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AboutShrink Yourself blogger Dr. Roger Gould is one of the world’s leading authorities on emotional eating. He has helped thousands reclaim their power over food by conquering emotional eating, the number one cause of weight gain. Dr. Gould’s approach has been the subject of seven scientific studies.
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Using food for comfort can be so compelling that many people try to find ways to be able to keep emotional eating as a pattern without having their weight suffer. I'd like to tell you about six different ways that people try to work around, or hold onto, their emotional eating habit.
So many of my patients follow a weight loss regimen that looks good, sounds good, and seems to work for a while, but ultimately fails.
You certainly know people following such regimens. Your neighbor John runs five miles a day and still has a potbelly. Your sister Lara goes to Weight Watchers, drops 20 pounds, and then gains it all back when her boyfriend breaks up with her. And maybe even you have followed various diets and still find yourself binge eating when no one is around.
All of these examples reveal weight loss methods that rely on deprivation and discipline and nicely avoid dealing with the issues that drive overeating, emotional eating and food addiction. I call such methods "the failure strategies" and you’ll learn about the six types in this article.
If you want to avoid wasting any more of your time and energy on strategies bound to backfire, then you have to give up relying on methods like these.
Of course, everything you know about weight loss to this point in your life endorses these approaches, so it might seem odd to you to disparage them now, to reject them as doomed methods. Please notice that I’m not telling you to eat with abandon or to give up exercise. Not at all. I’m simply letting you know that these approaches won’t work on their own.
Failure Strategy #1: Deprive and Binge
Almost every single diet book and diet plan leads to the deprive-and-binge approach, and so this is the most common strategy. It begins with deprivation.
As you know, when you diet, you deprive yourself of what you really want, applying willpower and discipline to keep yourself away from the fridge. It’s a painful and difficult thing to do, and unfortunately, the method doesn’t work for long because you really don’t want to deprive yourself. Eventually, your emotional eating patterns kick in, and then the diet ends.
Willpower can only work for so long. Unless you are really addressing your emotional hunger and food addiction, this approach can never work.
Failure Strategy #2: Binge and Run
This is the approach where you allow yourself to eat whatever you want but try to compensate for it with exercise.
Complementing your diet with exercise is essential, but it only works if you also limit your caloric intake and end or limit emotional eating. This strategy doesn’t work primarily because in order to compensate for eating excess, you have to exercise so much that you increase the risk of injury, which poses special problems if exercise is your chief weight loss method.
Any time you need to stop exercising in order to heal, your weight balloons up quickly. I’ve seen patients in my practice who put on substantial weight after injuries and then couldn’t lose it, though they had been trim athletes at one time — albeit athletes with a food addiction.
Also, if you continue to eat unhealthy foods in excess, you weaken your immune system no matter how much you exercise, and so the risk of illness increases, illness makes exercise difficult, and anytime the routine slackens, the weight returns.
Failure Strategy #3: Binge and Purge
The binge and purge cycle of bulimia is a very dangerous strategy, and luckily it is normally viewed as an unhealthy approach to weight management. People can die from the electrolyte imbalance that happens with chronic purging, or they can end up with chronic esophagitis and gastritis, various forms of malnutrition and vitamin deficiency, and a secret life of agonizing shame. They appear to be thin, “together” people on the outside, but they feel like frauds on the inside.
Bulimia is a very costly way to control weight, and it must be given up before too much damage is done. There is no possibility for success with this strategy, but many people try to hang onto their food addiction by compensating for it through purging.
Failure Strategy #4: Going Public
I call the fourth failure strategy Going Public. I’ve seen many variations of this strategy, including losing weight for a specific event such as an upcoming wedding or family reunion, or making a public declaration that you’ve started a diet, or buying clothes that fit only if you lose weight, or paying to join a support group that encourages success but rejects you if you fail. There are many other ways to set yourself up to "have to" succeed, all of which lead to failure because the basic emotional eating problem is not addressed. Try as you may, you can’t fool your own emotions.
Failure Strategy #5: The Blame Game
Do you curse parental genes for giving you a slow metabolism? If so, you’ve fallen prey to the fifth failure method: blaming the extra pounds on your metabolism. You might say that the blame game is more of a “failure attitude” than a failure strategy, but here the watchword is failure. As long as you believe that genetics predispose you to being fat, you can tell yourself that your hunger is written “in the stars” and indulge your emotional eating habit whenever life gets difficult, doing nothing to change the underlying pattern.
I have seen so many patients who have made this claim, supporting it by telling me how diligent they have been about exercising and how careful they have been about their intake. When I do a detailed inquiry about their exercise and eating habits, it turns out that they have simply been fooling themselves.
One patient, Joe, didn’t bother to count the three beers he drank at night or the daily trip to the ice cream store. Somehow those calories didn’t count. Most of the others failed to count little things that added up, and almost all didn’t exercise nearly enough to ... Continue
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