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Weight gain: Are your emotions to blame?

Dr Ben Michaelis is a clinical psychologist who specializes in helping patients achieve mental health and well-being through creative expression. His clients include authors, musicians, and a wide range of artists and professionals. He i...

Food associations and weight gain

For many of us, the start of a new year usually means the start of a new diet. We are bombarded with ads promoting diet programs guaranteed to help shed unwanted pounds. And, they all work. But for how long? Why is it that we just can’t seem to keep that long-term commitment with weight-loss? Because these weight loss programs never really address the emotional issues behind why we are constantly battling the bulge. Here’s how our food associations keep us from losing weight for the long-term.

Sad woman eating chocolate

Our relationship with food affects our waist-size

Every one of us has an intimate and emotional bond with the foods we eat. It may be healthy or dysfunctional, but make no mistake, this significant, long-term relationship impacts the choices you make when it comes to food. Understanding how you relate to food is often the lynchpin to losing unwanted pounds and keeping them off. Consider how the following typical food associations might be affecting your eating habits:


Food association #1

Eat for comfort

Probably the best-known association to food is that it is a source of comfort. The reason that certain foods like chicken soup, macaroni and cheese, and apple pie and are called "comfort foods" is that when we eat them we feel a sense of calm that goes beyond the taste. During times of emotional stress and unease, we tend to turn to these comfort foods instinctively because they usually have pleasant associations from childhood. However, when we blindly overeat in order to feel better it can be a big problem. This is known as emotional eating.

Food association #2

Eat for connection

Some foods we eat are all about connection with important people in our lives. If you are feeling disconnected from loved ones because of a change in your life circumstances or due to a loss, seeking out these types of foods may temporarily help you feel a sense of connection … but will also expand your waistline.

Food association #3

Eat for identity

The biggest issue most people have when it comes to food is about how we see and define ourselves. For example, you may want to lose weight and feel better about yourself, but when you start to perceive the changes in your figure and the way the world views you, you may become uncomfortable with the "new you." This discomfort may lead you to instinctively head back to old patterns of unhealthy eating in order to recognize yourself and feel safe in your old identity.

Solution: Change your associations with food

If any of these food associations ring true, you can decide to change your relationship with food and eating habits in order to get the emotional satisfaction without gaining the extra pounds.

Revisit your past experiences to create a new relationship with food

One thing that all of these food associations have in common is that they are about the past: previous experiences of comfort, prior connections with others, and a past relationship with yourself. Instead of eating out of emotional need, consider using your innate creativity to strengthen emotional bonds that can give you a new way of feeling emotionally satisfied so you are less likely to turn to familiar and unhealthy foods to fill the void.

Here's how: Creative ways to not turn to food for comfort >>

More on emotional eating and losing weight for good

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