Is Emotional Eating Just a Habit?
Updated: Dec 12, 2017
Habits survive in a system.
There's the cue which activates the habit, repetition which conditions it, and reward which drives it further into your nervous system.
I could a) get home from work, change into comfy clothes, and flop on the couch. Or b) get home from work, change into comfy clothes, and do some stretching. The possibilities which lie between putting on comfy clothes and what's next... were infinite, now it's locked in.
At first, it was a quick choice, unconscious, something to meet my needs in the moment; in the end it's become a conditioned response- get home home from work (cue), put on comfy clothes and flop on the couch (conditioned habit).
If we take a look at the rewards gained from flopping on the couch, they're relaxation, comfort, and connection with myself. And the rewards from stretching and deep breathing would be... the exact same. So I'm getting the same reward, but choosing a different way, or different vehicle, to get it- and does that choice serve me or hold me back in some way from the me I want to be?
So, not to oversimplify binging and overeating, but let's presume it's a habit at the basic level.
What are your cues for overeating? Here are some hints: ingrained thoughts or beliefs you say to yourself, eating something you said you wouldn't, a physical or emotional cue such as being home alone, or evening coming, or even just seeing certain trigger food.
How have you conditioned the overeating response? Hints: was there a time in your life when you binged regularly from some cues which really solidified it as a habit? Or did it get conditioned with family or friends, always eating this food at that time?
What reward do you get from overeating? Hint: what needs are you meeting- does binging make you feel safe, secure, or give you comfort? What are you avoiding, what have you gotten out of it, what's the benefit for you of binging? And if there's no benefit now, what was the benefit in earlier days?
Adjusting any part of this system gives you an opportunity to get out of it. So you've got three chances to break the system. 1) What's another way you could you get a similar reward? 2) How can you interrupt the habit at the cue? 3) How can you get rid of the cue all together?
I'd love to hear what you came up with. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.