Divorce and binge eating is something I am personally familiar with. Years ago, when I was getting divorced, I can remember being so stressed (a combination of anxiety, anger, fear, sadness, hopelessness) that at times I used food to cope. More than just a few times I would stand in front of my freezer shoveling spoonfuls of Ben & Jerry’s down as I thought about the unbelievable horrific nightmare my life had become.
People getting divorced cope in lots of different ways. Some are good ways and some are bad. I’ve written quite a bit about the power of addiction and how newly separated people are particularly susceptible to drinking, drugs, sex and other things that can become addictive. But, I’ve never really addressed eating, which is a very powerful addiction that can become harmful and affect physical health.
So, when I saw this post, “Are you Eating Your Emotions?” on Dr. Sarah Allen’s blog, I asked her if I could repost it because I think it can help men and women who are using food to cope with all of their divorce emotions.
Are You Eating Your Emotions? by Dr. Sarah Allen
Let’s face it, going through a divorce is probably the most (or at least one of the most) stressful things that you have ever had to go through. How are you dealing with the stress? Probably some days are better than others? Do you ever find yourself standing in front of the fridge searching for just the right something, even though you are not hungry? Are you crunching your way through a whole bag of chips because you are really angry? Perhaps your emotions have changed your relationship with food.
The occasional soothing of emotions by comfort eating is fine but when it becomes a regular thing or when you can’t stop eating until you feel so uncomfortably full, we need to change your relationship with food. This is a time to work on building up your self-confidence so you can go out in to the world on your own again, but that is difficult if you are cycling between struggling not to overeat, failing and then feeling guilty afterwards. We need to find a healthier way of soothing yourself when your day/week/month has been really tough!
Here’s three ways to get started.
1. Learn The Difference Between Emotional Hunger & Physical Hunger
Before you can break free of emotional eating you have to learn how to tell the difference between your emotional and physical hunger. This can be really difficult if you regularly use food to deal with your emotions. Here’s how to tell the difference between Emotional vs Physical Hunger.
- Emotional hunger urges you to satisfy it instantly. Physical hunger can wait.
- Emotional hunger comes on suddenly. Physical hunger comes on gradually.
- Emotional hunger craves specific options that you consider comfort foods. Physical hunger is open to a wide range of options–lots of things sound good.
- Emotional hunger isn’t satisfied, even when your stomach is full. Physical hunger stops when you’re full.
- Emotional eating triggers feelings of guilt, powerlessness, and shame. Eating to satisfy physical hunger doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.
2. Identify Your Emotions Before You Eat
Emotional eating tends to be automatic and virtually mindless. Before you even realize what you’re doing, you’ve reached for the bag of chips and polished off half of it. By learning to stop and check in with yourself you give yourself the opportunity to make a different decision.
Ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I hungry?
2. Do I really need more food in my stomach?
3. If I am not hungry, which one of my triggers is pushing me to want food?
4. What are my feelings now I have recognized this?
3. Learn To Accept Your Feelings—Even The Bad Ones
While it may seem that your problem is that you’re powerless over food, emotional eating actually comes from feeling powerless over emotions. If you deal with feelings by numbing or soothing yourself with food, you stop feeling capable of dealing with your feelings.
Allowing yourself to feel uncomfortable emotions can be scary. You may fear that, like Pandora’s Box, once you open the door you won’t be able to shut it. But the truth is that when we don’t obsess over or suppress our emotions, even the most painful and difficult feelings subside relatively quickly and lose their power to control our attention. To do this you need to become aware and learn how to stay connected to your emotions.
Thanks Sarah! I have met Sarah several times as I’ve interviewed her for articles for the Sun-Times. She is an amazing therapist who I would personally recommend highly.
Although the subject of binge eating is no laughing matter, I can’t resist leaving you with a giggle and smile, so I thought I’d bring up a really funny example of binge eating from my all time favorite show, Sex and the City. Remember when Miranda’s boyfriend brought a huge cookie over to her house that said I love you on it? The next day, Carrie asks Miranda how she dealt with him saying I love you on a cookie and Miranda tells her she dealt with it by eating the whole cookie! I’m bringing that up because I think that to a certain extent, everyone uses food to cope with stress from time to time. But, know when to seek help.
Dr. Sarah Allen is a psychologist who specializes in empowering women to live the life they want. She sees clients in her Northbrook office or via telephone or Skype sessions. She can be reached at (847) 791-7722.