Videos, Weight loss advice

Study: How to Stop Emotional Eating and Bingeing

Hey friends! Today I have advice & a super cool study for you on how to stop negative emotions from making you overeat or binge eat. This study also has useful advice for how to feel fewer negative emotions generally!

For the highlights, check out the video:

And now, the details & how to use the strategy into your own life:

Emotions are a MAJOR cause of overeating–in fact many scientists think it’s THE cause of binge eating disorder (BED).

So in this study, they tested whether a simple psychological trick could prevent people from overeating when feeling sad.

They had two groups: a group of 39 overweight women with BED, and a control group of 42 overweight women (weight-matched) without binge eating. Their average BMI in both groups was 34. The BED group was bingeing 4x a week on average, for at least the last 6 months.

They had the participants watch a really sad movie, had them use one of two emotional regulation strategies, then looked at how much they ate afterwards from bowls of biscuits and chocolate M&Ms.

They split the BED and control groups into two strategy groups: suppression and reappraisal. For the people in the suppression group, they told them to suppress their emotions:

Try to hide your feelings. Try to behave in a way that someone watching you would think that you don’t feel anything at all. Try to hold a neutral expression so no one can read your feelings from your face. You can feel whatever you feel, but try your best not to show it.

For the people in the reappraisal group, they told them to try to change how they felt about the movie by focusing on different aspects:

Try to distance yourself from the movie and see it objectively. Whenever you sense a change in your feelings while watching, try to internally step back. For example, think of how the photographer and actors succeeded in presenting the scene.”

(Instructions in studies tend to be REALLY repetitive to make sure participants get it, so I paraphrased 😉 )

Suppression means doing nothing to actually help you stop feeling the feelings, but just hiding or ignoring them. Reappraisal means trying to be less involved in the negative emotion–focusing on other aspects of the situation, distancing yourself from the situation, or looking at it as sort of a scientist. Reappraisal is actually a big reason why some people cope better with negative emotions than others: they naturally do more reappraising. (More specific advice on this below!)

So the participants watched a movie scene about the loss of a loved one, and other studies have shown that the movie scene makes people really sad. After the movie, both groups of participants rated themselves as feeling more sad than before the movie. But, the group that had done reappraisal during the movie felt less sad. 

Then, they gave each participant a bowl of biscuits and a bowl of M&Ms, and told them they were doing a taste test to see how the movie affected their ratings of how good the food tasted. They had 15 minutes to eat & fill out questionnaires about how good the food tasted. They had all been told to eat a regular meal 2 hours earlier, so they weren’t coming in hungry.

The Results

Participants in the suppression group ate 40% more than the reappraisal group. And this applied to both people who binge ate, and those who didn’t. Over 15 minutes this amounted to 30 extra calories, but imagine…

If you would usually have eaten 1100 calories in a binge, this strategy could make that an 800 calorie binge instead.

And, more importantly, learning reappraisal can help you deal with negative emotions better over time (tons of other research has shown this) and break the bingeing cycle completely.

BED = binge eating disorder group; CG = control group

Interestingly, the group with BED tended to use suppression in daily life much more than the control group, and used reappraisal a lot less. So that may explain how binge eating arises in the first place.

So, how can YOU start reappraising?

Reappraisal means changing the way you think about a situation. Most of the time, we only feel negative emotions because we decide that a situation is bad: for example, for one person starting a new job might be exciting; for another, it might be terrifying. Same situation, different perspectives.

So how do you reappraise a situation?

Let’s say your significant other breaks up with you. A natural reaction may be to feel worthless, self-loathing, etc. A reappraisal strategy here would be to focus on how maybe the situation isn’t the worst thing ever. Focus on the ways in which it might be a good thing: maybe he wasn’t a great match for you anyway, maybe he prevented you from seeing friends or pursuing your hobbies, and there’s definitely someone better out there for you.

Suppression, on the other hand, would be to “put on your brave face” and make it seem like the breakup didn’t affect you.

With reappraisal, challenges become opportunities for growth.

Try asking yourself questions like these:

What did you learn from the situation?

Can you find something positive that might come out of it?

Are you grateful for any part of it?

Are you better off in any way than when you started?

Could it have helped you grow or develop as a person?

So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed with emotions, try reappraisal. It may help you feel better instead of leading to a binge.

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Intuitive Eating, Weight loss advice

Intuitive Eating: What is it, and Can it Help You Lose Weight?

I’ve been talking about intuitive eating for quite awhile now, and I thought it was finally time I make a post all about it. Specifically, what it is (my take on it, at least), and especially, whether it can help you.

But first, let me ask you a question. Do you find yourself having issues with…

  • Wanting to lose weight and not being able to?
  • Eating because you’re stressed, emotional, or bored?
  • Feeling hungry or craving something because you saw food on TV, social media, friends eating, etc.?
  • Overeating because you’re starting your diet tomorrow, or because you failed at following your diet that day?
  • Feeling guilty for eating?
  • Not letting yourself eat even though you were hungry?

So did I. And intuitive eating is the reason I don’t have these issues anymore.

Photo from 2017, a year after I started intuitive eating, feat. chocolate milkshake 🙂

Intuitive eating is a term coined by the authors of this book, but the idea has been around in different forms for a lot longer than that. There are scientific studies from before 1995 and in more recent years showing that following the tenets of intuitive eating lead to weight loss, treat disordered eating like binge eating, reverse obesity, heal relationships with food, reduce depression and anxiety, and improve self esteem and body image.1,2,3

The basic principle of intuitive eating (and related ideas) is simply:

Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full.

That may sound too simple, too good to be true, or just something you’ve tried before that hasn’t worked. But it can be tricky to get right, especially with society’s attitudes about food these days. We start out doing it as kids, but somewhere along the way, most of us lose the ability.

Maybe because we learned to use food to deal with our emotions, maybe because of our culture’s obsession with dieting as THE way to lose weight, maybe because we’re taught that desserts, carbs, sugar, etc. are “bad”.

If you’ve tried dieting, followed meal plans with scheduled eating times and portions, overeaten or undereaten, or felt guilty for eating, chances are you’ve fallen out of tune with your ability to eat when hungry and stop when full. I know I did, completely–hunger and fullness were almost irrelevant in my eating behavior for 10 years.

The more we learn to ignore our hunger and satiety signals, the more we start to rely on cues like emotions, stress, the presence of “bad foods” in the kitchen, and other people’s diet plans to dictate when we start and stop eating. And that’s how weight gain, guilt, and constant dieting sneak in.

Intuitive eating is all about undoing this: getting back in tune with our hunger signals, and learning not to let external or psychological factors determine when and how much we eat. As a result, it involves effortlessly maintaining a healthy weight, improving your health, and healing your relationship with food and your own body.

With intuitive eating, there is no such thing as dieting, restricting, binging, “bad” foods, or guilt for eating.

No more calorie counting. No more food scales. No more portion control. Just reaching your goal body by eating as much as you want, when you want it. Channeling all that time and mental effort that you were once spending on food into the rest of your life: your relationships, your work, your hobbies.

If it sounds too good to be true, don’t worry… I thought so too. Until it worked.

It’s fun to look back at these photos and see how much fat I’ve replaced with muscle since then!

So, I’m starting a series of blog posts all about how to get started with intuitive eating, no matter how unattainable it might feel for you. I was stuck in a restricting/dieting and binge eating cycle for over 10 years, so I think I qualified as one of the more hopeless cases out there… so I’ll be sharing what worked for me, and incorporate tips from scientific research on it.

Maybe you already do intuitive eating, and still can’t lose weight. I still have advice for you coming up, and part of that involves tweaking what and how you’re eating (notice I didn’t say how much)!

So stay tuned for posts every other weekend on how to eat intuitively or troubleshoot your intuitive eating. If you’re looking to lose weight, escape disordered eating habits, or improve your physical and psychological health, this series is for you.

Some of the posts I have planned so far are:

  • My 10 year battle with “unintuitive” eating, and my journey since
  • How to get started with intuitive eating
  • How to troubleshoot your intuitive eating
  • How to stop binge eating

And more! (I’ll add a table of contents with links as the posts come out)

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(I know I probably sound like I’m trying to sell you something, but honestly, I just want to share this because I want to help other people not have these issues anymore too. Getting rid of them seriously changed my life… not only have I finally achieved my goal appearance, but more importantly, I’m so much happier. And I want to turn my gratitude into a way of helping others. I even paid to get rid of ads on this blog because I don’t want them to get in the way!)

References (scientific studies):

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212267213018960
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/eat.22041
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1077722995800131

(There are many more studies on the benefits of intuitive eating, but this is a quick sampling of some)