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Why Smart, Successful Women Struggle with Emotional Eating

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As we all know, Oprah Winfrey isn’t the only smart, successful woman who struggles with food, weight, and emotional eating. I work with many clients who have accomplished tremendous things but who see food as the one place in their lives where they can’t seem to take control. Frustration, self-blame, and self-consciousness can make the problem even worse and lead to more stress or comfort eating, another binge or a sense of hopelessness and despair.

What’s a smart, savvy woman to do?
Here are some areas to pay attention to if you’d like to get back in the driver’s seat with food and weight.

1. Are you paying yourself first?
Where do you fall on your priority list? Many of the successful, hard-working women I know and work with juggle multiple projects and priorities. Sometimes they make the mistake of believing it would be easier just to put themselves to the side—have one less thing to juggle. Do you even show up on your priority list or have you fallen into a pattern of attending to your own needs last—if there’s time? If the latter sounds like your pattern, then you probably know that the to-do list can be never-ending and if you come last, it’s too tempting to resort to food as an easy, “quick fix” for comfort, stress-relief or even a reward for that day of hard work.


Learning to prioritize and budget for your own needs, wants and dreams (and learning to identify them in the first place) is more important for ending battles with emotional eating than any nutritional advice.


2. Are you holding yourself to impossible standards?
Do you have an inner-perfectionist, dooming you to failure before you even start? High-achieving women can be incredibly hard on themselves. The truth is, nothing will derail an emotional eater faster than unrealistic, impossible expectations. Learn to do your best—and to keep doing your best even when it doesn’t work out. That will pay off far better than shooting for perfect.


3. Are you a hard worker?
Hard-working women often fall into the trap of believing that the way to resolve their problems with food is to “get tough with themselves and just work harder.” The problem is, pushing yourself harder, in a direction that wasn’t working in the first place, just creates a more painful struggle.


Many times, the way out of food and weight battles is to stop pushing, fighting, and “working hard” long enough to examine the situation, listen to yourself, and start to take stock of what you REALLY need. Compassion and curiosity will help you identify your triggers for turning to food and overeating in a way that “getting hard on yourself” NEVER will. Remember: If things didn’t work out, odds are the plan failed you. You didn’t fail your plan.


4. Are you too focused on “flying solo”?
Have you convinced yourself that emotional eating is a problem that you “should” have solved on your own by now? Do you struggle in silence and isolation? Although smart women know the value of seeking help and connecting with expertise, a common emotional eating trap is the belief that struggles with food and weight are easy for everyone else and that it is a sign of personal failure to be struggling. I cannot adequately describe the power and effectiveness that come from applying the appropriate support, mentoring and guidance to this problem area.


The truth is that emotional eating is an issue that many successful, savvy women struggle with, and the nature of a busy woman’s life can make emotional eating even more of a temptation. Making peace with food and finding solutions that work for you are absolutely possible—but making those changes and making them last requires a thoughtful, and yes, a smart, approach.


By Melissa McCreery, PhD, ACC. for EmpowerHer

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