Laurie Mrbas, M.D.
Rifle, CO Colorado

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January 9, 2013
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Here's how to stop emotional eating in its tracks

Food. A simple four letter word that can conjure up emotions, memories and even physical reactions. Food plays a central role in many parts of our lives. It is more than an object to feed our physical hunger; it is used in celebrations, coping with depression or anxiety, and can become an obsession.

Have you ever considered why many individuals struggle with overeating? Food can certainly be a pleasure which we should not deny ourselves in moderation. But when food begins to take on roles outside of fueling our bodies, it can lead to obesity and poor health.

There are literally hundreds of resources, books, articles and programs that claim to help individuals lose weight and control impulsive eating. However, many people will try and fail repeatedly. But why? Because they fail to address a fundamental element required for any long-term results, which is to change our beliefs about what food means to us and realizing we eat food for reasons other than relieving hunger.

According to Tom Venuto, nutrition and weight loss expert, "The end of emotional eating begins the moment you become AWARE of your behavior patterns and your beliefs about food (because with that awareness comes the power to change them)." Mr. Venuto has formulated a simple yet extraordinary method called the AWARE formula:

• Become AWARE of your emotional eating behavior patterns.

• WATCH out for the thoughts, emotions, events and situations that trigger those behavior patterns.

• ARREST the patterns when they happen.

• REPLACE the old, emotional eating behavior with more constructive alternatives, outlets or coping mechanisms to satisfy the emotional need.

• ESTABLISH new beliefs about food and the right reasons for eating, then repeat them as affirmations until they're hard-wired in as the new pattern.

The first step is to become AWARE of your destructive or emotional eating patterns. Keeping a detailed food journal is key to this process, and should be done for at least one to three months. Write down not only the foods, but the circumstances, surrounding eating particular foods. Were you alone and bored, watching TV, as you devoured a bag of chips, or were you upset with a loved one when a quart of ice cream disappeared within minutes? The journal helps you WATCH for the triggers that lead to certain eating behaviors.

Once you have identified the triggers, you can ARREST the behavior before it starts. This is a matter of asking yourself a few questions. Am I hungry and why do I want to eat this right now? If you are not hungry and you have realized you are responding to a subconscious trigger to eat, then you can stop it. However, sometimes the urge to eat is so strong you cannot simply walk away but feel compelled to eat anyway.

The best strategy to deal with this is to plan in advance to REPLACE the old behavior with an alternative, such as going for a walk, in response to an emotional need. These alternatives can also be placed in your journal for easy access. Maybe your trigger is a person or place. Then come up with positive reactions or strategies to help yourself. If you struggle with snacking on unhealthy foods at home, then remove them from your house. Out of sight, out of mind. If someone is consistently attempting to sabotage your efforts, ask them a simple question: "Why are you offering me these foods?" Understanding their motives is the first step in diffusing their efforts.

Finally, the most important step is to establish new beliefs about food until they replace the old subconscious bad habits. Beliefs can be changed, but it takes a little work. But you decide what your beliefs are, no one else. You may be living your life with your parents' or peers' belief system and not even realize it.

How do you change your beliefs about food? First, you must decide what you want your beliefs to be, such as food is fuel for my body and essential to optimal health. When you BELIEVE your body is a high-performance, complex machine and food is the fuel to feed your body, it will be impossible to mistreat it by eating unhealthy foods. Write down what you want your beliefs to be, read them daily and they will replace the old habits. It is not about removing the old habits, but replacing them with positive ones.

By following this five step process, you will find yourself on the road to better health, emotionally and physically.

Dr. Laurie Marbas is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.

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The Post Independent Updated Jan 9, 2013 05:51PM Published Jan 9, 2013 05:44PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.