I’ve read a lot of books about healthy eating and mood disorder therapy, not to mention seeing professionals on the subjects, and I have to say End Emotional Eating: Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills to Cope with Difficult Emotions and Develop a Healthy Relationship to Food by Dr. Jennifer Taitz is one of the best books I know. I find it scientific, relatable, and practical.
That said, it’s harder than it sounds to “sit with” emotions without letting it turn into feelings of deprivation. This is something I’m still practicing, so I’ve summarized the key points below to remind myself (and you, if you’re interested) most especially in those times of weakness what I can do to truly have a positive relationship with food and why it’s best for living a life I value.
Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is based on accepting reality because suffering comes from trying to fight pain. Radical acceptance is an active process of “purposely adopting an open, nonjudgmental receptive stance” while at the same time deciding whether or not to change the way you respond, often choosing to accept commitments required to take action in order to live life fully.
It is illusory correlation to believe an increased urge to binge means an increased need for it. In fact, urges come and go, whereas “the more we indulge in a habit, the more habitual it becomes.” Giving into emotional eating takes away opportunities to develop other coping skills making you believe it is the only way to cope.
Thinking about food may be less painful than some emotions, but emotional eaters then develop pain and suffering around food. Emotional eaters tend to be more sensitive to rewards as demonstrated in caudate nucleus response research. In fact, motivation is fleeting and unnecessary. “Action leads to action.”
“Accept life as it is without indulging or controlling.” Pain can be “something you experience in the service of living according to your values.” Being mindful of this can foster self-compassion and empathy with others. Self-compassion involves kindness and warmth while maintaining realistically high standards.
Focus on changing behaviour rather than trying to control feelings. “You don’t have to feel willing to behave willingly.” Master mental aikido by weaving and surfing, not throwing punches. Be in the present, aware of the full experience, and problem solve. “Look at the thoughts rather than from the thoughts.”
Distress tolerance refers to “both your perception of your ability to sit with physical or emotional pain and also the behaviour of tolerating difficult feelings.” Hold stories about your abilities lightly. Avoid trying to control foods or experiences.
Self-soothe mindfully without food if you need to restore your energy and mind state for problem solving. Build a reservoir of options for all your senses like a scented washcloth, avoiding those that may exacerbate pain like sad music. Take care of yourself by holding yourself accountable, keeping soothing from becoming avoidance.
Urge surfing describes “a technique to observe the rise and fall of a craving … skilled surfers ride above waves and maintain balance in every circumstance … dancing on water.” To surf urges:
- Slow down your mind and body.
- Let go. Nonjudgmentally observe the urge. Consider your senses, thoughts, and urges.
- Refocus. Notice your surroundings, your feelings, and how consequences relate to what you really value.
- Choose. Where is the urge now? Are you willing to watch it rise? Can you practice letting the discomfort exist for just a little while longer than you might otherwise, before you give in to it?
Mastery is about “purposely scheduling activities that engender a sense of confidence” improving overall belief in the process of improvement and one’s abilities. Identify realistic goals and regularly challenge yourself. Focus on mastery in different areas for the sake of mastery rather than trying to control feelings.
To address judgment, create two pie charts. One represents relative importance of main areas of your life most important to you now. The second represents what you would like to matter in how you aspire to live your life. Consider the following common values and really “taste” them: family, partner, friends, work, education, fun, spirituality, community life, physical self-care, environment, and beauty. Notice how overvaluing eating and appearance can lead to undervaluing other areas of your life and greater vulnerability dependent on one area more than a variety of factors.
Virtues describe “a set of moral standards that can guide us in how we implement our values,” giving our values-based actions detail. “When we focus on values, we let go of measurements and focus on living with virtue.” Living according to values during tough times requires devotion and skill. Practice skills in advance by imagining yourself executing the behaviour in certain situations, reflecting on thoughts and feelings. Make detailed plans.
Although this summary covers all the information I deem key, there is obviously more detail on what, how, and why to end emotional eating in the book, including additional tools like accessing wise mind and acting opposite. If you want more, I recommend checking your library for free or Amazon for under $10.