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Judith S. Beck, Ph.D.

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Emotional Eating: Do You Feel Entitled to Eat?

Posted: 06/20/2012 10:42 am

When we work with dieters using the Beck Diet Solution (a cognitive and behavioral approach to weight loss and maintenance), we've found that they often have sabotaging thoughts that start with the phrase, "I feel like I'm entitled to eat this because... " They fill in the blank with various reasons: "I'm stressed"/"I'm upset"/"I'm tired"/"I'm in pain," etc.

We remind dieters that if they're experiencing emotional or physical distress, they may very well be entitled to be comforted, but if they want to experience all the benefits of permanent weight loss, their comfort can't come from food. We explain to dieters that their bodies process calories in exactly the same way, 24/7, 365 days a year, whether they're feeling good or whether they're feeling poorly. Therefore, the thought, "I'm entitled to eat right now because I'm in distress," is incompatible with their weight loss goals. Simple fact: Dieters (and all people) WILL gain weight from overeating regardless of how they're feeling.

We ask dieters to think about how they feel after they give in to a sabotaging thought that gives them permission to eat something they haven't planned because they're in distress. If they are really upset when they eat, do they get an enduring feeling of comfort afterwards? Our dieters begin to realize that they feel better only while they're eating. After the food is gone, guilt and regret inevitably kick in and they end up feeling worse. So if dieters are upset and want to eat, we remind them that eating will only ultimately make them feel more upset, or more stressed. Then they'll have two problems: the difficulty that led to distress and feeling bad about their eating. If they actually want to achieve feeling better, food can't be the solution.

In session, we have dieters make response cards with helpful ideas on them, such as:

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We have dieters practice reading these response cards every single day and whenever they're feeling entitled to eat. This, and other techniques, helps them respond to and overcome their sabotaging thinking.

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