Have you ever eaten half a chocolate cake, inhaled a pint of ice cream or downed a whole plate of nachos and then felt disgusted with yourself? That’s an experience all too common for anyone who struggles with emotional eating.

“Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than hunger, says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland. “Instead of the physical symptom of hunger initiating the eating, an emotion triggers the eating. Most of the time you may not even be consciously aware that you’re eating when you’re not hungry. This is because your body is functioning on auto-pilot and your survival instinct is making you crave comfort in the form of food because it’s worked for you in the past.

Food = Comfort

Perhaps you first learned to associate food with comfort when you fell down and skinned your knee and mom offered you a cookie or maybe your Nana’s kitchen with all it’s wonderful aromas was your favorite spot in the house. No matter what or how, your body has connected up eating and food with being safe and comfortable and if you tend to feel the urge to eat whenever you experience a strong emotion, that’s an example of emotional eating.

So when you find yourself feeling out of control, eating whatever’s in front of you–that’s your body’s way of trying to relax you. It’s doing whatever it can to slow down your heart rate, lower your blood pressure and reduce your immediate anxiety by recreating your mind’s particular recipe for a double helping of some of what you know to be warm and safe, happy and peaceful.Your body thinks it’s doing you a great favor, because it’s keeping you safe. By making you think of food whenever you’re feeling stressed, it’s distracting you from paying attention to all the things that would upset you. But like a dentist’s shot of novocaine, it can only temporarily numb you, but during that time you’re completely consumed with thinking about and figuring out how to acquire and eat the food that’s promising you the relief.Times like this you may find yourself craving chocolate when you’re blue, nachos when you’re bored, a big plate of pasta when you’re disappointed, sugar when you’re tired and anything crunchy when your nerves are jangling on the edge.

Experts now say that diets are not the answer and in order to break the cycle of compulsive eating and become a normal eater, you have to learn how make peace with food. That really just means to feel safe and sane when you’re around all the foods you love.

If you want to learn how to feel calm around a cabinet filled with cookies or a fridge packed with frosties, you have to first be willing to change your attitude, not only towards food, but towards yourself and your body. You will do that by changing the way that you talk to yourself.

No more body bashing and I mean it. Not one single nasty word. Don’t call yourself names, don’t put yourself down, don’t let anyone’s ugly words ever define you. Don’t even go there and try to beat up on yourself when you notice that you’re overeating. Judging yourself and playing nasty little “I hate my fat body’ games is the worst thing you can do.

Why? Because just like a child needs comfort and love and coddling when they fall down and hurt themselves, you do too. Can you imagine how devastating it would be for you to fall down and someone would say, “What the heck’s the matter with you? Are you stupid or something? Well everytime you put yourself down for overeating or eating foods that you didn’t think that you should, that’s what you’ve been doing to yourself; kicking you when you’re down.

Here’s a story of the time when I learned the powerful lesson that being a people pleaser is like running on the fast track to a binge.

As a woman who has struggled with secret eating and binging for a large part of my life, I’ve learned to recognize that my desire to overeat often arises from my need to be a people pleaser.

As a professional coach and Master Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programmng, I’ve learned that what you say doesn’t matter to me, what really matters is what I tell myself. If I believe that you are more important than me or that my feelings are not valid and in order for me to be at peace, I have to please you, then I will let you walk all over me. I used to do that all the time.

Several years ago I was a Girl Scout Leader for a troop of Brownies. I was the new leader in the group and as a result I was very eager to please and wanted everyone to like me and be my friend. Each month all the leaders were gathered together to discuss news and events. In a meeting during the holidays, my Division Leader, Laurie asked for volunteers to bake 5 dozen cookies for an upcoming holiday party. No one raised their hand.

Laurie then proceeded to pick several women out of the group and ask them individually if they would be willing to help. They each declined. She paused a moment and looked around the room. Her piercing blue eyes locked on mine and she stared me down for what seemed like an eternity. Then with a disapproving glare and a sarcastic tone, she asked if I could find the time to help out the girls.

Every muscle in my body clenched. I felt so intimidated. I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me. I just knew that I couldn’t say “No” and disappoint everyone and I really wanted to be considered a team player. I could feel my body screaming “No” but the words, “Yes” tumbled out of my mouth.

That evening while baking those holiday cookies, I fell headfirst into a binge.

Now many years after finally giving up dieting and seeing food for what it is, just food, I realize that I’ve spent years binging on food when what I really wanted to do is to just say, “No” Whenever I find myself eating more than I want to, I ask myself these questions:

Question Your Binges – The next time you overeat ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s happening?
  • How am I feeling?
  • How have I overcommitted myself?

By asking the above questions, you will be able to guide yourself to change your perspective. You’ll switch from blaming mode to being more compassionate. These questions will put you right back into the present moment so that you can see what is going on in your life that is causing you to reach for food when you’re not hungry.

Now here are my tips for being gentle with yourself and physically treating your body kindly during the rough time that inevitably follows every binge.

How to baby yourself physically on those ‘fat’ days

On those days when you overeat and you feel fat, you’re having what I like to call a ‘fat day.’ A fat day is when you feel fat everywhere, even in your bones. On these days, the best thing to do at a time like this is to be as loving and gentle with yourself as you can. Recognize that nowhere on any list of feelings does the word, “fat” appear.

Fat is not an emotion. It has nothing to do with the fat on your body and it has more to do with what’s going on in your life way beyond your relationship to food. Be curious and willing to look at whatever is going on now in your life and see if you can find how that might be making you feel angry, sad, rejected, disappointed, depressed, frustrated, confused or any other emotion that might perhaps put your body on overload.

By identifying the real culprit and source of your bloated emotions, it will reduce the stress level that you feel. Dr. Nancy Bonus, the creator of the Beyond Dieting Program says, “learn to love yourself now as you are. Realize that permanent change requires a climate of love and nurturing, not self-loathing and disgust.”

Are you ready? Here are several of my tips for creating a physical climate of love and nurturing guaranteed to get you over the hump of those very vulnerable ‘fat’ days:

Avoid the scale – First step away from the scale, don’t even go there. It gives your inner critic far too much power and it’s only going to make you feel terrible. Stop using the scale as a measure of your value; value yourself for who you are.

Get clean – Seems silly but I’ll say it anyway, take a shower or bathe. On these days, you don’t want to add insult to injury by getting more upset because you’re smelling yourself, and not in a good way.

Fragile: Handle with Care – As you step out of the water and dry yourself, be extra tender and if you don’t already do so, pat yourself dry gently, as you would dry a baby. Next you might like to find a wonderful scented lotion or oil and rub that all over.

What to wear – As you choose what to wear, keep in mind, comfort is key. Wear undergarments and clothes that give you plenty of ease and feel good. If you have something to wear that’s especially soft or furry, or any other textured garment that has a delightful ‘hand’ feel which reminds you of being comfortable and warm, then choose that as long as it fits and does not bind.

Make up? Decide how make up feels to you. Does it feel like it would cheer you up or is it a big pain? Personally for me, on those days, I would never wear make up, because I just want to be plain and simple, Andrea. You decide what’s best for you.

What to eat – You may probably be really uncomfortable from overeating at your last meal and perhaps you don’t want to eat anything or maybe you have a craving for something that reminds you of comfort. Do your best to pay attention and listen to what your body wants. Do what feels right, allowing your emotions to guide you. Remember it’s all part of the learning process and every step that you consider to be a mistake is all part of the plan. It’s all good.

Question Your Binges – The next time you overeat ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s happening?
  • How am I feeling?
  • How have I overcommitted myself?

By asking the above questions, you will be able to guide yourself to change your perspective. You’ll switch from blaming mode to being more compassionate. These questions will put you right back into the present moment so that you can see what is going on in your life that is causing you to reach for food when you’re not hungry.

Retrain Your Brain – The things you say to yourself in your own head have a big effect on what you think about your body. Replace your old self-critical tapes with loving and kind words. Be lovingly curious, not critical. Imagine talking to yourself softly and sweetly as someone who loves, respects and adores you. If nobody immediately comes to mind, make up an image of the ultimate nurturer and use that as your new model for changing your self talk.