead of trying to munch them away.

“Anger is one emotion that is felt so strongly in the gut it can actually be misinterpreted as hunger,” says Denise Supik, a licensed clinical professional counsellor at Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. Your partner forgets an important date or a co-worker takes credit for your work.

The next thing you know, you’re hungry.

How do you know it’s anger and not hunger? Before you take a bite, Ms. Supik suggests you look inside yourself, pin down what you’re feeling and decide not to swallow that snack. It’s a skill you must develop. “Food can modulate your emotions, it can numb you, it can distract you,” she says. “But you must learn to self-soothe without doing yourself harm.”

“If the only thing you can come up with when you’re stressed out is to eat, that’s a problem,” says Alisa Schwartz, Ph.D., day treatment director at the Renfrew Center of New York, an eating disorders clinic. Having a favourite food as a treat is fine, she believes, but if it’s habitual, you need to find new ways of nurturing yourself.

“It’s normal to sometimes want to soothe yourself by eating a bowl of pasta or ice cream,” says Dr. Schwartz. “But you cross over the line if it’s the only way you can think of for making yourself feel better.”

“Emotional eating is eating to make ourselves feel better,” Ms. Diekman says. Feelings such as boredom can lead us to seek quick gratification from high-fat, high-sugar and high-calorie foods. “When people eat for emotional reasons,” she says, “they don’t tend to go for fruit and veggies.” Instead, they use comfort foods that provide instant nurturing.

But Ms. Diekman warns that emotions can’t be resolved until we find out what’s eating us. Do you need to change jobs? Do you need a new hobby? “Emotional eating is a domino effect,” Ms. Diekman says. “It just happens.” What you need to tease out is the cause-and-effect relationship that gets you in front of the TV armed with biscuits.

People can use food as a substitute for relationships,
Dr. Schwartz says. Advertising further encourages negative food behaviours, she believes. In truth, she says, it is not excess food that leads to a more satisfying and fulfilling life — it’s relationships and taking care of yourself.

If overeating feels like a problem, ask these questions: Are you spending enough time with friends? Who can you share your day with? Are you doing something for yourself on a weekly basis that’s just about you? “A lot of ads market food as a replacement for all else,” says Dr. Schwartz. But she cautions that eating cannot fill an emotional void.

We all feel sad at times, just as we all feel other emotions. Emotions don’t have to be harmful, “but the behaviours resulting from the emotions can be,” says Denise Supik. Setting yourself up for emotional overload can be the first step to overeating. For example, Ms. Supik says, if you focus on what others need to the detriment of your own well-being, you can set up for an emotional flood that includes sadness or depression.

“People pleasers may overeat because they’re very critical of themselves, they want approval, and everyone else’s well-being is more important than their own,” Ms. Supik notes. If you don’t give yourself your due, overeating becomes a way of self-nurturing gone amok.

A Recipe for Coping
“All of us sometimes eat for emotional reasons,” says Alisa Schwartz, Ph.D., of the Renfrew Center. Problems arise when it gets to be a habit or interferes with life. These coping skills from our experts can help you separate emotions from food.

  • Create a food and eating journal, even for a few days. Write down what you eat, when you eat and how you feel. Look for ties between what you feel and what you eat. The more you know about why you’re suddenly full and guilty, the more you’ll be able to stop it. For one day … use your mobile phone and photograph EVERYTHING that you eat. You’ll be amazed at the end of the day when you review the day’s diet.
  • Create a list of healthy activities to use when emotions get you down. Call a friend who listens well, write down your most personal thoughts, read an escape novel, take a walk. Have a drink of water. We all need a personal bag of tricks when emotions become uncomfortable.
  • Do something just for yourself each week. The more positive you feel about yourself and your life, the more you’ll be able to tolerate difficult events. Burnout can lead to a binge.
  • Become aware of your own negative self-talk. Write down what you say to yourself. Challenge your negative self-perceptions. Condemning yourself all the time can be a recipe for overeating.
  • If you feel ready to grab and eat, delay for 20 minutes. Ask yourself what you’re feeling and what healthy response you can make to manage it. Remember the new response won’t seem easy for quite some time.
  • If you can’t shut down your eating reflex, change the menu. Choose foods that need a lot of chewing, or reach for gum. Chewing can release tension. Or seek out low-calorie foods like carrots or pretzels.
  • Don’t stand and eat. Put food on a plate and make the act of eating more concrete. This will give you time to think rationally and bypass that dazed question, “How did I get here?”
  • Realise that food never says no. Ultimately, you have to say it.

At Cameron Hypnotics I can help you make the changes that you want in order to move towards better eating habits, and ultimately towards better health. If nothing else has worked … and let’s face it, if you have a weight problem then you have probably tried a lot of different weight loss programs, it is time to make real change by trying Hypnosis. What have you got to lose?

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