I think this may be one of the most relevant and poignant features for all WLS pre- and post-op patients. I would go as far as to say it is ESSENTIAL READING. This is not just because this week alone I have had so many requests for help about out-of-control eating but because I know (and from personal experience) that the ‘eating demons’ never really go away just ‘hibernate’. WLS Surgeons are right when they say they operate on your gut not your head or mind. All of this often means despair and great angst but this feature offers much more than hope about combating such scenarios, it provides some tactics, emotional tools to try, coping mechanisms, and (for me) these words bring a degree of comfort:
“It is not necessary though to ‘get to the bottom’ of any issue, simply to realise that there are underlying reasons. It is not because you are ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ or ‘have no willpower’. It is because of things that have happened, and you CAN learn to do things differently.”
I shall be working more on my mindset and maybe you will want to as well after reading what follows. Maybe this is just a start and we can engage in more dialogue about this … what do you think?
The three most common types of food addiction and how to combat them
Guest Post By Dr Bunmi Aboaba, a Recovery Coach specialising in Food Addiction
Whether you’ve already had surgery, or you are still contemplating it – it’s important to understand your relationship with food. Just preventing your body from taking in food doesn’t necessarily change how you FEEL about food.
For example, when we need a pause, a pick me up, or simply just to change the way we feel, it is food that provides the solution. In extreme cases this can lead to what we now term food addiction.
Appreciating our different eating habits and gaining a better understanding of why we eat when we eat, can help us take greater control of our weight and make it easier to choose a healthier lifestyle.
- Emotional eating – a distraction from your feelings
It’s the reason why so many diets fail: We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger.
For many of us, eating can become the go-to emotional coping mechanism – when the first impulse is to open the refrigerator whenever stressed, upset, angry, lonely, tired, or bored – it’s easy to get stuck in an unhealthy cycle where the real feeling or problem is never addressed. Emotional hunger can’t be filled with food.
We say we are stuffing down our emotions. Eating may feel good in the moment, but the feelings that triggered the eating are still there bubbling under the surface. And we often feel worse than we did before because of the unnecessary foods we’ve just consumed.
Emotional hunger often comes on suddenly. Something triggers the urge to eat, unlike the physical hunger that comes on gradually. This type of hunger wants and needs instant satisfaction. Emotional hunger craves junk food or sugary snacks that provide an instant rush. You feel like you need ice-cream or pizza, and nothing else will satisfy. Emotional eating is often mindless, before you know it the whole tub of ice-cream is eaten, the pizza has been demolished, no thought or awareness has gone into it and there is usually no real enjoyment.
The secret to getting back on track to normal healthy eating patterns is to identify emotional triggers.
Make a list of what situations, people, places, or feelings make you reach for the comfort of food. Most emotional eating is linked to unpleasant feelings, and feelings from the past, that are triggered by events in the moment. While you’re numbing yourself with food, you can avoid the difficult emotions you’d rather not feel. Though there may be occasions when it can be triggered by positive emotions.
You may eat simply to give yourself something to do, to relieve boredom, or as a way to fill a void in your life. You feel unfulfilled and empty, and food is a way to occupy your mouth and your time. In the moment, it fills you up and distracts you from underlying feelings of purposelessness and dissatisfaction with your life.
Ever notice how stress makes you hungry? Stress is emotional. It’s not just in your mind. When stress is chronic, as it so often is in our chaotic, fast-paced world, your body produces high levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol triggers cravings for salty, sweet, and fried foods – foods that give you a burst of energy and pleasure.
To stop emotional eating, you need to find other ways to fulfil yourself emotionally. It’s not enough to understand the cycle of emotional eating or even to understand your triggers, although that’s a big step. You need alternatives to food that you can turn to for emotional fulfilment.
If you are feeling lonely or down, call someone who always makes you feel brighter or even better still, make a point of getting yourself out when you feel this way, as isolation is dangerous. Focussing on something else, like reading a good book or watching a comedy, is also a powerful way to change how we feel.
2. Compulsive Eating – taking or losing control
People who binge and compulsively overeat feel compelled to eat when they are not hungry and can’t stop eating when they’ve had enough. Binge eating disorder involves regularly eating large portions of food in one go, without thinking and in a short space of time, until the person feels uncomfortably full, and then often upset or guilty and out of control. The definition of bingeing will be different for everyone, and this is one thing that makes Binge Eating Disorder difficult to identify and diagnose, as one person’s idea of bingeing may be simply be a hearty meal to another.
People who describe themselves as compulsive eaters feel that they cannot control their eating and end up eating more than they need, which usually means they also struggle to control their weight. Compulsive overeaters have cravings that they cannot control, and may overeat small or large amounts of food, or just graze some of the time.
Binge Eating Disorder and Compulsive overeating are almost identical. Compulsive overeaters will say that they cannot control their food intake and feel they are lacking “willpower”. They will also say that they are eating for comfort rather than hunger or physical need.
There are always underlying reasons behind this type of behaviour. Perhaps it is the exertion of control, when it seems we are powerless to make effective choices in our lives. Maybe it is to do with negative body image. It can help to see a counsellor and discuss these issues.
It is not necessary though to ‘get to the bottom’ of any issue, simply to realise that there are underlying reasons. It is not because you are ‘bad’ or ‘weak’ or ‘have no willpower’. It is because of things that have happened, and you CAN learn to do things differently.
This may involve a trip to the doctor, or hiring a qualified Food Addiction therapist or other specialist. The point is that whatever the problem, there is a way out.
3. Overeating – we’ve all done it!
All of us have overeaten at some point and this is normal and understandable. We are inundated with opportunities to overeat. These tend to be highly palatable, refined or processed foods – pizza, ice-cream, cakes that are too tempting to ignore.
We drool over an especially delicious treat as a reward for finishing off a project and go for it! It’s so appetizing, so mouth-watering that the large portion has to be finished off at once. But when we have, we may feel satisfied but also not too great. To make matters worse, that uncomfortable, too-full feeling is often accompanied by less-than-ideal emotions like guilt and sometimes even shame.
This only happens occasionally – it was a treat after all. But what can you do to feel better straight away?
Take a short walk an hour or two after overeating. Not only will it make you feel happier, but it will get the food moving through your digestive tract.
Make it a point to make your next meal a healthy and satisfying one. Try not to skip a meal, as you may get into the danger zone of feast and famine. The body hates being starved. As soon as you eat again after a period of starvation, it will store that food as fat, in case there is another shortage. Eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.
Sipping a little water after the event will help flush out some of the sodium consumed. Be mindful around when overeating occurs. Most of us will do it on a whim or as a reward. When it becomes a regular thing, then we have to look at the “what”, the “why”, and the “need”.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Bunmi Aboaba is a Recovery Coach specialising in Food Addiction, helping clients to achieve a healthy relationship with food to meet long-term health goals. Dr Bunmi’s work covers the full spectrum of disordered eating, including overeating, compulsive eating, emotional eating, addicted eating and other associated patterns. Dr Bunmi is also creator of the first Certified Food Addiction Certification to support nutritionists, personal trainers, dieticians and clinicians to help their clients achieve long-lasting results. Dr Bunmi also runs 7-day self-care retreats for clients suffering from disordered eating.