Chronic dieters often have beliefs about emotional distress and eating that interfere with losing weight or keeping it off. They express the ideas in the following ways: "If I'm upset, the only way I can calm down is by eating." "If I'm upset, I deserve to eat."
To address the first idea, I ask dieters about people they know who don't have a weight problem. What do they do when they're upset? Dieters frequently feel stymied--they simply don't know. After polling hundreds of people, I've found that people who don't struggle with their weight do lots of things when they're upset: they call a friend, take a walk, tolerate the feeling and return to whatever they were doing, practice relaxation or mindfulness exercises, try to solve the problem that is upsetting --or they distract themselves (surf the web, write emails, play a video game, do a puzzle, listen to soothing music). This group has a different idea about emotional distress: that it is temporary, normal, tolerable, and will diminish.
To address the second idea, "If I'm upset, I deserve to eat," I get across the message that dieters deserve to feel better but that eating will only give them temporary relief. Once the food is gone, they'll still have the initial problem that led to distress plus they’ll feel badly about having overeaten. I help them see that they have a choice: They can eat whenever they’re upset (and fail to lose weight or keep it off) or they can tolerate their distress or actively work toward reducing their distress in other ways (which greatly increases the probability that they will lose weight and maintain their weight loss).
I then work with dieters to create a list of compelling activities they can engage in when they’re upset and they quickly find out that they can self soothe in other ways.