In certain circumstances it’s easy to feel strong emotions like anger, fear, sadness or guilt  You must remember that the impulse to eat after feeling a negative emotion can be so strong it’s as automatic as pulling your hand away from a fire. Don’t feel guilty about eating in reaction to strong feelings, it’s normal. The more intense the emotion, the more intense the reaction. If you use food in reaction to a feeling, then the strength of the response will be in line with the strength of the emotion e.g. extreme anger equals extreme binge eating.

If this rings a bell with you and you know you react to strong feelings with strong desires to eat, then you’ll want to know how to overcome this behaviour.

See this merely as a learned habit, do not fall into the trap of thinking this is the way you are and there’s little that can be done. It’s like someone saying “I’m a crier” instead of “I cry” or “I’m angry instead of “I get angry”. You are in charge, your response is merely learned through repetition. Take ownership and practice talking to yourself differently. You are not the victim of your nervous system, nor do you have to accept this as your unfortunate lot. If you’ve repeatedly thrown yourself into an eating binge that seemed uncontrollable, look at what you were feeling in the 24 hours before it happened. Sometimes it’s a build-up where an emotion is felt, then gets stronger as someone says something or something happens that goes against your principles.

Often it’s something that fights with your beliefs, that set of ideals that have been in your head for years. If honesty is one of these and you see dishonesty you might feel anger rising, or if you are a rigid perfectionist and things aren’t done to your standard you may feel frustration surfacing.

Recognising these feelings is key to reducing their intensity. Remind yourself that you’ve been a victim of your thoughts, taught to you by your elders and peers and therefore learned by you.

I suggest you remind yourself that it doesn’t feel good to be overwhelmed by sadness, anger or guilt. If these feelings get too strong they can blind you of clear, rational thinking and lead not only to binge eating but also drain your emotional energy. They can drive you to speak or behave in a way that you wouldn’t be proud of so it’s vital to know what to do.

Faced with a situation that ignites a negative feeling, what can you do? There is no point telling yourself to stop feeling sad, angry etc. Emotions are automatic, they won’t respond to those demands.

Psychologist Albert Ellis offers the solution. His model looks like this:

A – The external event

B – MY thought about the event (I think…..)

C – The emotional response (the feeling)

D – The resultant behaviour.

Your thoughts are in your control. The things you have accepted as truth form the basis of your thoughts. These are dependent on the principles that have been taught to you. The only way to alter your emotional response and the resultant behaviour is to WORK ON THE THOUGHT PROCESSES of which they are a result. You don’t have to change your principles, but the repetition of the line “It would be better if…..” will help move to a more flexible way of thinking and therefore better self-control. You may not like the situation any better, but it won’t drive you to extreme emotions or to binge eating.

Blog Post by Claire Jackson