Do You Feed Your Feelings?

By Larry North, an EO speaker and fitness expert.

In our quest for leanness, there is one major enemy we must all confront: The reason why we overindulge ourselves with food. How many times have you eaten a huge dinner during a business meeting and then, the minute you get home, started looking for something else to eat? Although your stomach was full, something else was missing. You weren’t satisfied. And for some unconscious reason, you decided it was more food that would help you find that satisfaction.

Studies have found that overweight people tend to overeat in response to stress. Any negative emotion—anger, depression, loneliness, boredom or frustration—triggers a bout of overeating. Even when we are not under stress, many people use food as a mood elevator. As entrepreneurs, we get fatigued, bored, lonely or just mildly fidgety … and we eat. Food becomes our way to get through life’s ups and downs.

I’m not a psychologist, but as the owner of a fitness business, I’ve watched people struggle to get lean for years. I’ve learned that until these people learn how to separate their emotional life from their eating life, they’re not going to be successful on any weight-loss program. For example, if you turn to chocolate to deal with your feelings of anxiety, you’re going to have a lot more difficulty than someone who doesn’t.  If you’re someone who can “go blank” while eating—i.e., letting your feelings disappear underneath a mound of food—you’re in a very precarious, high-risk position to get even fatter.

To some degree, all of us have to break the practice of using food to get emotional satisfaction. I have gone through the same struggle myself. I grew up in a family that turned to food for solace, and I know that I, too, have a tendency to be a compulsive overeater. One evening, my girlfriend shocked me when I came home and told her in this semi-arrogant tone of voice, “Honey, isn’t it great that I don’t take out my frustrations at the office on you or my family?”  She said, “That’s right, Larry, you take out your frustrations on the refrigerator. You come home and don’t stop eating”.

It took me a while, but I later realized she was right. Although I was eating healthful foods, I would eat anything I could get my hands on if I had had a stressful day— an entire bag of air-popped popcorn, followed by a bag or two of baby carrots, followed by six sugar-free Popsicles … all in one sitting!

I am not about to mislead you into thinking that you can prevent stress and tension from entering your life. We live in the real world, and as good as you might be at sticking with an eating program, there will be times when you’ll be caught with your guard down, when stress will rear its ugly head and you’ll want to eat to swallow your negative mood. That’s why we need good solid strategies to keep our moods from determining how much we eat. Here are some proven techniques I share with clients:

  1. Walk it off. When you’re angry or upset, go for a 10-minute walk. This will get you away from food, and the exercise that comes from it will calm you. Did you know that when you exercise, your body releases endorphins that will combat stress?
  2. Ask yourself questions. When you get upset or stressed, stop and ask yourself the following questions (and ask them out loud for emphasis): What happened to make me so upset? How will food help me deal with this? Is it worth risking my new body in return of a few seconds of gratification through food? By taking a breather, quieting down your mind and asking some logical questions, you will start realizing the futility of using food for emotional relief. At the very least, you will help delay your first bite of food, and every minute you can delay will work to your advantage in combating overeating.
  3. Reflect on your motives. If you still find yourself headed toward the kitchen and you’re not sure why, try to stop and ask yourself why you want something to eat at that very moment. Often, that moment of reflection is enough to turn you back around. As simple as it sounds, you want to keep asking yourself questions: Am I really hungry? Are these true hunger pangs I’m feeling? Or am I eating to fulfill some other need? You might not have every single answer, but by taking the time to ask the questions, you will be throwing roadblocks in front of your seemingly “impulsive” need to eat.

While we can’t avoid stress in work and at home, we can make an effort to learn about our motives and create a foundation of success.

To learn more about how to improve your health, click here.

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