How to Conquer Emotional Eating

Recapping Weeks 7 and 8 of Kathie J. and Larry’s weight loss journey

With Holly Wyatt, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center

We just finished Weeks 7 and 8 of State of Slim, and I’m so proud of how Kathie J. and Larry soared through the holidays and are starting 2019 in a great place. At this halfway point in their journey, we’re starting to teach them about emotional resiliency, or ER.

Why do we tackle this in State of Slim? One reason so many people struggle with weight is that they eat when they feel a negative emotion. Dealing with the negative emotion is hard so they eat to numb it. But it doesn’t work very well and it’s short-lived.

As a society, when we feel a negative emotion, such as anxiety, pain or sadness, we try to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Heaven forbid we should actually feel anything!

These emotions are part of life. Our goal in State of Slim is to figure out new coping skills to deal with them so that we don’t turn to food.

How to Deal with Negative Emotions

The first step is being aware of what you’re doing. Begin to notice when you eat — or any other behavior you wish to change — and the emotions associated with it. Look at the interaction between your feelings and behaviors. Do you eat every time you feel stressed, bored or sad, for example? Take note of this relationship between food and feelings so you know what you need to fix.

Once you’re aware, you can figure out a plan to substitute other behaviors for eating (or any other behavior you want to change) when you feel negative emotions.

How do we figure out these substitute behaviors? It’s called “filling your cup.” I have everyone write a list of things that “fill their cup” or brings them joy. This could be anything from hiking outside to listening to music to reading to painting to going out with friends. The possibilities are endless — it just has to be an activity that boosts your emotions that isn’t eating.

Once you have this list, you build a plan to substitute one of these activities for eating (or any other behavior you’re trying to change) when you feel a negative emotion. This is a super important strategy to be able to live your best life.

Life Threw a Curve Ball — What Do You Do?

One reason I think people fail at weight loss is that something comes your way and it totally throws you off. Maybe you got sick or injured, something happened in your family, or you lost your job. It takes forever to get back on track, if you ever do.

Sometimes it seems like we’re the only ones getting these curveballs. But they happen to everyone and they bring those negative emotions for everyone. The difference is the people who have high emotional resiliency can make it seem like they don’t get curveballs. They absolutely do have those life challenges, but they have developed the skills to get through them instead of letting them stand in their way.

People with high ER keep their cup full all the time — they never let it get empty. They actively pursue activities that bring them joy so they don’t feel compelled to turn to food when life gets tough. When you get really good at this, you begin to see these curveballs as good because they make you stronger.

Team Kathie and Larry

Since Weeks 7 and 8 took place over the holidays, it was the perfect time for Kathie and Larry to investigate their emotional triggers. I asked them: “What emotions lead to behaviors that don’t get you where you want to go?” They figured those out and also made lists of the things that fill their cup. We’re going to keep working on this over the second half of the class because this isn’t a one-time skill. It’s a life-long strategy.

Keep supporting Kathie and Larry. They’re doing a great job. This is hard work. It’s not, “Eat this diet and work out.” It’s lifelong change and your support helps them so much.

If you’re interested in going through a 16-week transformation like Kathie J. and Larry, visit State of Slim online to sign up for some small group classes. There, you can also request to see me for a one-on-one consultation in clinic at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

Your Takeaway: Make a “fill your cup” list. Come up with the things that give you that emotional strength, that make you strong. Make sure you’re doing those things, either once a day, a couple times a week. Never let your cup empty out. When you’re feeling one of those negative emotions that makes you want to eat, go to that list instead of going to food. Just try it.

Follow and support Larry and Kathie J.

Learn more about the State of Slim at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center