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Feelings play a key role in managing weight

There are many reasons why we gain and lose weight. Sometimes these reasons have to do with how we feel. Eating to feel better is commonly referred to as emotional eating – and it is the reason why we sometimes need psychological support rather than dietary advice.

Our body and mind are deeply connected. Just think about how your body immediately reacts when you get nervous – your palms get sweaty and you feel thirsty. What goes on inside our head can also make us more at risk of developing health problems – we can even become more at risk of developing obesity.

None of us can be expected to feel light and happy all the time. So, we all find different ways to soothe our feelings. Some people binge on tv-series instead of getting the sleep they need. Other coping strategies may include smoking, drinking, gambling or shopping.

Some people use food to cope with difficult situations and soothe their feelings when nothing else works. This might work in the short term, but over time it can become a challenge of its own.

Psychologists call this behaviour emotional eating. We all do it sometimes –  some of us just more than others. Stress, depression and anxiety can all play a role. So can major life events like starting a family, changing jobs or moving home. Or even early life events such as childhood trauma.

The vicious cycle of emotional eating

Once the habit has been formed, it can often take on a life of its own. Many emotional eaters say that it feels like any other addiction, for example, smoking.

This can create a vicious cycle. It starts by eating to soothe emotions, which brings about a temporary relief. But then feeling ashamed for overeating – which starts the cycle all over again.

The cycle is also fuelled by the negative experiences that are common for people who live with obesity. People with obesity often feel rejected by society, or feel that they do not receive the support or understanding that they need from their family, friends, or doctors.

Find the support you need

So, it might be reassuring to know that making even small changes to how we live and think can have a huge positive impact on our mental wellbeing. Sometimes we just need someone else’s point of view to help us notice what changes to make – and how to make them. That person can either be a friend, a family member, or a psychologist.

Sad woman sitting on the coach with a tissue in her hand and a professional making notes

One place to start, is to look at the source of our negative emotions. Sometimes, simply discovering what they are can be an important first step. A psychologist can help you on this journey.

Another approach is to change the way we respond to our feelings. In this case, behavioural therapy – which helps you to understand and modify your patterns of thinking, eating, and activity – has proven to be effective.

Not sure where to find help, or who to turn to? A great start is to contact your healthcare provider or another trusted healthcare providers.

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Preparation date: May 2022

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