Why problem solving with emotional eating is not the best first step

If you are emotionally eating and want to know how to stop, an important step is to think about why you are emotionally eating. When we are struggling with something we badly just want to fix it and make it go away. We particularly want something that will be an immediate cure or fix. Articles such as “10 Tips To Stop Stress Eating Today” or programs that jump into strategies such as “call a friend”, “go for a walk”, or “distract yourself” are likely not going to be a good solution if you are an emotional eater. If you jump straight into fixing the problem, you are probably going to only receive short term relief, if any at all. It’s hard to find a solution to something you have struggled with for months or years when you don’t fully know what’s causing it and why you can’t stop doing it

The why behind emotional eating is important

I want to use some analogies to help explain why understanding the ‘why’ behind emotional eating is so important. Lets say you went to your doctor for a bad rash. Your doctor may give you a pill and it then goes away. But then it comes back. What do you do now? Maybe you take the pill again. What if it comes back a second time? What would likely happen is your doctor would try to figure out what is causing the rash. Once you uncover what’s causing it you are then able to make the necessary changes to eliminate it for good. Maybe the cause was switching to a different perfume. As soon as you stop using the perfume, the rash goes away. Or maybe it was a food allergy and you can stop eating the food. Figuring out the cause helps find the solution. This is not true with everything, but when it comes to emotional eating it is incredibly important.

Another analogy is feeling unhappy at your job. Let’s say you start to notice increasing feelings of unhappiness. You don’t know why you are unhappy but you just are not liking your job anymore. If you immediately jumped into problem solving maybe you could quit. This however, would miss the opportunity to understand why you are unhappy and even how to find a job that would make you happy, if that’s what you decide. If you thought first about why you are unhappy you could discover the cause of your unhappiness. It could be you are upset about not getting promoted, or maybe the job is no longer a passion of yours, or maybe you hate the hours you have to work. Once you figure out the cause you can then figure out what to do about it. Again, knowing cause would help find the solution.

Hopefully these examples help to explain why the ‘why’ is important and how jumping into problem solving may not be helpful long term or even short term. When it comes to emotional eating you are doing it for a reason. You started it for a reason. Also, you are continuing to emotional eat for a reason. Stress eating or emotional eating is also complex because we can’t just get rid of the food. Food is everywhere. Food advertisements are everywhere. We can’t just quit it, take a pill, or decide to just stop one day. We need to understand the ‘why’.

Therapy for stress eating

When we understand the ‘why’, we can then figure out what to do about it. For some people I’ve worked with we have figured out the ‘why’ in two sessions, and for others it takes months. For many of my therapy clients we can figure out part of the why quickly, but it may take a bit longer to understand if there are other multiple reasons for stress eating. In therapy, when we understand why you are emotionally eating and why it is hard to stop, we then talk about what to do next. What to do next may involve learning some skills and different ways of thinking. While I have a set of techniques I use to help people with emotional eating and stress eating, I individually tailor them to each person, because everyone is unique and has a different ‘why’.

Feel free to reach out if you are interested in therapy for stress or emotional eating. We would be happy to schedule an appointment to help you.

Best Within You Therapy & Wellness is a private psychology practice based in Atlanta, Georgia. Our psychologists are experts in therapy for binge eating and emotional eating. We provide online therapy to clients in Atlanta Georgia and throughout the US. If you are reading this and struggling with emotional eating, know that you are in the right place. We are here to help. You can learn more about therapy for eating concerns such as stress and emotional eating and treatment for eating disorders.