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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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The Thinking Person's Diet


Emotional eating is a very effective way to block or avoid feelings, but an unhealthy and unproductive way of dealing with the emotional hunger that those feelings represent.

You don't ask to feel happy or sad or bored or angry, you just feel that way and then have to figure out what to do with those feelings. In an instant you can decide to let them in or ignore them. Do you let them become the beginning of a thought train or do you distract yourself to avoid the thinking process that would otherwise naturally occur?

It took me a whole book to explore this subject fully. Here is a much shorter and more easily accessible look at what happens when the moments of strong cravings and extreme hunger tempt you to binge or overeat. If you can capture the feelings that create those cravings when they come to the surface for however brief an instant, you will begin to experience a thinking person's diet.

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Recent Posts
Count to 10


Do you remember when you were told to count to 10 when you got angry as a child? Why did your parents or teachers want you to do that? The reason was to give you time to calm down and think more before reacting to your strong feelings and urges.

When you feel instantly and automatically angry, you are certain that you are right and the other person is wrong or that an injustice has been done to you and you need to do something. However, in this initial state, you are very likely to act out inappropriately.

When you count to 10 you give yourself time to think... "Maybe I did something to provoke this, or maybe it's a misunderstanding, or maybe this is really a small issue, or maybe I'm just in a bad mood and it hit me the wrong way and I'm overreacting."

At the end of counting to 10 you will have done this analysis with your intelligent mind rather than reacting on your initial emotional impulse. That short PAUSE is long enough for you to shape a more thoughtful response. You might still believe that injustice was done and you are right, but you will be able to handle the situation more effectively.

It is important to make the distinction between immature thinking and mature thinking here. We call the initial automatic response an "immature" way of thinking. And we call the thoughtful response (after the count of 10) as the "mature" way of thinking. Is there any question about which way of thinking is the best way to conduct your life?

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Run, Run, Runaway


Are you a Runaway? If you are a binge eater or a compulsive over eater you are a Runaway. That's because when you eat that way, you are actually running away from yourself. When kids run away from home, it's because they feel misunderstood or under appreciated or abused. Everyone has felt unloved some time in their childhood, but the Runaway not only feels that sometimes, he or she comes to feel that way all the time. He or she feels it so deeply that it becomes the unquestioned and immutable truth and there's nothing that can be done about it except to run away. The Runaway experiences great pain and a sense of helplessness.

As I continue to work with patients who are fighting the food obsession, I find myself always encouraging them to use the pause technique and simply ask themselves what they are running away from when they reach for food in a compulsive manner. I can ask that question safely because I know that they don't need to run away from their feelings anymore. Although the feelings are painful, you are no longer a helpless child.

The answers to the question, "what are you feeling?" vary in accordance with where you are in the treatment process. It usually starts out as "I don't know. I just feel this overwhelming hungry feeling even though I just ate and I am full." I encourage that person to experiment more, knowing that soon it will become clear to them. If they are sitting in the room with me, I might make a comment on the emotion that shows on their face because their body almost always betrays their feeling. Your brain knows what you are feeling, even if you can't put it into words yet. When I commented on one patients facial flush she was able to tell me she was running away from sadness, only after she found her face wet with tears.

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Fathers, Mothers, Sisters and Brothers


Last week I wrote about two sisters. This week I want to include the whole family. You may wonder what family dynamics has to do with being overweight? In a few cases nothing, but in most cases it is either the immediate trigger to binge eating or the prime source of the intense cravings that make it impossible to stick to a healthy diet.

Remember, the principle of emotional eating is that you over eat in order to hide from the painful emotions that point to unresolved problems. Your unresolved problems are probably not much different from the inevitable problems of daily life, relationships, work, and family that everyone faces. However, the emotional eater has learned how to easily, through food, run away from the disturbing emotions that would otherwise prompt them to solve these problems sooner.

When these problems don't get resolved, more food is necessary to quiet the mind, and you lose sight of the original issues that need your attention. But you can't trick your own mind for too long. The issues don't go away and the problems and the burden accumulates. They sit inside the mind, and they weigh you down. That is why it is so easy to feel overloaded and about to explode. And when you become so afraid to know what you are really feeling, you automatically turn to food.

If you haven't started the Shrink Yourself program yet, this may be all that you are aware of at this time. That you have to eat too much or binge, that you don't understand why, and that you are afraid at some level. You may be hoping for the perfect diet or for more shear willpower to keep you on track. However, for those of you who are further along in the program, you have learned that looking inside is not so dangerous, but actually liberating, and it gives you a new sense of control in how you live your life. You have learned to work on problems, rather than avoid them, and therefore you carry a lighter load.

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