Emotional Overeating

By Claire Dorotik-Nana, LMFT @pdresources.org

emotional overatingWe all overeat at times, but when it becomes a pattern and it happens in connection with characteristic emotions, it’s called emotional overeating. Emotional overeating is also different from simply eating more calories than you expend because it mimics an addiction. There is a trigger (usually an identifiable feeling, or set of feelings), a feeling of lack of control over one’s behavior (also seen as the inability to inhibit the impulse), and feelings of guilt and shame about the behavior.

Often the emotional overeater, like an addict, knows that the behavior is causing harm to his/her life, and yet is unable to stop. The emotional overeater’s life can also begin to narrow, much like the addict’s, as social connections are let go of, previously enjoyed hobbies and personal pursuits fall by the wayside, and the primary source of relief becomes the addictive behavior.

Yet the difference is that we can’t simply stop eating the way an addict can use abstinence as a treatment goal. Similarly, emotional overeating is not a behavior that responds to simply being told to stop, because the emotions that underlie the behavior remain.

In fact, being told to stop typically increases the feelings of shame that an emotional overeater already struggles with – often making the behavior even worse. This reality is evidenced by the astounding number of people who struggle with emotional overeating as well as the collective conclusion by the majority of experts in the field that the role of emotions in obesity and weight loss treatment approaches is consistently being overlooked.

What is needed is a different approach. Those who treat obesity, weight loss, and emotional overeating need to look beyond the behavior to understand the emotions that drive it. They need to see emotional overeating not as a lack of willpower, an indication of a character flaw, or an inadequacy, but rather a cry for help. They need to understand the psychological and social obstacles that accompany emotional overeating as well as the patterns that drive it. And then, they need to help their clients unravel their identity from that of a person who is not good enough, and whose behavior is shameful, and begin to build a sense of self that supports healthy eating patterns, distinguishes physical hunger from emotional hunger, and finds ways to meet unmet emotional needs in fulfilling ways.

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Related Online Continuing Education (CE) Courses:

Emotional Overeating: Practical Management Techniques is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE) course that disusses the causes of emotional eating and provides cognitive and behavioral exercises that can help to eliminate the addictive pattern. Statistics report that Americans are an increasingly overweight population. Among the factors contributing to our struggle to stop tipping the scales is the component of “emotional eating” – or the use of food to attempt to fill emotional needs. Professionals in both the physical and emotional health fields encounter patients with emotional eating problems on a regular basis. Even clients who do not bring this as their presenting problem often have it on their list of unhealthy behaviors that contribute to or are intertwined with their priority concerns. While not an easy task, it is possible to learn methods for dismantling emotional eating habits. The goals of this course are to present information about the causes of emotional eating, and provide a body of cognitive and behavioral exercises that can help to eliminate the addictive pattern. Course #40-26 | 2011 | 44 pages | 30 posttest questions

Nutrition and Addiction: Advanced Clinical Concepts is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that examines addiction from a nutritional perspective. Drug addiction is an alarming problem in America, and one that is not receiving the treatment it needs. Compounding the problem is that addiction often leads to nutritional deficiencies, which predisposes the addict to a host of related health complications. Treatment recovery programs that also offer nutritional education have been found to significantly improve three-month sobriety success rates. The first section of this course will take a look at the etiology of addiction, related neurochemical factors and physiological components. The second section will focus on the nutrient deficiencies associated with addiction, along with the resultant effects on mood, cognition and behavior. The last section – the clinician’s toolbox – will give you, the clinician, targeted nutritional interventions and exercises that you can use with your clients to not just improve their recovery rates, but their overall mental health and wellbeing. Course #21-14 | 2017 | 30 pages | 15 posttest questions

Why Diets Fail: The Myth of Willpower is a 1-hour audio continuing education (CE) course that explains why diets fail and provides strategies for what does work. Clinicians continue to recommend diets to their patients, even though diets don’t lead to long-term weight loss. In this course, Dr. Mann will describe the evidence on why diets don’t work in the long term, give the biological reasons why diets fail, explain why willpower is not the problem, and then give strategies for healthy eating that do not require dieting or willpower. Dr. Mann is uniquely qualified to provide the real truth about dieting, eating, obesity, and self-control. She is a widely cited expert whose research has been funded by the NIH, USDA, and NASA, and is published in dozens of scholarly journals. She does not run a diet clinic or test diets and she has never taken a penny from commercial diet companies, or sat on their boards of directors, or endorsed one of their products. Because of this, her livelihood, research funding, and reputation are not dependent on her reporting that diets work or that obesity is unhealthy. This sets her apart from nearly all diet and obesity researchers and allows her to speak the truth about these topics, which she does with abandon. This audio course was recorded at the Annual Symposium of the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in July 2016. Course #11-07 | 2017 | 10 posttest questions

Behavioral Strategies for Weight Loss is a 2-hour online continuing education (CE) course that exposes the many thought errors that confound the problem of weight loss and demonstrates how when we use behavioral strategies – known as commitment devices – we change the game of weight loss. While obesity is arguably the largest health problem our nation faces today, it is not a problem that is exclusive to those who suffer weight gain. For therapists and counselors who work with those who wish to lose weight, there is ample information about diet and exercise; however, one very large problem remains. How do therapists get their clients to use this information? Packed with exercises therapists can use with their clients to increase self-control, resist impulses, improve decision making and harness accountability, this course will not just provide therapists with the tools they need to help their clients change the way they think about weight loss, but ultimately, the outcome they arrive at. Course #21-13 | 2016 | 31 pages | 15 posttest questions

Beyond Calories & Exercise: Eliminating Self-Defeating Behaviors is a 5-hour online continuing education (CE) course that “walks” readers through the process of replacing their self-defeating weight issues with healthy, positive, and productive life-style behaviors. It moves beyond the “burn more calories than you consume” concept to encompass the emotional aspects of eating and of gaining and losing weight. Through 16 included exercises, you will learn how to identify your self-defeating behaviors (SDBs), analyze and understand them, and then replace them with life-giving actions that lead to permanent behavioral change. Course #50-10 | 2013 | 49 pages | 35 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).