Putting a stop to emotional eating

Putting a stop to emotional eating and overcoming cravings for carbohydrates- Iris’s story.

Iris was 78 and was finding it difficult to adjust to living alone since her husband had moved into a care home. She felt lonely and bored in the evenings and had been increasingly grazing on savoury snacks whilst she watched TV.  Her sleep was fitful and she sometimes got up in the night rather than lie awake, when she would go to the kitchen and have tea and toast. She also found that she had strong cravings for “rubbish” foods (biscuits and crisps) at various times of the day.

Iris’s health had not been good recently. She was diabetic, had had a mild stroke and a hip replacement and she had gone to Weight Watchers, Slimming World and a hypnotist but unfortunately none of these had helped her to stop her evening and night-time snacking.

The work we did

Step 1: Knowing what to change

Using the Unhelpful Eating Habits Checklist Iris identified her unhelpful habits:

  • Emotional eating when bored or lonely in the evening
  • Eating toast and tea in the middle of the night when unable to sleep
  • Craving “rubbish” foods (crisps and biscuits) at times during the day

Step 2:  Dealing with the emotional eating

  • When we looked closely at the pattern of her emotional eating it became clear that Iris was eating in response to feelings of physical agitation when she felt lonely in the evening. She found that eating starchy foods such as buttered toast, biscuits or crisps relieved this feeling, but that she felt that she couldn’t stop eating those foods when she felt that way. I taught Iris a simple technique for reducing physical feelings of agitation, Thought Field Therapy, which is outlined in “Anxiety and How to Reduce it”.
  • To deal with the boredom, I asked Iris to think about things she could do whilst she watched TV in the evenings which would occupy her hands and mind more than just watching TV on its own. Iris decided that she would buy a jigsaw puzzle to do in the evenings whilst the TV was on and that she would read a book or newspaper as an alternative so that she could choose which she felt like doing on any particular evening.

Step 3: Dealing with night-time eating

  • Iris was aware that her night-time eating was nothing to do with feeling hungry, but happened when she couldn’t get back to sleep. Once she was not grazing on “rubbish” foods during the evening Iris found that it was easier not to get up in the night to eat. She was able to tell herself she didn’t need to eat.  If she felt agitated about being unable to go back to sleep she would either listen to a relaxation CD or use the TFT technique.  She still occasionally got up in the night and ate tea and toast, but only rarely when something had been particularly upsetting her.

Step 4: Dealing with cravings

  • Iris had found the TFT so helpful in reducing her feelings of loneliness-related agitation that she was interested in using the same technique to deal with cravings for starchy foods. She found that whenever she started to feel a craving for “rubbish” foods when she wasn’t hungry, by using a combination of TFT and distraction she was able to reduce the cravings and shift her attention to something else. Iris discovered that the cravings would soon pass.

The outcome 

Iris stopped her pattern of evening grazing and night-time eating and was delighted to find that she felt back in control of her eating. She lost 6 pounds over the course of 6 weeks and decided to continue the changes she had made under her own steam. She still felt lonely, but didn’t feel so bored in the evenings as she re-discovered a love of doing puzzles which she hadn’t done for years. Her grandchildren now did jigsaws with her when they came to visit.

In Iris’s own words:

“I have used the TFT very successfully. The main difference I’ve seen is that I haven’t been eating rubbish in the evenings.  I’m no longer eating the 2am tea and toast as I’m able to tell myself I don’t need it, and my carbohydrate cravings are down.”