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Emotional Eating – Why We Gain Weight When We Are Upset

There are many reasons as to why people over eat. One of the reasons is the emotional attachment that some of us place on food in times of discontent. If you find that you reach for a pack of biscuits, chocolate bars or cakes when you feel anything less than happy, then there is a very good chance that you have formed an emotional attachment to food.

Reaching out for sweet and fatty foods when we are unhappy is not a new concept. We can trace this right back to our infancy. In lots of cases, when you were young and crying, the chances are that you would have been given breast milk which is very sweet. Then as a toddler, if you showed any sign of upset, you may have been given a biscuit or sweet drink to comfort you. For some of us, we never lose the comfort that those sweet foods gave us. That is not to say that we go for sugar at every available opportunity; there will be a specific traumatic trigger somewhere along the line that will unlock that unconscious memory, and that memory provides the key to providing comfort. Even early Neanderthal Man actively chose the fatty part of the kill for survival, so we could say that it is intrinsic in us to seek fatty foods.

For those of you that have this emotional attachment with food, this may sound like a bizarre concept. You may be thinking that eating these foods that you rely on provides nothing but guilt and negative emotion for you. The thing is, that you may not know the real reason behind why you eat but it will always be of a benefit to you. For example, if a child is sexually abused, the thought process may be something like: “if I become fat then I won’t be attractive and therefore I will be left alone.” That’s a pretty logical thought. If that child then eats to excess and becomes too fat, then it is not unusual for them to become yo-yo dieters. What is happening there is that part of them does not want to be fat anymore – it is causing them emotional pain to be that way. However, when they try to lose the weight, they are also losing their protection from something far more emotionally painful than being fat, so they get so far and then they put it all back on, and maybe a bit more on top.

The reasons why some people form emotional attachments to food can be varied. It can be for protection, for control, to feel significant, for comfort or even as a punishment to themselves for past wrongs.

The thing to remember here, is that if you are a yo-yo dieter or you know you are comfort eating, there is a solution. Life does not always have to be this way for you. Emotional eating just means that you are lacking a specific need. You feel empty inside. What you are doing is trying to fill that emptiness with food. Unfortunately, you can eat as much or as little as you like. That emptiness will still be there until you address it and deal with whatever is weighing you down.

You may know straight away what your particular issue is, although it is more likely that you won’t. It will be an unconscious issue. Whatever it is, it will be painful to you. That is why you haven’t dealt with it already. If change was easy we would all have done it by now and there would be no need for any therapy in the world. The fact is, that for many of us, the pain is too painful and we think that it is easier to run away and hide from it than to confront it. That is true in the short term, however it will keep chasing you and trip you up periodically no matter how much energy you put into running away.

The one person you cannot run away from is YOU.

If you are not happy with who you are today, then you will be twice as unhappy tomorrow. How will you feel about yourself in 5 years time if you fail to change now?

If you can identify with this, then maybe it is time to make a change. Maybe it is time that you invested in yourself and filled that emotional void once and for all.

28 comments on “Emotional Eating – Why We Gain Weight When We Are Upset

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    • Hello ici, I am a therapist and have seen many people for emotional eating issues. A great deal of the time (although not always) the issue stems from an emotional event from the past. Everybody is different and this will not apply to everybody. There are many reasons why some people over eat. This article was based on clients that I have actually worked with and going on to remove the emotional pain from a past event gave them clarity and strength to carry on with their life without food being their emotional crutch. :-)

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