Can’t Quit Eating Once You Start? Resolving the Emotional Reasons, Part 1

In my last two blog posts, we looked at the first two of the three most common reasons why women have difficulty knowing when to stop eating once they’ve started: 1) making up for deprivation, 2) not being hungry to begin with, and 3) eating for emotional reasons. In this blog, we’ll start to consider the emotional issues that get in the way of knowing when to stop eating.

When Weight of Grace group participants discuss how difficult it is to stop eating once they start, the comment most make is, “It just tastes so good!” But, as we saw in the last blog post, “he who is full loathes honey” (Proverbs 27:7a). The truth is that once you’ve reached the point where physical hunger is satisfied, whatever you’re eating really does not taste as good as it did when you were hungry. You keep eating because you’re trying to satisfy something other than your hunger. The memory of how the food tasted and all the associations you have with that food – comfort, sedation, affection, etc. – are what you cling to until the food is completely gone, which is usually at a point that is way past “full.”

There are two emotional levels at play here: 1) the food serving as a form of “medication” for whatever emotionally ails you, such as depression, anxiety, loneliness, and stress; and 2) the food helping you stay larger so you’ll be more emotionally comfortable because you associate too many scary things with being smaller or thinner. (We’ll look at the second level in the next blog post.)

As you know, people attempt to soothe, suppress, or deny uncomfortable emotions in any number of ways – drinking alcohol, taking prescription or illegal drugs, shopping for items they don’t need, gambling, etc. For many Christian women, the most acceptable emotional escape is to eat food. They truly see no alternative because their emotions are so intolerable and all the other emotional escapes are either immoral or too expensive.

The answer to using food as “medication” for emotional distress is understanding that there is indeed an alternative that has “worked” for centuries and works way better than food even can: going to God with your emotions. Just as many psalmists did (see Psalm 73), just as Jesus did (see Hebrews 5:7), just as Job did (see Job 30:20), you can “boldly approach the throne of grace … in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). And God will actually minister to you, comfort you, guide you, and help you find a perspective that relieves your most intolerable emotions.

When you see yourself eating after your physical hunger is already satisfied, don’t say, “It just tastes so good.” Instead, admit that you wish it did, but that you’re trying to meet emotional needs by continuing to eat. Then turn to God and ask him to minister to you in the areas that are most upsetting you.

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