Emotional eating is more than frequent episodes of eating a large quantity of food in one sitting. Emotional eating also includes compulsive, unwanted episodes of eating that occur while dieting or avoiding foods or ingredients that are generally not permitted on weight loss diets. If you have the following personality characteristics, you may be prone to this type of disordered eating.
- A tendency toward restrictive eating with the goal of weight loss to fit in and feel more acceptable to others. When food is the object of your control, you’ll be confronted with temptations every day, multiple times a day, making decisions about foods that you feel you must avoid. When that happens, all of the following tendencies, either individually or together, can lead to an irresistible pressure to let go of the pent-up pressures described.
- A tendency to please others at your own expense. This could create some resentment about feeling pressured to put others’ needs ahead of your own. This build-up of anger can create a need to do the opposite of pleasing others and act out privately in ways that you feel others wouldn’t approve of. This type of defiant behavior can include episodes of eating what you may normally consider to be junk food.
- A tendency toward perfectionism that’s driven by the fear that making a mistake, especially in the work setting may expose you as being less capable that the image you feel you’re trying to maintain. This internal pressure to be overcontrolled in your behavior builds up until you finally need some relief by letting go, again in a more private setting. This type of letting go may involve letting go of restraint when it comes to eating food or portions that you would normally try to resist.
- A tendency to see things in all-or-nothing, binary terms, especially regarding self-control. If you feel that you’re either in-control or totally out-of-control regarding food, then even a small lapse will feel like there’s no point in trying to have any control at all. If you then to be a binary thinker, you may feel you’ve already crossed the line of avoiding “forbidden” food. This can lead to a complete surrender of control and unwanted eating, including binge eating.
This pattern of disordered eating can occur with any one or combination of these tendencies. The common denominators are food restriction, and the pressure that you put on yourself to maintain an image that you feel others expect, and that you expect of yourself.
You can avoid this and reverse even long-standing patterns of emotional eating and binge eating by being kinder to yourself, less demanding of perfect behavior, and reframing your black and white view of the world as a spectrum that with many shades of gray between the two extremes.