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When Food is Love - Exploring Emotional Eating

"The problem of overweight and obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S. and globally, and the high prevalence is due in part to the recidivism associated with weight-loss treatment. Approximately one third of lost weight is often regained in the first year after treatment and, at times, continues.”

- Randomized Clinical Trials of Weight-Loss Maintenance: A Review. The Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. 24(1):58-80, JAN 2009

People are tired of yo-yo dieting, and want to have a healthy and relaxed relationship with food. Quick fixes don’t last. Many commercial weight loss programs are based on behavior change, restrictions and meal replacements. Diets increase a client’s inner critic and further disconnects him or her from their true needs. When “emotional eating” is not addressed, weight loss will be temporary (in many or most cases) and may leave the dieter feeling more hopeless and frustrated than ever.

A survey asked 1,328 psychologists which strategies were essential to losing weight and keeping it off. They cited that “understanding and managing the behaviors and emotions related to weight management” were critical. More than 70 percent identified cognitive therapy, problem-solving and mindfulness as “excellent or “good” weight loss strategies.

- Online poll by the Consumer Reports National Research Center in partnership with experts provided by American Psychological Association. (APA, APRIL 2013, Vol 44, No. 4. Print version: page 15)

Mindful Eating promotes mindful self-compassion and self-empathy. It is my belief that a non-diet approach to overeating and obesity is the only longterm way for a client to achieve peace with food and their body. Throughout the therapeutic process clients are encouraged to explore the triggers that lead to emotional eating. They develop the tools, strategies and rituals for establishing a healthy relationship with food. The goal is to gain an understanding of how to free themselves from the “eating instead of feeling” cycle and to transform mind (and body) along the way.

The therapeutic goals are to not use food as a mood regulator and to end the familiar pattern of worrying about calories and dieting. A client gains an understanding of how the quick reliable “fix” of the emotional eating ritual has induced a “trance” state. He or she learns to be in tune with their body and differentiate physical from emotional hunger. The therapeutic process is based on crafting and developing healthy rituals, i.e. taking a walk, talking to friend, having a cup of soothing tea, writing in a journal, and understand the true need for comfort or relief. “I need a treat!” means: “I need a break.” “I need comfort.

Contrary to the seductive promise of fast weight loss, this kind of deeper work takes a minimum of six months to a year. The “heart” of therapy becomes re-mothering, strengthening the Self, and embracing the small inner child that needs emotional comfort. In moments of emotional distress, clients can use the following practice developed by Dr. Kristin Neff. This practice can be used any time of day or night and will help a client evoke self-compassion instead of reaching for food.

Self-Compassion Break

After placing both hands on your heart, breathe deeply in and out and speak the following words out loud or silently, in a warm and caring tone:

  • This is a moment of suffering.

  • Suffering is a part of life.

  • May I be kind to myself.

  • May I give myself the compassion that I need.

Based on evidence-based research as well as my own experience as a former weight loss coach I conclude that diets don’t work, long-term. A client’s relationship with food should be the focus of intervention, not the food itself. Without addressing the emotional eating component, weight loss is temporary. We all have the need for comfort and self-soothing. My job as a counselor is to help craft new healthy rituals for the emotional eater who has relied on food as a mood regulator.

If you are tired of dieting and struggling with your weight, reach out to me. If you are ready to create a lighter existence for yourself -both physically and emotionally - book your initial complimentary consultation with me today.

I look forward to supporting you on your health and wellness journey!

With kindness, Petra


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