Thoughts and Emotions Lead to Eating 2

Find Out How Your Thoughts and Emotions Lead to Eating

April 4, 2018

As I am sitting here writing this article, my first thought is WOW, how do your thoughts and emotions lead to eating? As a mental health professional, nearly 8 years post-op, this subject is hitting me hard.

It is so all-encompassing.  Just the words "thoughts" and "emotions" are huge.

The Cycle of Thoughts and Emotions Lead to Eating

If I break it down even further and we scale down to the word “thoughts” and how that leads to eating, my mind goes to a bazillion places. Where did you learn to emotionally eat? Did it come from your family system, in other words, whom you grew up with? Do many others in your family eat when they are feeling emotions to stuff those thoughts actually down their throat?

Another thought that occurs to me is what were your interactions with your family revolve around. Did they ever say to you, "gee, I think you have gained weight" or "did you lose weight?" Why would it even be important to ask those questions unless your family or certain family members thought about food as a coping skill or a way to shame you.  This is how we learn to beat ourselves up by shaming ourselves for the way we eat.

How many of us that struggled with morbid obesity have experienced childhood trauma of some type. Maybe you don’t even think of what you experienced as trauma, yet as a family systems clinician, I explore your entire family system to the best of my ability. Generally, if you have a negative belief system, negative thoughts that you say in your mind about you, your value and worth generated from as far back as childhood. I won’t say that this is 100% true for everyone.

However, once I begin delving into your past, I may hit ever so slightly on those wounded areas that have subconsciously controlled you throughout your life, whether in your home environment or in your work environment.

These negative thoughts that control us, thankfully can be challenged and even reframed to something positive in our minds. Usually, this is started with a therapist and eventually you gain the skill to do this by yourself. Hopefully you can pass this new way of thinking on to your children and other relationships in your life.

Looking Closer at the Cycle of Thoughts and Emotions

What is the cycle of thoughts and emotions that lead to eating? Let’s imagine you break up with your boyfriend or girlfriend then you have the thought that you will be alone forever. This is just one of many thoughts that you can have during a breakup. So you have this thought going in your head of being alone forever and you feel sad. Who really wants to feel sad? Especially if you were taught that you should just get over it and emotions are wrong or weak. This is where the addictive process comes into play, you desire to not feel this emotion that hurts and/or you may think it’s wrong to identify and honor those feelings.

So, what do you do? It makes perfect sense that subconsciously you look for something to help decrease this feeling. Drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, and shopping are all choices you could make to avoid those feelings. Since we are emotional eaters we chose food, usually a lot of it, and not the right food choices with the large amount that we are eating.

The problem with this is that there is a shame cycle that you experience after you eat too much. Eventually, you feel guilt and shame, and thus you now want to eat because of the guilt and shame. Can you see where you can get stuck in this cycle?

Transformation is an amazing process. In order to transform, you need to understand, gain insight into yourself and why you think the way that you do. I could easily write a book on this subject alone, for the sake of this article, let’s just assume that this statement is true. How do you get in touch with those thoughts in your head that affect what you eat and how much you eat?

Do you know that we are constantly telling stories to ourselves about the world around us, and what we judge what we see. Sometimes these stories are counterproductive to joy and happiness.

For instance, a theme that resonated in my head for years was, “I am fat and ugly.”  That thought caused me to feel sad and even angry with myself. These feelings made me want to eat for comfort. And thus I did. I could eat an extra large pizza and a large antipasto salad and don’t forget the huge bottle of Diet Pepsi. I would eat all this food and guess what I felt? Even more shame. That’s the problem with these thoughts they feed into the shame cycle that causes you to eat inappropriate portions and unhealthy food.

Thoughts Can Lead to Emotions

These thoughts also lead to emotions. Oh, that dreaded word. So many of my clients think that emotions are wrong and many of them will do anything to not feel emotions that they frame up as weak. These emotions are usually sadness, anxiety, fear, and frustration. Now if you don’t want to feel these emotions, you may find yourself eating, drinking, using substances, anything in order to NOT FEEL that particular emotion.

The problem with this is that this emotional cycle, known as the shame cycle in the recovery field, has to be broken. If you don’t break these negative thoughts and emotions, you could possibly gain back the weight that you worked so hard to lose.

The other possibility is that you could change your drug of choice, instead of eating, maybe you would start to drink alcohol and/or any other addictive behavior.

Why do we have emotions? Experiencing emotions is a human condition. It consists of thoughts and emotions as well as behaviors. You may have noticed I didn’t mention anger as one of the emotions. I am not saying that anger isn’t an emotion; it’s just not the underlying emotion.

Anger is a secondary emotion; many of us feel stronger when we are angry and more comfortable with that emotion.  Underneath anger is sadness, fear and/or frustration. Something else we don’t want to look at. Thus, we eat to not feel these emotions.

Now that we understand the why, it would be helpful to do an internal reflection of your life. Understand why you ate, so this cycle won’t have to continue. The grief cycle consists of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The point being acceptance is the goal of the healing process.

As you learn the whys you can begin to accept yourself and who you are. Once you do that, you can carry this message to others, that’s how this world can begin to change.

Are you ready to transform your life?


Carol Adkisson is an author, speaker, and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She is the owner of a private practice, founder and CEO of a non-profit group, The Trauma and Healing Foundation. Carol specializes in anxiety, depression, trauma, couples therapy, ADHD, substance issues, weight loss & bariatric surgery, and 12 step recovery. Join her Facebook group Emotional/Mental Support for Bariatric Patients!

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