Emotional Eating Part 3

Emotional Eating/Non-Hunger Eating

By Heather Mackie MS, RD, LD

Many patients struggle with emotional eating or what some have termed “mindless eating.”  Whatever you want to call it, the behavior involves eating when you are not physically hungry.  Immediately after surgery, bariatric surgery prevents non-hunger eating for many patients by making them feel sick if they eat when they are not physically hungry.  However, not all patients experience this same side effect.  As we know, long-term success is the goal and the key to long-term success involves changing behavior.  Learning new ways to cope with previous habits is the beginning of that behavior change.

In the previous two installments of learning ways to cope with emotional eating or non-hunger eating, a hunger-fullness scale was discussed and ways to redirect activity were shared.  In this segment we will review another way to cope utilizing motivation notes when you feel the urge to eat when you are not physically hungry.  It is beneficial to have multiple ways to cope with non-hunger eating in order to assist in long-term success and true behavior change.

The Purpose of Motivation Notes

You can use this technique to distract yourself when you feel the urge to eat when you know you are not physically hungry.  This technique can also be used to remind you what your overall goals were when you decided to have bariatric surgery and make a lifestyle change.  

How To Make My Motivation Notes

Motivation notes are easy to develop by following these simple instructions.  

A)  Start by writing down the behavior you are trying to change.  For example, Eating in front of the television when stressed or bored.  

B)  Then below the behavior you are trying to change, write at least three ideas to tell/motivate yourself when you notice this behavior starting to occur.  For example, 1) I do not always have to eat in front of the television.  2) I could make the television room (i.e., the den) a non-eating space.  3) I could knit while watching television to keep my hands busy.

C)  Third, write your motivating factors as to why you originally chose to have bariatric surgery.  For example, My motivation for having bariatric surgery includes: 1) I want to be there for my children, 2) I do not want to die early like my mother did from a heart attack before the age of 60, 3) I want to be able to play with my children, 4) I want to be able to walk up a flight of stairs without feeling out of breath and feeling like I am going to pass out, and 5) I want to get off of my diabetes medications.

For many patients, family is a big motivator for choosing to have bariatric surgery.  If you find this is one of your reasons for having bariatric surgery, consider including a picture of your family with your motivation notes.

D)  Lastly, you may choose to write your list of non-food related activities (see “Emotional Eating/Non-Hunger Eating: Ways to Cope #2” for more information on this topic) below your motivating factors.  This may help in redirecting the activity and ultimately changing the behavior.  

How to Use Motivation Notes

Motivation notes are meant to be kept in a nearby place where you will see them and read them often.  In the above example, you might place the motivation note in the den beside your chair where you normally sit and watch television.  With the invention of smartphones, it might be beneficial to create your motivation notes with the note feature within your phone so you can access the information even when you are on the go.  It is recommended to read your motivation notes on a regular basis, even up to three times a day, especially in the beginning when you are learning to change your behavior or when you notice you are hitting a more difficult phase of your weight loss journey.

Hopefully some of the ideas discussed in this three-part series of “Emotional Eating/Non-Hunger Eating: Ways to Cope” will help you to change your behavior, ultimately helping you to be a successful bariatric surgery patient long-term.  Remember, you cannot change a behavior overnight though!  It takes 21 days to create a new habit, so keep trying these new coping skills and do not give up!  For more assistance with overcoming emotional eating/non-hunger eating, talk to your bariatric surgery team.