It is not news that America is currently facing an unprecedented obesity epidemic, and one that would quickly have us learning to say no more often, resist the temptation to give in to our favorite foods and have better self-control over our eating patterns.
However, contends Arlene B. Englander, this approach is as much of a problem as the epidemic itself. Diets are restrictive and often allow no room for error or introspection.
And when people blame themselves for having a “bad” week, they create negative emotions which then often lead to compulsive overeating as a way to ease the pain.
Englander likens this situation to an alcoholic experiencing not the taste, texture, and body of wine, but instead just feeling the numbing effect. She writes, “If one can’t take true pleasure in life, there is little to be found in wine.”
In her new book, Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five Point Plan for Success, Englander explores the relationship we have with food, the way it is so often perverted through dieting, and how we get back to enjoying our food — and not hating ourselves afterward.
One question Englander suggests we begin with is: “What, in addition to eating, would be fun?”
When we can begin to pursue the activities in life that bring us pleasure, what we set ourselves up to experience is a state of flow, where we are doing something that is intrinsically rewarding and we feel a sense of personal control, intense focus and concentration, a loss of self-consciousness, a feeling of time dilation, and a merging of action and awareness.
By visualizing who we would like to be, and allowing ourselves to feel like that person, we can begin to transcend past patterns of self-blame and self-hate.
Englander writes, “Keep in mind that your current weight is most closely connected to who you’ve been in the past — your habits, home, the society you inhabit. Accepting who you are today will help you evolve into who you’d like to be tomorrow.”
There is a myth that pervades our society today that there are two types of people — those who struggle with weight and are forced to diet and those who are naturally thin and can eat whatever they want.
The desire to fulfill societal expectations for thinness also drives a monolithic dieting industry, that, as Englander points out, only serves to lead to intense cravings for “off limit” foods, bingeing on junk food after falling off the wagon, an intense preoccupation with food, and enough psychological residue to fill several therapy sessions.
Emotional eating is eating not out of hunger, but out of a need to distract from painful feelings, and it robs a person of one of the true pleasures in life — enjoyment of food.
Being in the moment, fully aware of the way we feel, and truly appreciating the taste of the food, on the other hand, is antithetical to bingeing.
Englander writes, “It’s this ‘in the moment’ awareness that you’ll need to discover and encourage within yourself in order to let go of emotional eating and feel the way you want to feel.”
The process begins with how we view and respond to stress. Pointing to the work of Hans Selye, author of The Stress of Life, Englander notes that there are two kinds of stress: eustress, which arises from something positive, and distress, which arises from something negative.
While during both eustress and distress, the body undergoes the same nonspecific responses, the fact that eustress causes much less damage demonstrates that how we think about stress determines whether or not we can adapt to change.
Stressors are subjective and it is our thoughts that determine the nature of them. The first step to handling our stress is becoming aware of what we are thinking and how we are feeling.
Stepping back, taking a break and allowing for distance from distress allows us to see that crisis points may be dangerous, but may also offer an opportunity for change.
Just as stress offers an opportunity to learn, exercise can be viewed as an opportunity for play and a way for us to find what we really love to do.
Similarly, we can learn to love food by relaxing, becoming aware, doing a fullness check, and taking charge of the moment — a technique Englander dubs RAFT.
One important concept is that we allow for learning and shift our thoughts from “if only” to “next time.” By practicing relaxation techniques, taking time to fully enjoying the sight, smell and taste of our foods, tuning in to what is enjoyable about the whole experience, and allowing ourselves to feel our emotions, Englander tells us we can find a way to eat that we love and keep enjoying our food for the rest of our lives.
When life loses its luster, food offers an immediate and abundantly accessible alternative. Breaking this cycle begins with throwing away the dieting mentality and replacing it with one that offers self-compassion, enjoyment, play, and a love of life… and food.
Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food: A Five Point Plan for Success
Rowman & LittleField, August 2018
Hardcover, 184 pages