Compulsive Eating and Watching… | Counseling | Therapy

Compulsive Eating and Watching Television

Alex Robboy , CAS, MSW, ACSW, LCSW — Founder & executive director

Compulsive Eating and Watching Television image

Therapy in Philadelphia: compulsive eating and watching TV (youtube, netflix etc)

Many people find that when they are watching TV, they eat, and eat, and eat. People often wonder why they do that when they are trying to lose weight, and don’t really want to eat; they aren’t hungry but they eat anyway. There are many possible reasons that people do this, and it takes therapeutic work to identify your specific personal reasons. However, the following reasons that people compulsive eat while watching TV are not uncommon:

  • When watching TV, because your body is essentially disconnected from your mind—meaning your mind is occupied by TV and not paying attention to or aware of your body’s signals—people eat and don’t realize how much food they are consuming; they are distracted from identifying signals sent to your brain telling you that you are full. This disconnect leads people to eat mindlessly, and often never feel full, whereas if they ate intentionally and paid attention, they would feel satisfied with much less food.
  • You may like to relax after a long day in front of the television, but it’s not as relaxing to do so without food. This could be due to associations you made as a child between food and comfort (relaxation). Some people grew up having been given food when they were upset or hurt, and now they associate food with comfort. Some people associate food and TV with love because when they were younger they spent quality time with family or friends in front of the TV eating. The associations are endless, and you will have to use the therapeutic process to identify yours.
  • For some, the process of looking for food, making food and eating food is a way of distracting themselves from dealing with their real emotions. While watching TV, it is not uncommon to daydream, or start thinking about things they have to do (especially during commercials), or about things that are bothering them or eliciting other emotions.

Many people think of television as their guilty pleasure. They look forward to it because their favorite shows excite them and entertain them. Obviously one way to stop compulsive eating if you can’t control yourself is to stop watching TV. Or, watch less TV, at least until you gain the skills you need to control yourself. However, some people have families and cannot avoid the TV because children or spouses keep it on. Or, perhaps you are one of those die-hard fans. For whatever reason, if you are going to watch TV, you will need to develop skills to control your compulsive eating so you can move forward toward health and happiness. The following tip will help you resist the urge to eat, as you work with your therapist on deeper issues.

Get in touch with your body: When you start to have the urge to eat, ask yourself what your body is feeling at that moment. Are you feeling excited? Nervous? Anxious? Stressed? Happiness? Love? Hate? Once you have identified what emotion you are feeling, or at least you think you have, and you have identified what it feels like in your body, write it down in a notebook and save it. For example, “I feel like my heart is racing and there is an energetic coldness running through my arms.” This is the way anxiety manifests in this particular person, and what this person would write down. In this case, the person recognized a strange temperature, and a physiological change in her heartbeat. This person has connected his or her mind (name the emotion), and body (what it feels like). When you have the urge to eat, you can ask yourself what body part you are most aware of at that moment; you can try to identify if you feel something hot, cold, pulsing, constant, and so on. The purpose of writing down your emotion and what it feels like is so that the next time you feel an urge to eat, you would first identify the feeling in your body in that present moment, then look back to what you felt the previous time (because it is written down), and note the differences. Recognizing the different ways you experience emotions will help you deal with the emotions, instead of distracting yourself with the process of looking for food, making food, and then eating food. By allowing yourself to really feel, and connecting your mind and body, you can then learn ways to soothe yourself and/or learn other coping skills for the real emotion that lies beneath, instead of using food to avoid. It may be difficult to let yourself fully experience your emotions, especially if you have spent years avoiding doing so. But while you watch TV, whether it be during the show or at the commercial, if you don’t stop, allow yourself to feel and connect, you will continue to eat.

Change your routine: Changing your routine is a behavioral technique. Pay attention to the time you are watching TV and eating. Is it after a long day at work? If so, watching TV with a delicious snack or meal may be your method of self-soothing, meaning that it is your way of easing stress. If that is the case, you can make a list of other things you can do to relax. Examples include taking a bath, curling up with a book, or talking on the phone. If you find self-soothing activities other than watching TV, which is a trigger for your compulsive overeating behaviors, you will take yourself out of the situation that you are not yet ready to handle. You can watch TV at a later time, and it will be a different experience for you. When you do watch TV, at a later time, you can use the other techniques in this tip if you find that you are still eating and cannot control it. This is a technique that changes habits, and changing your routine takes time to get used to.

Be Present: While you watch TV, it is important that you really WATCH
the shows or movies. That means that you are watching and listening, and your mind is focused. This kind of “presence,” is not possible to have if you are doing anything else, whether it be talking on the phone or eating. When your mind starts to wander, notice it, and bring your focus back to the TV. Watch the characters and note small details. For example, what are they wearing? What do their voices sound like? Paying attention to what you are watching is a technique that will prevent you from thinking about food. It’s not easy, but with practice, you can train your brain to do what you want!

There is no easy fix for habits you have developed over many years. Habits include avoiding emotions, a mind/body disconnect, and unhealthy self-soothing methods. It takes time, but identifying triggers, such as television watching, will allow you to observe your behavior in a specific circumstance and make changes geared to that particular activity. It is important to work with a therapist to explore deeper issues that have lead you to your current behaviors, but these above behavioral changes will help you on your journey.

Struggling? Call 267-324-9564 and speak with a therapist at Center for Growth / Compulsive Eating Treatment in Philadelphia.

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