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Weight Loss and Control:
Roger Gould, MD's Weekly Blog
on Emotional Eating

Knowledge is power.
Understanding why you turn to food is the key to changing it. Join in the discussion each week as Dr. Gould shares his valuable insights from over 30-years of clinical experience.

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"Checking Out" in Advance


Just the other day I heard a patient describe something about emotional eating that I had not noticed before. She said that she found herself "checking out" for the last several weeks, which meant she was binging in anticipation of a stressful event that was to take place soon.

Checking out meant to her that she was no longer pausing and thinking. She didn't want to even try to understand what her emotional hunger was all about. Usually she "checks in" with herself, is on top of what is going on, and quite able to limit and control her binge eating.

Most of the time I hear patients describe eating episodes that happen AFTER something has upset or frustrated them or caused them to question themselves in a critical way. However, this time, my patient was having eating issues BEFORE the event occurred. It's as if she predicted that there was going to be a situation she couldn't avoid, that would make her feel so helpless and powerless that she would not be able to cope with it unless she comforted herself with food weeks in advance.

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Recent Posts
Riding 100 Miles Uphill


This is the story of a patient who has been struggling with weight issues since her early teens. One day she told me about how she had just completed a 100 mile bike ride for a charity organization. She was proud of her achievement because this ride was on a grueling course, up four hills, each of which had an 8 mile incline. The story itself made me exhausted. I marveled at her strength, endurance and ability to stick to it. She is a married woman in her mid-50s and had only taken up biking later in life as a way to get the exercise she needed to complement her chronic dieting efforts.

She then went on to tell me that her riding partner, a professional trainer who works out seven days a week, was riding faster and stronger than she was. She said "I guess I'm not so strong after all" and looked a bit deflated. I was immediately taken aback. The bike ride was a great victory for her, and in two minutes she took it away from herself.

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Why Most Diets Fail


Did you know that diets fail over 95% of the time! Studies show that in fact, after a short term success, people regain all the weight lost plus an additional ten percent. Sounds like most diets are predictable formulas for gaining excess weight rather than losing it.

Some people think that diets fail because they just are not the right diet. Other people think that diets fail because they are just too hard to follow. While others think they fail because the initial motivation to diet wears thin very quickly. And still some others think that it has nothing to do with the dieter, but with the culture that constantly teases us with so many delicious foods to eat, so many celebrations to attend, and so much peer pressure to snack with your compatriots at the office. All of these are correct and contribute to the problem, but they miss the main point, the elephant in the room, emotional eating.

From my own clinical experience and having treated thousands of people online for emotional eating, I am totally convinced that there is ONE major reason that diets fail, and that is due to emotional eating. Diets fail because there are times in life when having food for a reward or food as a means of distraction or food as a way to control painful feelings, is much too immediate and seems much more important than the long range outcomes of healthy eating. Everyone is an emotional eater to some degree.

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When the Past is in Conflict with the Present


The blog comments from last week clearly illustrate how the past continues to influence our current life, and in particular how past events directly relate to emotional eating patterns. Now that we have established this fact, the question that is uppermost in every one's mind is what can one possibly do about it. As the members of the Shrink Yourself Program know very well, there is much that can be done about it. Let's look at a few examples that demonstrate how you can think instead of eat, and stop old patterns that began in childhood but no longer make sense to continue. Here is what Jane said;

When I was a child I had open heart surgery at the age of 6 weeks and again at the age of 7 years. All the examinations and procedures and long spells in hospital must have played a part in my insecurity. I was always rewarded with food at visiting times, and when I came home from hospital. Even the night before the major heart surgery at the age of 7 I was able to choose the meal I wanted. The cheese and onion pastry combination is still my favourite comfort food. I now weigh almost 20 stone. I am trying hard to lose weight. A continuous struggle.

The childhood connection is obvious. Food made her feel safe when she felt in the most danger. But why does she continue to use food for safety now? If she can stop to think about her current reality, she will be able to see that food does not make her safe. It only makes her feel safe. It only gives her the illusion of safety. The illusion of safety is powerful and at times very desirable. But does it serve Jane as an adult? She probably has not thought about this connection between food and safety until now. It had become an automatic part of the way she reacts.

In the Shrink Yourself Program we would ask Jane to pause and reexamine her reasons for over eating. She would undoubtedly discover -- consciously acknowledge -- that which she has already said in passing, that she is eating to feel safe. During the third month of the program we would help her examine this "safety net" until her mature adult thinking mind figured out that it is only an illusion. This process would free her from continuing an old blind habit that is making her miserable.

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Emotional Hunger Points to the Past


In this week's blog post we will take a look at how childhood powerlessness relates to emotional hunger in adulthood. I invite you to become conscious of the powerlessness you felt in the past and use it to transform those feelings of helplessness into the skills of a problem-solving thinker.

When you read stories of other people describing the "emotional hunger'' that drives their emotional eating, the first hand descriptions make this concept come alive. They will resonate with part of your own life, no matter who you are.

Why this is true? It's certainly not because we are all the same, since we are all so obviously different. I believe its because we all struggle with the same issue; how to live our lives as an adult, the way we truly wish to, rather than how we have been unconsciously formed to generate certain responses by our childhood experiences.

The one subject I hear about over and over again from my patients, from the members on the site and from those who comment on the blogs regarding their struggle with emotional eating is the issue of abuse in childhood. Of course there are many kinds of abuse, and many degrees of abuse. Individuals may have been subject in childhood to verbal abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, or neglect and this is not an inclusive list. Furthermore, all of the childhood experiences that are connected to emotional eating are not caused by abuse, but the abuse experience has clear cut consequences that will help us understand the connection between feeling powerless and emotional eating in all cases.

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