A couple weeks ago, I said we can “move our endings to our beginnings” even if we don’t know the emotional cause of each binge episode. However, this doesn’t mean we should avoid thinking about the overall emotional costs and benefits of changing versus not changing.
In the first two exercises, we thought about individual eating events. Now, let’s broaden the scope and think about the benefits of emotional eating versus the benefits of changing this behavior. This simple exercise has been adapted from the tenets of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
The benefits of emotional eating? Isn’t emotional eating bad?
Emotional eating has benefits. We should admit this. Clearly, we wouldn’t eat emotionally if it didn’t serve a purpose in our lives. Identifying this purpose will help us find other ways to get the same rewards without the destructive behavior.
For example, emotional eating helps me decompress if my stress level is out of control. It literally takes my focus away from the stressor and calms my body. Knowing this helps me find other ways to “check out” (like doing some stretches or drinking a cup of tea or simply paying attention to my breathing).
Emotional eating also gives me license to eat whatever I want. Sure, afterwards, I feel pretty crappy, but during…I don’t feel bad. I’m in a haze of good feelings. If I did feel bad, I probably wouldn’t emotionally eat in the first place.
Realizing this was a big deal for me. It actually lessened any culinary self-judgment. My emotional eating episodes have diminished in an inverse relationship to the planned treats in my week. I regularly eat so-called junk food, usually chocolate of all varieties. And I don’t criticize my choices, not even a little (I’m aware if I overindulge, but awareness is not the same as criticism). I know if I deprive myself, I’ll end up eating an entire bag of cookies later. In other words, I eat reasonable amounts of chocolate out of choice, not obscene amounts out of desperation or fatigue.
Obviously, changing also has benefits.
If emotional/binge eating was a net plus, we wouldn’t want to change the behavior. However, for most of us, emotional eating is not a win-win scenario. It can cause loss of control, weight problems, an unhealthy relationship with food, even financial headaches. Therefore, changing this behavior will have benefits. Identifying these benefits of change can reinforce a commitment to new behaviors, or, it can reveal if we aren’t quite ready to commit, which is okay. Honesty with yourself is an important first step.
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