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Is Your Head in the Sand?

head-in-sandIf you’ve ever resorted to emotional eating (is there anyone throughout human history of who hasn’t?!?) you know how difficult it can be to unravel this behavior.

And don’t think for one second that it’s only people who have weight issues who engage in it; thin people do it too! Though they may rely on it less as a coping mechanism – and don’t bear the burden of excess weight as a result – it’s still an unhealthy response to an emotional cue.

There are four primal emotional responses that triggered my own overeating for years. I observe them time and time again in others so, as painful as my experience was, I don’t think it’s terribly unique. The four drivers of my own emotional eating were:

  • Denial (though not technically an emotion, denial is a defense mechanism so closely tied to emotional triggers it must be included)
  • Fear
  • Hopelessness (which devolves into futility)
  • Shame

In “Emotional Eating 101: Denial” I said that denial is hiding from your own personal truth. It is the ostrich with his head in the sand.

When I was morbidly obese, physical and psychological unease consumed me. In fact, I found it so painful that I detached from my body and my thoughts about it. In “Denial vs. Acceptance” I revealed how refusing to hide from my own personal truth plays out for me, how it helped me lose 120 lbs., and how it has helped me keep it off for more than seven years.

Facing my own reality – even when it’s painful – is one of the promises I made to myself when I committed to losing weight. I must confront those things I would prefer to sweep under the rug.

In “Emotional Eating 101: Fear” I talked about how anxiety drove me to overeat.

Most of us don’t fear for our physical safety very often (thank goodness!), but we may harbor constant stress and anxiety over financial worries, health concerns, relationship problems, work challenges … and on and on. If you’re a stress eater, like I was, you may be a “worrier” by nature. In my own experience, I have learned that even though I am a worrier, I can unlearn the pattern of turning to food to soothe my anxiety.

Instead of turning to food when I feel my anxiety level rising I use these strategies that I outlined in “Fear vs. Contentment”:

  • Allow yourself to feel emotions instead of push them away.
  • Confront them.
  • Create new habits to replace a destructive coping mechanism (in our case, turning to food).

Not one of these strategies comes naturally to me, nor are they the simplistic “dieting tips & tricks” you’ll read about on the cover of a magazine in the grocery store checkout line.

If emotional eating plagues you, you have a choice. Just as I did. Continue to stuff those uncomfortable emotions down with food, or find outlets and strategies that allow you to cope in healthier ways.

Read the blogs I linked here, think about how these issues may be playing out in your life, and then tell me (or a trusted friend) what you think. That’s where the unraveling begins.

Losing weight is hard, especially when we feel helpless against the complicated emotions that drive us to unhealthy behaviors. But it gets easier. And you’re so damn worth it!

Let’s go get it!

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