Tapping your way out of emotional eating: Fact or fiction?

I’ve got two words to describe Sunday night’s episode of “I Can Make You Thin:” not impressed. Although McKenna did a pretty good job of explaining why people use emotional eating to cope with their feelings, the whole episode had an infomercial feel to it.  It had a high fluff to content ratio, with lots of testimonials and recaps from the last episode. 

The worst bit: his tapping technique. When I first learned that he would be demonstrating this technique during this episode, I was immediately skeptical but decided to try and be scientific about it and give it a fair chance.  But it just seemed so silly, not to mention hard to remember how to follow (tap here, tap there, hum this, look here, etc.).  I came across a great blog post where the author did some research and found some unsavoury information about the man who developed this technique: again, not impressed.  I suppose it might be helpful for some people, if they can manage to remember how to do it, but my feeling is that it works mainly by distraction.  In fact, it reminds me a lot of a highly controversial technique developed for treating trauma called “Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing” (EMDR).  Although some studies have found it to be effective, the general criticism levied against it is that is uses the usual process of treating trauma, but adds in the repetitive eye movements as a form of distraction from the high levels of emotions that arise.  It seems to me this tapping technique works in a very similar way.

Now don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with distracting yourself. If you’ve got the urge to eat […]

By |March 26th, 2008|Dieting, Emotional Eating|0 Comments

Can TV make you thin?

Last night a new show on TLC premiered called “I Can Make You Thin”. Although the title is a little too sensationalist, and the host, Paul McKenna, a little too showbizzy for my taste, I think this show is a welcome change from your usual weight loss TV programming.  Shows like “The Biggest Loser” and “Last 10 Pounds Bootcamp” are demeaning and mostly counter to what I believe constitutes a healthy lifestyle.  This show, on the other hand, doesn’t focus on militant dieting and exercise, but rather follows some of the basic principles of intuitive eating.

In this first episode, McKenna outlines what he calls the Four Golden Rules:

1) When you’re hungry, EAT: a revolutionary concept, I know.  But so many diets disconnect us from our own hunger signals, saying we should only eat at prescribed times.  This has two unfortunate consequences: either you starve yourself between meals, setting you up for a binge later on, or if you do eat between meals, you feel guilty for it.  In the end, the result is the same: you’re not listening to your body.  But if you start tuning into your own hunger signals, and actually give yourself permission to eat when you’re hungry, you’ll end the cycle of deprivation and guilt.  Check out the Hunger Scale I have posted in my Resources section to help you decide when you should eat.

2) Eat what you want, not what you think you should: another pitfall of dieting is you’re forced to eat certain things, instead of paying attention to what your body is telling you it wants.  I know, if you give yourself permission to eat what you want, you’ll live on nothing but pizza and ice […]

By |March 17th, 2008|Dieting, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

Does this clutter make my butt look fat?

I think Oprah can read my mind. Just last week I discussed the similarities between compulsive hoarding and compulsive eating, inspired by an episode of Dr. Phil.  Today’s episode of Oprah had my favourite clutter expert Peter Walsh discussing the relationship between excess clutter and excess weight. OK, so maybe she can’t read my mind (after all, Oprah does own Dr. Phil – or at least his show, anyway) but it’s pretty interesting that I’m not the only one who can see a link between the two.

Right at the beginning of the show, they put up a quote that practically had me jumping out of my seat: “Eating more and buying more is an attempt to fill the need for something more.” Yes! This is what I’ve been saying all along. In fact, Walsh has written an entire book on the topic, “Does this clutter make my butt look fat?” Check out his book here.

A couple of things stood out to me during the show. First, this woman kept her treadmill (what she called her “high-tech bag holder”) folded up in the kitchen. Can you imagine staring at that thing every time you go into the kitchen for a snack? Talk about guilt-inducing. Walsh couldn’t have put it better when he told her “your treadmill is making you fat.” Because for anyone who’s ever been stuck in the overeating/guilt cycle, just looking at something that makes you feel guilty can lead you to eat. As funny as his statement was, it couldn’t have been more true.

As the family cleared out the their stuff, they kept making comments along the lines of “I’m actually feeling lighter.” It is so important to take your environment, which […]

By |February 7th, 2008|Compulsive Hoarding, Dr. Phil, Emotional Eating, Oprah|0 Comments

Compulsive hoarding on Dr. Phil

Today’s episode of Dr. Phil focused on people with compulsive hoarding issues. The first guest on the show (and by the way, for the record, I rarely watch the show – I liked him better when he was on Oprah) was a young man with an enormous collection of Star Wars items. He had apparently spent $200,000 building up this collection and his house was filled with the stuff. His wife (understandably) was fed up and wanted Dr. Phil to wake him up. He even admitted that if Star Wars didn’t exist, there would be no reason to be alive.

You have to ask yourself what void this guy is literally trying to fill with all this stuff. There are a lot of reasons that people keep get attached to their stuff, from sentimental reasons to the fear that if they throw something away, they might need it again someday. People collect things because it gives them a sense of safety, belonging, or identity. But in many cases of compulsive hoarding, which is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the “stuff” is a symbol for something that the person feels they’re lacking in their life. So to fill up that feeling of emptiness, they collect and/or keep things that have some special meaning to them, instead of satisfying that need in a healthier way.

In some ways, compulsive eating and emotional eating are similar to compulsive hoarding. In the case of eating, the food represents something that the person feels they are missing, like love, comfort, or a sense of pleasure. And in a very literal way, the extra weight is the extra “stuff” that the person is carrying around. […]

By |January 30th, 2008|Compulsive Hoarding, Dr. Phil, Emotional Eating|0 Comments

Book review: Fat Girl by Judith Moore

Although many people struggle with their weight, few have been overweight all their lives. This book tells us exactly what it’s like to have been the “Fat Girl.” A memoir written by Judith Moore, it’s a haunting story that goes deep into the pain, shame, humiliation, and suffering of a person labelled as fat. Although she claims from the get-go that this isn’t a sob story, nor is it an exploration of why she had a weight problem, but from reading her story it is clear she suffered from an emotional hunger.

Rejected by her mother before she was even born, and abandoned by her father soon after, she did not get a good start in life. To make matters worse, she inherited her father’s body type, a man who was obese for much of his life. Her petite mother, whose dreams of becoming a famous singer were interrupted by Judith’s arrival, was repulsed not just by her daughter’s figure so opposite to her own, but by the fact that she reminded her of her ex-husband. Judith suffered terrible physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her mother, whose own mother was a difficult and critical woman. Her lack of love, warmth and acceptance led her to seek comfort from food. However, she also learned to hate food, as her mother put her on one failed diet after another. At times, her hunger was so severe that she began chewing on her own fingers to soothe herself.

As a child, she was teased mercilessly and developed few friendships. This rejection only led to more pain and isolation, and she never developed the social skills necessary for happy relationships. Her childhood was lonely, empty and she […]

By |January 25th, 2008|Book Review, Emotional Eating|0 Comments

Can being depressed shorten your lifespan?

I recently came across a disturbing statistic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has studied a number of factors that reduce both a person’s lifespan as well as their quality of life. The latter statistic is termed Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs), which is basically the number of years of quality life that get taken off because of one factor or another. They calculate these DALYs for each of the different parts of the world, and as you would expect, various diseases like tuberculosis and HIV are near the top of the list for developing nations. You would think that the so-called lifestyle diseases, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, would top the list in developing nations. However, you’d be wrong.

Depression is the #1 disease accounting for the greatest number of quality years of life lost in North America. In fact, on average, it accounts for 8.0 DALYs, or years of quality life lost due to the disability caused by the disease. This number is greater for North America than for any other part of the world. And no other country lists it as their top factor. I was astounded not just by the fact that depression topped the list in North America, but by the number of quality years it takes off the average depressed person’s life. Often people think of lifespan as being the number of years they live, but few people consider how many of those years are spent feeling healthy, happy and well. What good is it to live for 100 years if only 60 of those are healthy?

It’s time to start thinking more about quality of life and not longevity. If you or someone you know suffers from depression, this statistic […]

By |January 25th, 2008|Depression, Emotional Eating|0 Comments

Drop the rope

For anyone who works, lives or deals with teenagers on a regular basis, you know how easily a power struggle can creep up on you. When I first started working with teens, this completely baffled me. I thought I was young and hip enough for them to consider me to be on their side (what a delusion!), but I would consistently find myself getting into these struggles that I knew I couldn’t win. I had a conversation with a colleague about this and she gave me a tip that would completely change how I approached my work with them.

When you find yourself in a power struggle, caught in a game of tug of war, just drop the rope. If you drop the rope, nobody wins and nobody loses. Don’t try to reason with them, don’t try to bribe, don’t try to force anything. Just let it go. State your point on move on to more productive things. When I tried this approach, it worked amazingly well. Instead of wasting time arguing a moot point, I focused on what was really going on and how to help the teen move past that.

I later realized this approach works with more than just teenagers. It also works with your relationship with yourself. How often do we get stuck in a tug of war between our emotions and our reason? Our emotions are telling us to do one thing (eat that delicious piece of pie!) and our reason is telling us another (you just finished dinner, you’re full, you don’t really need that piece of pie). The struggle is exhausting. What would happen if you just dropped the rope?

When you let go of the struggle between your emotions […]

By |January 20th, 2008|Change, Dieting, Emotional Eating, Tips|0 Comments

What does it really mean to be fit?

I’ve recently started getting into yoga, for the first time in many years. I took a class once when I was an undergrad and although I diligently attended classes, I never really enjoyed it (the fact that the class was downtown at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM might have had something to do with it). Now maybe that I’m older, I find myself patient enough to enjoy its slow, meditative pace, although I definitely have a lot to learn. However, it’s gotten me thinking a lot about what it means to be fit.

I remember reading somewhere once that most people think that to be physically fit is to possess either good strength or endurance. In other words, being able to lift a lot of weight or have shapely muscles (strength), or else be able to run for a long time or have good cardiovascular fitness (endurance), is enough to be considered a fit person. However, true fitness also includes balance and flexibility. What good is it to be able to run or lift weights if you aren’t flexible? Although most people do incorporate some stretching into their routines, balance is by far the most neglected part of fitness. This is why elderly people are so prone to falling. Just like developing good musculature, good balance can also be developed. One of the best ways to develop balance and flexibility is through yoga.

Yoga also increases your sense of self-awareness, which makes yoga an ideal mind-body exercise. It takes a lot of practice and discipline, but that’s the beauty of it. It’s hard, and it can be frustrating, but I find that it’s helping me to develop more tolerance with myself. It teaches you to […]

By |January 6th, 2008|Emotional Eating, Exercise, Fitness, Yoga|0 Comments

What are the Top 10 signs you might be an emotional eater?

In my previous post, I talked about the definition of emotional eating. In this post, I outline how to identify the signs that you might be an emotional eater. You may recognize yourself in some, many or all of these. Read on to discover the top 10 signs you might be struggling with emotional eating.

Top 10 signs you’re an emotional eater:

1. Do you reach for certain comfort foods whenever you feel sad, depressed, lonely or bored? You may have certain foods that you know are sure to make you feel better, like sweets, pasta, chips, or chocolate. Whenever the slightest feeling of sadness or boredom sets in, you immediately feed it with these comfort foods.

2. Do you reward yourself with food for doing something hard or challenging? You’ve completed a major project, finished your last exam, made it through that terrible meeting with your boss, or spent half the day cleaning up your office. What better way to pat yourself on the back than with a special treat (sushi is one of my personal favourites!).

3. After a hard day, do you treat yourself to your favourite foods? You were late for work, you forgot some important papers at home, the microwave was broken at lunch, and you didn’t complete nearly half of the work you were supposed to. On your way home, you stop and pick up some pizza, because no way are you cooking and besides, you deserve it.

4. Do you eat in order to push away feelings of anxiety or stress? You’re nervous about that upcoming party for 12 you’ve planned, or there’s a major deadline looming over you. To cope, you find yourself snacking on food all day long.

5. Are you […]

By |December 24th, 2007|Emotional Eating|0 Comments

What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a recurrent pattern of eating in response to your feelings, not physical hunger. It can take the form of reaching for a tub of ice cream when you’re sad, a bag of chips when you’re anxious, chocolate when you’re happy, surrounding yourself with your favourite foods when you’re lonely, or compulsively eating everything in sight when you’re bored. The key is that your eating habits are tied to your emotions, not to the signals your body is sending you. Somehow, the connection between eating and nourishing your body has become lost.

It’s no surprise that we connect food to emotional well-being. From the day we’re born, our first experiences of being loved and cared for come from the closeness we feel when we’re being fed. This connection is very strong, and is later reinforced by the messages we get from our loved ones. Food is intimately tied to celebration, from birthdays to weddings (think of that show, “I do, Let’s eat!”). We may have been comforted with food early on, from chicken soup when we had a cold to a chocolate bar when we felt down. We may have also been taught to eat everything on our plate, or witnessed a family member struggle with emotional eating. All of these sent us the message that food is somehow about more than just eating for survival.

Everyone uses food for emotional reasons sometimes, but emotional eating results from developing an unhealthy relationship with food. Almost everyone has a “go-to” food when they’re stressed out, or has a tendency to overeat around the holidays. But when turning to food to cope with unpleasant emotions or situations becomes a regular occurrence, it can be a problem. […]

By |December 24th, 2007|Emotional Eating|1 Comment