Are You Biting Your Way to Unwanted Pounds?

Emotional Overeating by Dr. Patricia CarringtonI’m sure you’ve heard it said that boredom can put on weight. People are known to eat unwisely when they are bored. You’ve also probably heard that being anxious can put on weight. People often eat comfort foods to calm themselves.

But – feelings of ANGER? What can anger possibly have to do with overeating and putting on unwanted pounds?

Actually, it has everything to do with it. Trying to get rid of anger by stuffing food into your mouth is one of the most common causes of what is called Emotional Overeating. For that reason it’s one of the most common causes of being overweight.

Consider this. When an animal is angry, what does it do? That’s right; most animals try to bite into the enemy animal. Its instinct is to sink its teeth into an enemy.

But what do we humans do when we are angry? We don’t usually sink our teeth into our enemy – we’ve come a ways during the millions of years we’ve been evolving on this earth – but we usually want to at least yell at the person or else we try to stuff down our feelings and pretend (even to ourselves) that we are not ANGRY.

And yet, no matter how hard we try to hide our rage, our ancient heritage shows. We may conceal our angry feelings openly from ourselves or others, but the instinct to bite when angry is still strong and we often take it out on innocent crunchy food. We bite down with all our might on the offending crackling potato chip or pretzel, or whatever crunch food is at hand.

Clinical observations have shown that angry people actually need to crush something with their teeth, and all too often this something will end up adding weight to their bodies.

Given the truth of this, what can we do about it? We may become angry at our boss, our spouse, our in-laws, or the police officer at the corner who has given us a ticket, but provided we don’t decide to sock him/her in the jaw, or scream four letter words at them, what can we do about this overwhelming urge to get revenge?

We can either crunch on some unwanted food, or we can recognize and express our anger in a more healthy and constructive way. Here’s an example of how one person did this:

An Angry Adult Child

Claudia had no idea why she would rush to the refrigerator with such desperation to grab anything that was sweet, yummy, and unfortunately, fattening. She only knew that when she needed this kind of forbidden food she had to have it. When she realized the reason, it was a revelation to her. I will tell you what she discovered in a moment, but let me ask you some questions.

Do you ever have food cravings even when you’re full? Do you reach for the ice cream just a half-hour after dinner and have no idea why? Do you do other inexplicable things with respect to your eating?

If so, you’re not alone! For many people, favorite foods can become comforting friends. When you need a friend you may find yourself cuddling up with a salty snack or a box of cookies even though you aren’t hungry. And – the pounds pile on.

If this description sounds like you, it’s probably the result of “emotional overeating” as it turned out to be for Claudia. Food can be so soothing that it can allow you to avoid whatever negative emotions you may be feeling when the cravings strike. In fact, if you reach for the food fast enough, you probably don’t even notice you’re feeling anything unpleasant at all.

This is especially true of the emotion of anger. Society conditions us to keep our angry feelings under control, but sometimes, this includes not feeling the anger at all. If you’re like most people, you’re not comfortable with anger. Food is an easy way to keep this emotion at bay and avoid expressing it.

Of course, the problem is that your anger doesn’t go anywhere when you eat unwisely as a way of handling it. You still feel the anger – it’s just hidden from your awareness for a while by the temporary comfort of food. Meanwhile, the downside is that you gain pounds, and the angry feelings remain dormant, ready to come up to the surface and bring about yet another food craving. It’s a no-win continuous cycle.

To get back to Claudia’s problem, she spoke to her mother on the telephone every week, after which she inevitably went straight to the refrigerator. “I’ve got to stop eating so much sugar!” she told herself; only she didn’t stop. The cake was right in front of her, and it looked much too tasty. It made no difference that she just finished a full lunch.

Claudia’s culprit turned out to be anger toward her mother. Unfortunately, expressing her anger openly to her mother always blew up in her face. Her mother would begin to cry and refused to have an adult conversation about their problems. In order to deal with this and maintain a good relationship, Claudia learned to suppress her anger toward her mother and pretend it didn’t exist. The cake helped her to keep the anger where she felt it must belong – hidden from her own awareness!

Claudia began to realize that her anger toward her mother was the cause of her overeating. She had always been aware that her mother could be frustrating, but it took her a long time to connect her food binges to her mother’s weekly call. The problem escalated to the point where Claudia turned to food when she simply thought about her mother.

Whether or not Claudia chose to express her anger directly to her mother wasn’t the point. She could express it to her mother if she wanted to, but most importantly, Claudia simply needed to find a constructive outlet for her anger that didn’t add inches to her waistline and didn’t keep her enslaved to unhealthy eating habits!

Does this sound easier said than done? It’s actually a simple matter of becoming aware of the anger and stopping it before the habit of reaching for the food takes place.

You can certainly see the logic. Using food to suppress anger is the equivalent of “swallowing” your feelings, rather than expressing them. In addition, the biting action offers some relief because it satisfies the primal instinct to bite our enemies in defense. For this reason, crunchy foods may feel especially good at such times.

An EFT Choices Exercise to Stop Eating Out of Anger

Here is something you can do immediately if you experience the problem of overeating due to anger that you cannot express openly:

Take a 3” x 5” index card and write the following sentence on it:

“Even though I’m angry at (insert name of person or situation) and can’t express this openly, I choose to honor my anger and deeply and completely accept myself (or “love myself,” etc.) without judgment.”

Before you go to bed each night, and after you rise in the morning (and at any other time you wish), read this sentence out loud to yourself three times.

This is a mini-version of the powerful “EFT Choices Method” which is a highly effective technique for combating emotional overeating. EFT utilizes the principles of acupressure by using light tapping on certain strategic comfort spots on your face and upper body to train your mind to become more peaceful and content – a great advantage for losing pounds. You will no longer feel that compulsion to grab for unnecessary food when you come into harmony with yourself and accept your anger.

Self-help techniques like EFT are especially important because they get to the core of the eating problem, while diets usually fail because they focus on what foods you are eating rather than the reason you’re eating them.

If you find yourself consistently overeating and don’t know why, you are probably using food to suppress certain feelings. The next time you are tempted to eat unwisely, think about whether you have any reason to feel angry, and begin to pay attention to your angry feelings. If anger is the culprit (it might be some other emotion) try the EFT exercise given above, and watch the pounds melt away!

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