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24 posts categorized "Emotional Eating"


Let's Get Triggered

For people with an eating disorder, emotional eating or food addiction, the holidays can be like a minefield of "triggers" – situations or foods that bring heightened anxiety and awaken the compulsion to use unhealthy eating behaviors.

Earlier in my career, I had been trained from the perspective that we shouldn't mention triggers or specific foods in therapy, in case someone would leave their session and binge, purge or restrict themselves right into relapse. Today things are different. It's not that we would ever purposefully provoke someone, but we know that triggers happen out in the world we live in.

Now, if someone is triggered, we know that she or he can come back and discusses that in a future session with the therapist or group. That way we can equip the person with valuable tools for handling similar situations in the future.

By trying to protect my clients from their triggers, I was actually denying them that chance to grow beyond them. Research, as well as my own clinical experience, has taught me that it doesn't help to avoid the triggers in therapy – and it's certainly not therapeutic.

My approach has changed and grown, just as my clients have. It's okay to be triggered in group or in therapy, as long as you process it, like we do here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center. Whether that happens immediately, or whether you need to think about it and come back, it's important to look at what is happening.

I would even say that today we welcome triggers, and that's because there are certainly going to be triggers out there, especially during the holidays – in the grocery store checkout line, at the gas station and in conversations with friends, family and co-workers. The goal is to not only tolerate these triggers but to embrace them with no thoughts or feelings of hurting yourself.



Identifying Your Addictive Foods

Similar to emotional eating, treating food addiction involves a therapeutic process of gaining insight and awareness into unresolved emotional issues. Besides that, the food addict must also identify and stop eating the foods he or she is addicted to.

A food journal can be a valuable tool in this process. Try writing down the foods you're eating, as well as your thoughts and feelings before and after eating. You'll also want to record your physical symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, fatigue, hunger, pain, irritability and anxiety.

After a week or so, reading back over your answers is bound to reveal some patterns. For more clarity, support and guidance, bring your food journal to a therapy session or an appointment with a dietician who specializes in food addiction (contact us for referrals).

Here are three questions that may help you hone in on foods that are addictive for you:

  1. While I'm eating this food item, am I already thinking about the next time I will eat it?
  2. When I finish eating this food item, do I feel a sense of loss or panic because it's gone?
  3. Do I think about this food item many times through the day?

For a more comprehensive food addiction assessment, click here to take the Yale University Food Addiction Scale.


Jane's Story of Food Addiction

All her life, Jane noticed that other people around didn't seem to look at food the same way she did. While she waited all day for school to be over so she could come home and snack (usually right up until dinner), other kids hung out with friends, worked in the library or played sports.

While her sister would have her Halloween candy in her desk drawer for months (and Jane knew, because she would sneak in there and eat some – but never enough to be noticed), Jane's was usually gone in just a few days.

When she grew older and started to be more conscious of her weight and appearance, Jane tried diet after diet to slim down and get some control over her eating. She would diligently follow all the rules, and then after awhile she would reward herself with a treat for being so "good." That little taste of whatever it was would set off a whirlwind pattern: eating, hiding what she was eating, scheming about how she could eat more, and feeling a deep sense of shame for having blown another diet.

When one of her co-workers was hospitalized for medical complications due to alcoholism, Jane actually envied him, wishing someone would lock her up to keep her away from her "treats." She had no idea that she was dealing with a condition just as debilitating and pervasive as alcoholism. That, in fact, certain foods triggered an alcoholic response in her body – once she started with them, she couldn't stop. Jane was a food addict. Are you?


You Can't Heal Food Addiction by Treating Emotional Eating

Not everyone with a compulsive or emotional eating disorder is a food addict. There are many people who can heal their emotional issues with food without ever having to acknowledge or give up an unhealthy relationship with a specific food or type of food.

And for others, those foods can be as problematic as alcohol is to the alcoholic. Even one bite can set off a chain of physical, biochemical reactions in the brain and body.

While a food addict may have as many unresolved emotional issues to work through as the emotional eater, a food addict also has to deal with the physical dependence. Though some people (including professionals) are unsure or uninformed about the theory of food addiction, research has shown that some foods, including sugar, can be just as addictive and harmful as other serious drugs.

Dr. Mark Gold, head of psychiatry at University of Florida in Gainsville, has done a lot of work in food addiction research, along with many others.

It's not as simple of identifying yourself as either an emotional eater or a food addict. In some cases, you might not know the food addiction is there until you start to unravel the emotional problems. As a first step, you might review this self-assessment created at Yale University:

Another challenge is that while most therapists are equipped to deal with emotional eating, very few therapists have the training and understanding to treat food addiction. That is a specialty here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, and we take a highly individualized approach to support people through the process of identifying the true nature of their food issues.

We are also beginning to train our interns in this area, as well as enlightening other students and therapists with our seminars and presentations.

It's not easy to face addiction – once you "put the food down" (stop eating the food you're addicted to), more emotions can come up and you may even feel a sense of loss from giving them up (you can contact us for more details about our "Grief, Loss and Food" workshop).

On the other hand, it can be validating to realize that your compulsion around food is not due to a lack of willpower; it's a chemical reaction that's the same as gluten or lactose intolerance. And that can be a real relief after struggling for so long.


Upcoming Groups and Workshops - New Starts and Ideas

Upcoming Groups and Workshops will help you get a jump start in your personal growth process.  Click here to view and download your own printable copyTell us what you think of the new workshops - let us also know what interests YOU!


Starting a ripple of recovery from eating disorders

It's my mission to help as many people with eating disorders as possible. I'm only one person, so I concentrate on the ripple effect. For example, by supervising registered interns and graduate interns, I enable more clients to get support and for lower fees. On the other side, we're providing a rich learning experience for those developing therapists, who will take that knowledge into their own practices and help even more people.
Outside of the Center, I start more ripples by speaking to organizations, conferences and students. Recently I spoke about emotional eating at the YMCA, and I gave another talk to Mental Health Counseling students at Nova Southeastern University.
Over the past three years, I've also served as President of the Eating Disorder Network of Central Florida, whose mission is to increase professional training and community awareness so that eating disorders are recognized and treated earlier.
I do these things in order to show what the recovery process holds for people who are struggling with eating disorders. Recovery is possible, and help is out there – please take it.


Resources for emotional eating and food addiction

Following up our recent feature article about emotional eating and food addiction, here are some resources for dealing with both:

Recommended resources for emotional eating

Women, Food and God and Breaking Free from Emotional Eating by Geneen Roth, as well as her other books
Dieticians who specialize in eating disorders (our therapist team can provide personalized referrals for you)

Recommended resources for food addiction

Books by Debbie Danowski, including a journal
Fat Boy, Thin Man by Michael Prager
Books by Kay Sheppard, including her daily meditation book
Writings and research by Dr. Mark Gold from the University of Florida
At the White Picket Fence Counseling Center, we offer individual counseling as well as group therapy for treating emotional eating and food addiction. Group therapy can be a powerful experience, providing a comfortable environment to work on healing your relationship with food and body. Please contact us if you are interested. Some groups have immediate openings, and for others you will be placed on a waiting list.
P.S. Are you on Twitter? You can follow White Picket Counseling Center at for interesting links, helpful resources and Center news. Are you concerned about your privacy? Instead of adding us to your public list of followers, you can add us to a private list.


Don't wait to live your life

Personal Note from Sandee Nebel
As we mentioned last week in the feature article about emotional eating, emotional eaters and food addicts sometimes put life on hold. They promise themselves, and sometimes others,  that they'll pick things up again as soon as they lose that 5, 10 or 50 pounds.
What are you waiting for? 
To me this is a reminder of my own personal philosophy of the "bucket list." You may remember that 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men who were working through their list of the things they wanted to do before they "kicked the bucket." They finally had their realization that there was little time left to do those things they put off for reasons of their own.
Well, my take on this is that I'm just not going to wait. I am checking things off my list right now, staying mindful in the moment and fully present for my clients, family and communities. I daily express my gratitude for everything I have and everything I get to do to fulfill my passions—things such as taking courses, going on a big family vacation, and of course, doing my life's work helping people recover from disordered eating.
Thank you for reading this, and for being part of my "bucket list."
Now, what are YOU waiting for?
P.S. Are you on Twitter? You can follow White Picket Counseling Center at for interesting links, helpful resources and Center news. Are you concerned about your privacy? Instead of adding us to your public list of followers, you can add us to a private list.


Are you an emotional eater?

Everyone deals with emotions differently, whether or not they have a problem with food. According to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, some people prefer to ground themselves in their feelings in order to make their perceptions and decisions in the world. Others are "thinking" types, who prefer to detach from their emotions and approach life on a more intellectual basis.
People who struggle with food and body/weight issues don't just detach from emotions, they run from them. Yet they don't particularly want to approach their problems from a thinking place, either. They simply cannot cope with emotional situations.
Whether it's a high stress situation such as dealing with trauma or abuse (anger, fear, etc.) a seemingly harmless experience such as a day off (boredom, indecision, etc.), or "positive" stress such as going to a party or winning a contest (excitement, adrenalin, etc.), they do not or cannot tolerate their feelings.
This repeated cycle leaves them cut off from a full living experience. They're usually well aware of this, promising themselves (and sometimes others) that as soon as they're thin (or thinner), they'll start to live.
All of this is why we sometimes say that emotional eating is not about the food. Yet, when it comes to food addiction, it IS about the food. For food addicts—who also may be emotional eaters—there is a chemical reaction to specific foods and/or an extreme physical craving for those foods.
These are complex issues and that's why here at the White Picket Fence Counseling Center we are each specially trained to deliver highly individualized treatment geared to your specific problem. And one that takes into account your emotional style.
People struggling with eating disorders need more than just the trite answers of "just eat less," "push yourself away from the table" or "just say no!"
Recovery from emotional eating requires both structure and support. Now by structure, we do not mean rigidity. Food plans, daily schedules and group meetings are all used as tools, but what's most important is that those tools are meeting your needs and fit with where you're at today.
And by support, we do not mean instructions. In fact, a recent article in the NY Times points out that doctors who just hand out instructions (sometimes paired with stern judgment) have little impact on their patients' success. However, doctors who work to motivate their patient to take charge of their own recovery make a real difference.
For emotional eaters who are considering bariatric surgery, take note. While this might seem like a quick and viable solution, surgery cannot remove emotional eating. Maintaining the weight loss will be very challenging, if not impossible, if you have not addressed that. Whatever got you to that weight is still with you.
Recovery from emotional overeating is not easy, and there truly is no quick fix. But if you start where you are, stay gentle with yourself, and enlist the right kind of support, you can experience the freedom of recovery.
P.S. Are you on Twitter? You can follow White Picket Counseling Center at for interesting links, helpful resources and Center news. Are you concerned about your privacy? Instead of adding us to your public list of followers, you can add us to a private list.