Struggling with a diet? How many people do you think maintain their optimal weight once they struggle to get there? Only 5 percent! That means 95 percent backslide. Why is this? Researchers at the Institute of HeartMath®claim there is a "missing x-factor" in our relationship to food and body image that relates to binge eaters, binge and purge eaters, and anorexics alike. This missing x-factor cannot be addressed by exercise, calorie counting, or by following the perfect diet. What is the "x-factor"? It turns out that those of us who starve ourselves, and those of us who binge, have more than just food compulsions in common: Emotional stress is at the root of all of our compulsive behaviors.
Here are three questions you can ask yourself to identify whether you or your loved ones are being impacted by an eating disorder driven by emotional eating:
- Do you use eating, or restricting eating, to soothe yourself when you are stressed?
- Do you have a loud inner critic? Is the inner radio station you tune into always playing self-judgment hits?
- Are you an all-or-nothing kind of guy or gal? Chances are, if you have a loud inner critic this all or nothing attitude applies to you too, and the perfectionism that goes with it. You won't do anything unless you can do it full out. And if you fall off the wagon from a diet with a cookie, you're the person who will decide, "I may as well eat the whole bag now and start my diet again tomorrow."
I know these traits from the inside out because I was an expert in all three — and the binge eating, binging and purging, and anorexia that went with them. As an aspiring teen dancer, I longed to have the lean and long giraffe body of a ballerina. I thought if I starved my Shetland pony self it would transform me into a giraffe. Unfortunately, it turned me into a sickly, weakened porky pig. How is it that I could weigh 30 pounds more than I do now, when I was starving myself with my eating disorder? How is it that now my metabolism mows through five full meals a day to fill my slight 105 pound humming bird frame? It has to do with how we spend or store our calories, not how many we eat.
The stress hormone cortisol causes us to pack on pounds, whether we eat more or not. This is part of our historic survival intelligence. The body, brilliantly designed, cannot tell the difference between the stress of a bad break up, an email that pisses us off, or a famine. The only signal it has that stress is happening is our emotional response to life events- it cannot distinguish whether the stress is psychologically triggered, or physically triggered.
Cortisol causes most of us to gain weight as fat (in particular around our waist and hips) as a safety mechanism for danger; a kind of insurance policy against being without a food source for a while. However, this doesn't work so well when our stress is hatred at how we look in a bikini, or bill paying anxiety with a cupboard full of chips and a freezer full of ice cream waiting for us in the next room. For some of us, cortisol packs on pounds to protect us no matter how hard we try to keep the weight off. And dieting itself can be stressful — counting calories, judging ourselves in the mirror, depriving ourselves of what others get to have at dinner parties or special events, which unto itself can increase our cortisol and cause all of our dieting efforts to backfire.
Stress feels uncomfortable physically and emotionally. What do we want to do when we feel uncomfortable? Some of us want to soothe ourselves. And others of us want to feel in control and on top of the situation. So how do those with eating disorders self soothe or take control? Some self soothe by binging, and others try to feel in control by limiting their food intake and over exercising. Both approaches put more stress on the body, and the mind. This makes us more uncomfortable from the physical imbalances caused, as well as the judgment and inner criticism we inflict upon ourselves for our compulsions. Keep reading ...
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