Working Toward a Healthier Weight

Stress Eating | Emotional Eating | Binge Eating | Compulsive Eating

“Weight loss” is not the only goal. Actually, with this type of counseling, weight loss will actually be the result of the important lifestyle changes that you will choose to make.

We work with clients by first examining exactly what the problem behaviors are, when they occur, and what messages clients are unknowingly sending to themselves that may go along with the problem behaviors. We talk about how your basic attitudes and ideas about food, eating, self-esteem, body image and communication were formed early on in the family you grew up in. What you experienced when you were younger may still be influencing you. Then we look at what’s going on in your life right now. We examine your daily routine, the type of work and social situations you regularly encounter, your family life, relationships with friends and extended family. We take into account any of these factors that may play a direct role in your eating habits or indirectly through your emotional reactions to various circumstances you are faced with. We use all this to develop the personalized plan to move you toward a healthier weight. It requires work, commitment and a willingness to be open minded.

Research has shown, people who have lost weight and kept it off long term have made significant changes in their lives in addition to changes in their eating habits. Significant and lasting change can be challenging, but it is achievable if you are committed and ready. It is important to realize that most people who have made these changes and kept the weight off over many years, started by failing more than once with various diets, products or programs. But finally, they were ready to change their lifestyle and not just their diet.

What do we mean by “changing their lifestyle?" For each person, lifestyle change will mean different things. For some, it will mean making changes in one or more personal relationships, setting boundaries, finding ways to reduce stress and acknowledge emotions. It means learning how to say “no” to some things and “yes” to others. It may mean learning about new foods as well as new ways of thinking about food, eating and socializing. It may mean finding new ways of rewarding yourself.

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Stress Eating

Many of us experience stress on a daily basis, and for some people it may be for a significant part of the day. Clients may experience stress from family, relationship, job or financial issues. Some people find the daily environment stressful, such as navigating through traffic on a daily basis, pressure to look a certain way, for our children to look a certain way, and for our home and yard to look a certain way. Many of us feel pressure to achieve, and for our children to achieve. Some of us prefer to do things ourselves, our own way. If things aren’t done “right,” we become stressed. For some people, time, money and energy are almost always in short supply. Everyone has a stressful day or a stressful week now and then. But when this condition becomes the norm, this can lead to unhealthy conditions. We do not feel that we are in control. We do not pay attention to healthy eating, and we often stuff ourselves as we go through the day, just to make it through another day, another commute, another meeting. Sometimes we just sit down and overeat a particular “comfort food” or even almost any food that is easily available at that moment. When people engage in stress eating, they are often, without realizing it, trying to “self medicate” with food. Stress eaters most often choose food that is high in fat, sugar, salt and calories.

In counseling, learning to de-stress is one of the main goals. Since no two people are alike, we work on creating your own, customized “de-stressing” plan. This may include changing self-talk, expectations about the way things “should” be each day and the way you interact in relationships. It involves learning what, as individuals, we require on a daily basis, to keep ourselves healthy and strong. Instead of reacting to stress by “self-medicating” with food in an unhealthy way, you will explore healthier habits that may prevent the stress. You will also practice new ways of coping with stress when it does arise.

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Emotional Eating

Emotions are normal. Everybody has them. And everybody deals with them differently. Sometimes our emotions are troublesome and we don’t want to have them. We don’t want to experience them or think about them. We may try to avoid them. One way people sometimes try to “avoid” emotions is to eat. Eating can be used to avoid emotions, “numb” emotions or as a reaction to feeling the emotions. In many ways, our society rewards this, with the idea of “comfort food” or consoling a child with cookies or candy when he or she is upset, crying or disappointed. It is no surprise that this early “training” ends up becoming a problem for many people.

In counseling, we will explore the hidden ways that clients have been taught to use food as a bandaid for their emotions. They will work on learning how to identify their emotions and find healthier ways to experience and react to them.

We will also examine how clients may be using food to fill a hidden void. Often people are missing something in their lives, but what is missing may not be obvious. It is easy to attempt to fill the emptiness with food, and it might work in the moment, but food will never fill the real void. We will work to identify the void or voids, and identify healthier ways of filling it.

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Binge Eating

Binge Eating refers to the behavior of eating large quantities of food in a relatively short period of time, eating quickly and often with a feeling of being “out of control,” often eating alone out of shame, and experiencing feelings of disgust, depression, regret and guilt after the episode. Commonly, feelings that can trigger a binge include anger, sadness, loneliness, worry or boredom.

In counseling, clients will take a very detailed look into the problem behavior, when it happens, what seems to bring it on, and what thoughts are experienced before the binge, during and after. In working toward stopping this troublesome behavior clients will work to find new behaviors, practice new thoughts, and create a customized daily structure, practice menu planning, portion control and a few different food-purchasing habits. Exercise or a pleasurable physical activity are often helpful components.

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Compulsive Overeating

Compulsive overeating is often called “food addiction” and those who struggle with this issue can easily see why. Compulsive overeaters may think about food too much throughout the day. They may binge eat, but they may also “graze” which is basically eating food all day long. Many compulsive overeaters eat normal meals and snacks “publicly” but eat a large quantity of additional food secretly, and take steps to “throw away the evidence.” Many compulsive overeaters have become very good at hiding their overeating, and sometimes even their spouses, family members or coworkers don’t know the full extent of the problem. As anyone with this problem already knows, traditional “dieting” does not address the issue and may even make it worse.

In counseling, clients will examine the origins of this eating behavior. It may have started during childhood or teenage years as a way to self-medicate for anxiety, stress, emotions, family issues, peer issues or poor self-esteem. Perhaps food was and is being used to fill an emotional void in one’s life. Body image issues are sometimes a contributing factor. Sometimes there are neurobiological factors as well (brain chemicals driving one to overeat). Healthier ways of coping with emotions, life’s stresses and relationships will be the focus, while, at the same time, a healthy eating and activity plan will be developed.

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