Coming up to Christmas and New Year with so much food around I though this might be helpful if you want to manage your own eating behaviour. Some people have a good relationship with food, some people only eat when they are hungry and eat a healthy diet, butI I would guess they are in the minority.
So often when people try to lose weight they put most of it back on because they don’t tackle the psychological aspect of eating. Emotional eating is a particular problem. There are so many reasons why we eat and it’s not just that we are hungry, usually they go back to childhood e..g., nice food like sweets and cakes are given to us to make us feel better or loved by our family and friends and so when we a sad, or angry maybe we binge on cakes and chocolate. There are also reasons why people turn to restricting their diet when very depressed.
- A psychologist can use a short questionnaire (e.g.The Exercisers Eating Scale, TEES) to examine ‘eating behaviour’ (i.e., what we eat), ‘weight management techniques’, ‘dietary responses to emotions’, ‘emotional responses to diet’, & ‘body image’ has been developed (see Lane, 2007). The Psychologist then monitors progress with reassessment being done at regular intervals. Intervention are designed to change diet habits and improve self-regulatory behaviour around food. This client was a 39-year old male who previously competed at national level in his sport, but more recently exercised for health and fitness related reasons. (We screened the athlete for possible indicators of eating disorders first).
- It is normal for many people, including exercisers to engage in dieting behaviours, but only a few are preoccupied by food or show bulimic tendencies. Our client reported similar scores to the average other than he engaged more in dieting behaviours. and experienced unpleasant emotions after eating, and tended to eat when experiencing unpleasant emotions such as depression and anxiety. He also had a poor body image believing himself to be overweight. Our intervention focused on the diet-emotion link.
- First we asked him to keep a diary of when he was eating, what he was eating, and what emotions were being experienced. It is important for the individual to be aware of the factors associated with binge eating, particularly if they wish to curtail these behaviours. The process of recording a diary is important as it not only provides the consultant with valuable information, but also helps raise self-awareness of factors that lead to binge eating for the client. E.g., he recalled coming home from work after a bad day, went to gym then binged on a huge amount of food. The reason he binged was because he was unhappy over the incident at work. Now he had named the feelings and expressed where they came from strategies could be identified to help him.
- We then asked the client to challenge, or question the belief that exercise allows an individual to eat as much as they like. Secondly, we sought to explore the strategies the client was using to regulate pleasant and unpleasant emotions. In this case, his exercise was a strategy to enhance emotions, as was eating unhealthy food. By using a food diary, it was possible to see the type of self-talk that the client was engaging in when deciding what to eat and how much to eat. Information in the diary helped develop self-talk scripts to help the client facing similar situations in the future. It is important for clients to realise that they are active in the decision-making process on whether to binge eat, and self-talk should be targeted at enhancing self-confidence and enabling the use of a different strategy.
- We asked our client to think back to situations in which he made a decision to eat chocolate, and to explore what he said to himself. He then replayed the scenario and sought to remove the link between eating chocolate and improved mood choosing aa different strategy. e are a number of different strategies that could be used. For example, one method would be to tell someone (partner, friend, mother etc) what your day was like, and develop social support networks. It also helps if you can collate a list of things that work for you and which will help you deal with these emotions and prevent you from binge eating. For example, plan something to keep yourself busy; read a book, go on the computer, go for a walk, go to the movies, phone a friend and organise to meet etc. If you know you have a problem with your diet in the evening then plan to use these strategies at this time. However, it is important to recognise that the strategies people used to control their emotions are highly individualised – there’s no single strategy that can be universally applied. The second key aspect of the use of a diary is to recognise the process through which an individual can be confident enough to take control of decisions around food changes during the intervention.
- It is important that success is positively reinforced and individuals should seek to reward themselves when they have made a good decision around food. However, this reward should not be linked with food. It is important for the consultant to closely monitor the food diary in the initial stages of the intervention, and encourage the individual to congratulate themselves on their achievements.
- Over time confidence increases in their ability to make correct decisions around food, they also think less about weight management issues and engaging in dieting behaviours. Furthermore, once food is no longer seen as a primary strategy for emotional regulation, individuals tend to eat a far healthier diet. This trend is evidenced in our case study as depicted.
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