Not much help for emotional over-eating

Misunderstanding, lack of help and stigma affect people with emotional over-eating issues  a survey by Beat – the UK’s leading eating disorder charity – has found.

Over 1,000 people across the UK responded to the survey and the findings were significant.

  • 88 per cent said their problems with food were related to emotional problems.
  • 73 per cent who visited their GP said their emotional health wasn’t investigated.
  • 92 per cent said they’d like to lose weight.
  • 76 per cent  felt their self esteem was low.
  • 85 per cent had a negative body image of themselves

Two thirds of the population in England alone are overweight or obese and in the last 25 years there has been a 400 per cent increase in obesity. This has led to predictions that half of Britons will be obese by the year 2050. Also see Losing Weight.


What is emotional eating?

Emotional eating is a new term coined to emphasise that eating too much doesn’t happen by accident. Behind most large people are a range of negative emotions – self-disgust, loathing, wretchedness, feelings of rejection, feeling unloved and ugly, and a sense of despair.

Dr Andrew Hill Professor of Medical Psychology at Leeds University said ‘Emotions, mainly negative emotions, play a major role in unwanted and uncontrolled eating.  Unhelpful relationships between food, eating, and mood can be long-standing and very difficult to change.  They are also very difficult to talk to others about.  For some people, recognising the interplay between food and feelings is an important first step.  Others require more specialist psychological support.

‘Lifting the stigma of mental health is one of the challenges for our time.  Understanding the role of food and eating in emotional health is part of this challenge, as is making opportunities for access to the varieties of helpful support available.”

Find out more at

The root of the problem

Frequently the issues with food start in childhood and let’s face it most parents use some ploys to get their children to eat – who hasn’t been guilty of rewarding their kids with chocolate when they do something good? The kind of behaviour that can result in emotional issues around food are:

• Parents using food as a punishment
• Parents using food as a reward
• Disharmony at the dinner table between children and adults or parents
• Emotional difficulties in childhood concerning divorce or parents, death of someone close, bullying and much more
• Being told to eat up everything because of the starving people in Africa

‘Comments about feeding the starving people in Africa or India are completely irrelevant because the food we leave won’t get to them, but it can do immense harm,’ says Bar Hewlett, a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist with Lighter Life.

‘I liken food to other addictions like alcohol, but people don’t often recognise this. Some people say that they need a cigarette or a drink to make them better but with the exception of chocolate they don’t always say it about food.

‘With emotional eating the rational you has gone and you eat things that you may not even want instead of something healthy. It hasn’t got anything to do with hunger.

‘Parents often manipulate their children – “You’ll eat it if you love me. I’ve spent a lot of time preparing this food. What a good boy/girl – you’ve cleared your plate” And some mothers give a lot of food to their children to make up for the love they are unable to offer. Consequently the child learns if they want love from their parent they will have to put up with food so they transfer their feelings on to the food.

‘When someone is ill they often tell you what they want to eat – it’s usually what their mother gave them when they were sick as it brings them comfort. Similarly when people are unhappy they go back to the food they liked as a child – sweets, chocolate or whatever it may be.

Cognitive behaviour therapy

Cognitive behaviour therapy is offered as part of a diet plan with Lighter Life. Bar explains, ‘We get people to keep a thought diary and to recognise how they are feeling and relate it to their behaviour. This gives them a chance to make their thoughts more realistic and alter their behaviour too. Instead of eating the whole box of chocolates they can just have two today and two tomorrow.’


There are various ways of changing behaviour patterns and if someone is put into a hypnotic state of deep relaxation they are able to accept and respond to suggestions. ‘It is as if they are on autopilot,’ explains hypnotherapist Jose Penrose.

Jose helps people with weight problems at her Surrey clinic. ‘My sessions last an hour and we spend 20 to 40 minutes discussing the issues around the person’s weight problem.’ Once she has gathered all the facts she puts them under hypnosis to help them to change their behaviour – be it bingeing or snacking all the time.

‘I usually ask them what has motivated them to lose weight, what their goal weight or dress size is, and how life would be different if they achieve their goal.

‘Many people’s weight is bound up with their self-esteem, particularly if they are yo-yo dieting and never achieving any lasting weight loss. Often they think, “People don’t fancy me so why bother?”

‘I saw a woman who had been abused by her father when she was a child. She felt this was at the root of the problem. A few weeks after she had had hypnosis she was at peace with herself and much happier and she had lost a stone in weight.’

*Survey from Lighter Life Magazine

BEAT charity,

Contact Carole Gaskell, at the Lifecoaching Company, 01628 488990,

Lighter Life weight loss programme includes cognitive behaviour therapy and replacement meals, 08700 664747,

Jose Penrose is a hypnotherapist, counsellor and life coach in Surrey: 01483 769058,

General Hypnotherapy Register, Lymington, Hampshire, 01590 683770,

Tricia Woolfrey, hypnotherapist, 01932 354746,

The Lean Team provides interactive health coaching for people who want to lose weight:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *