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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How can I stop eating?

    I have depression and am seeing a specialist who is changing my medication. I have put weight on and am trying to lose it but in the afternoon and night, I get the urge to eat uncontrollably (using biscuits, chips or chocolate). I haven't been able to stop this, even after a meal. Was wondering if I should give in until my next appt or what you can suggest
  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • Courtney Hargrave

    Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist

    Dual qualified Accredited Exercise Physiologist and Nutritionist with undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in the fields of Sports Science, Exercise Physiology and Nutrition. Also I am … View Profile

    Hi there,

    The uncontrollable eating you detail, may be associated with your recent change in medication, however it may also be a consequence of the depression. I'd like to address the dietary aspect of this question, however I feel a clinical Psychologist will best be able to address the depression aspect of your question and add more valuable information. I'm sure there will be one on HealthShare who can be of assistance with this. 

    Sometimes it can be difficult to suffice or fulfill cravings, however until your next review with your specialist I would recommend the following:

    • Try to avoid or limit your consumption of biscuits, chips or chocolate when you experience your cravings, as this may be encouraging the recent weight gain you described in your question. Select foods of low calorie content and high fibre content, as these will offer a greater satiety (feeling of fullness). Low calorie and high fibre foods are most commonly vegetables however some fruits (apples, berries, pears)  are also appropriate.
    • Ensure you are eating three good quality, balanced meals during the day, as skipping meals or consuming too little calories can also promote cravings later on in the day. 
    • Our body controls hunger through the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. In the stomach we have stretch receptors, these stretch receptors tell us when we are hungry or full. Consuming fluids (again low calorie) can also promote satiety as they fill the stomach causing it to stretch and feel full. Consider using low calorie, high volume snacks such as soups or stews, for snacks when you are experiencing these cravings. This may help curb the cravings yet reduce your daily total calorie intake. 
    • Lastly, I'd also recommend participation in regular physical activity, not only does it offer many benefits for the common symptoms of depression, it also can assist with your recent weight gain and you may find it helps to control your cravings. Participation in 30 minutes of physical activity each day would be a good goal. 

    Best wishes,

    Courtney

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    Maree Wragg

    HealthShare Member

    Cortney, this person is not eating due to physical hunger hunger and consuming fluids will not stop him/her from eating nor will consuming high fibre foods.  It is an emotional hunger this person has, which only comfort food such as chocolate biscuits or chips can fill.
    I would equally suspect they know exactly what food groups they should be eating, and in what quantity, but if you are derpressed, then this knowledge is of little value.
    As someone who was anorexic or bulemic, I used to get through the day, eating like you recomend, by rewarding myself at night with something “yummy” something high calorie, for being “good” and not bingeing, it was often the best way to get thriough a whole day without eating badly.  AND, of course, making sure there were no “bad” foods in the house.
    Getting out of the house for a brisk walk (somewhere far away from cafes and food shops) also used to benefit me, too.

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    Anonymous

    I absolutely agree with Maree. This has nothing to do with ignorance about what to eat, how much or when, triggers to avoid etc etc.
    This is purely emotional eating. I am going through the same thing at the moment. I used to be anorexic/bulimic a few years ago but managed to overcome these eating disorders. I have been healthy for about 6 years. Unfortunately a failed relationship/new employment/relocation twice in a year and subsequent depression has pushed me over the edge, and i am eating like i used to when i was bulimic (but without the bulimia!) It is really scary.
    I know what is healthy, what my kilojoule intake should be, which foods to avoid, which to eat and how much of it. I know how much energy i expend with certain exercising. I know what triggers overeating, i know all the tricks of the trade. But, right now, it means nothing, absolutely nothing.
    This isn't about nutritional education, although your input is much appreciated.
    Does anyone else have advice or knowledge to share?
    It would be much appreciated :)

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    ShadesOfBlue

    HealthShare Member

    I agree also with Maree and anonymous.  I have suffered from emotional eating since the age of about 16 when I probably would have then been diagnosed as anorexic.  After many years and then finally seeking help from a recommended female physician, I managed to conquer my eating disorders which also included bulimia.  Although now in my 40s and wise to nutrition and healh,  I still binge eat every  4-5 days.  My binges hav nothing to do really with physical hunger as at the times they occur I have eaten a substantial and healthy meal.  My binges almost certainly occur after dinner in the evenings and are often brought on by boredom and too much wine. At the time I feel justified in eating everything I want (I am slim) but the next morning I hate and berate myself.  I feel like I am caught in a cycle of feast or famine.  All or nothing.  And this applies  also to my emotional and mental state.
    Sometimes it helps to focus on how good I will feel in a new dress or jeans if I have an upcoming event on the weekend but mostly I find it very difficult to overcome my extreme “hunger”. 
    I too would welcome any suggestions or even just reading about similar experiences.  I seem to think that binge eating mainly occurs in females so wondering if it is hormonal?

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    The Butterfly Foundation was founded in August 2002 by Claire Vickery who found many ‘gaps’ in the public health system for those experiencing eating disorders. … View Profile

    Hi Everyone,

    I don't believe that there is any “quick fix” answer and there are always different variables that can change specific treatment for a particular person. A change in medication can definitely have an affect on eating patterns and how you respond emotionally. Therefore we would encourage you to discuss this in detail with the doctor or specialist currently giving advice.

    But emotional eating is something that can be very much an ongoing issue for people and also does not have a quick fix solution. Emotional eating can be characterised by periods of recurrent binge eating or eating uncontrollably. This is oftren done when you may not even be hungry. Unfortunately the cycle of this experience is that you then feel enormous guilt and frustration with yourself for this ongoing eating. I can only image that this does not help in your treatment for depression.


    As with treatment for depression, there are going to be times when you feel better than others and you may still have the urge to eat at all times of the day even if you are not hungry as mentioned before. But can we encourage you to not internalise these emotions that you are feeling but speak with your doctor, specialist, friend or family member so that they can too help you through this journey. The process of getting the medication right and your body balancing to this does take some time but if you are seeking specialist treatment, it will get better. Your body will also respond in time and the deisre to eat uncontrollably may reduce.


    However, our strongest encouragement would be to not just put this aside and hope that it will get better over time, but recognise that this may be part of the process of going onto the new medication and working through your emotions associated with this. Don't try and struggle with this on your own but seek support and help from other around you that may be suitable. It is better to address this sooner rather than later. Early intervention is the key.


    All the best.

    The Butterfly Foundation   

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    Celeste White

    HealthShare Member

    Hi there
    I have the same problem. But i eat so i dont have to think about feeling feelings. I TRY to sit quietly with the ‘need’ to eat for a few minutes to see if i can recognise any underlying feelings emotions etc. Sometimes the feeling goes away. Sometimes i eat. Sometimes i cry. And sometimes i can recognise WHY i have the need to push my emotions down with food. I used to use alcohol but i have given that up.

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    Mel1982

    HealthShare Member

    I used to have the same problem when i started taking antidepressants. They increased my appetite and I would crave anything sweet and foods high in carbs that were basically bad. I put on lots of weight. I would crave sweet food at night when I never had before in my life. I had to try and ignore the cravings and started exercising. I have now managed to lose a bit of weight but am not back to what I was. Maybe you should see if your antidepressants are causing you to binge eat by making you crave sugary foods high in calories.

  • Anonymous

    i have the same problem, I was toldto try this when you go to eat for no reason stop have a full glass of water than occupy yourself doing something  put a timer on for 30 minutes after 30 minutes when the timer beebs if you are hungry then have something healthy to eat. it sometimes works for me

  • ShadesOfBlue

    HealthShare Member

    Thanks, I have heard of this before but had forgotten it.  Thanks for reminding me of it.  I will certainly try this.

  • Jade Hucker

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    I am a Clinical Psychologist with experience in Chronic Pain Management, Weight Management, Depression and Anxiety. View Profile

    Firstly, I'll repeat everyone else by mentioning that medications can definately play a role here, particularly if you just noticed these habits around the time you changed your medications. Many people assume that they have to put up with side effects but that is not the case. There are a range of medications that treat the same problem but have different side effect profiles so it is important to report any unsatisfactory side effect to the prescriber - that goes for any new medication.

    Secondly, once you have sorted out your medications (which you could chat to your GP about if it is quite awhile before you can see the specialist again) you need to have a think about why you are eating. As others have mentioned above people rarely eat because they are hungry. We tend to eat because we are bored, stressed, tired, upset, “because it's dinner time”, etc. Food used to treat these problems is like using diesel petrol in an unleaded fuelled car - its the wrong “solution”.


    Research suggests that food diaries can be really helpful here but not just writing down what you eat, but more importantly why you are eating. Rather than judging yourself or feeling guilty about what you ate, use it as a learning opportunity to discover why you ate (e.g. bored) and perhaps jot down a better “solution” for next time (read a book, go for a walk, call a friend).
     

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    I assist clients who are undergoing a challenging life transition in relationships or work which is affecting their well being. Person centred counselling can facilitate … View Profile

    Your urge to eat uncontrollably can be addressed as both an expression of emotional hunger,  experienced as mouth hunger, and a compulsive behaviour pattern.   Addressing your problem as emotional hunger ideally requires the assistance of a therapist or counsellor while the technique for addressing a compulsive behaviour pattern can be practiced by you each time you experience a compulsion to over eat.   

    You may need to learn to make a distinction between stomach hunger (physical hunger) and mouth hungerMouth hunger is generated by emotional discomfort because chewing, swallowing and filling up on food distract from and modulate distress.  A first step in identifying mouth hunger is becoming aware of one`s feelings. Feelings are often unacknowledged or unrecognised particularly if they are distressing.  Observing sensations in the body is a way in to experiencing feelings and then identifying them.  Once you have expressed these feelings you can then begin to explore how your emotional needs can be met in ways other than eating when you are not physically hungry.

    Eckhart Tolle, in his book A New Earth, suggests, as part of an awareness practice, a technique  for addressing a compulsive behaviour pattern. It involves taking three conscious breaths when you first observe a compulsive urge to do something, such as over eat.  This produces awareness of a conscious need which you stay with while taking some more conscious breaths. Clients of mine who have had an overeating or a drinking problem have found this awareness practice or variants of it a useful technique in diminishing the hold of their compulsive behaviour patterns





  • Uta Herzog

    Clinical Psychologist, Psychologist

    Not taking new referrals until September 2015. Uta Herzog is a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of anxiety and depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and … View Profile

    If you are quite certain that the problem started within a few days of commencing a new medication then you should discuss this urgently with your doctor. Weight gain can be a side-effect of some medication and it can discourage some people from continuing their treatment - which is probably not a good idea.
    It is not uncommon to have to experiment for “best fit” (maximum benefit, minimum side-effects) with different medications and/or dosages, and a sympathetic doctor will support you in getting that balance right.
    If the problem exists independently of medication, then talking to a psychologist with expertise in depression management and/or eating disorders would be a good idea. These things can be complex as you can tell from the responses above. Having someone help you steer through the maze of possible triggers for “symptom-eating” usually makes the job of defusing those triggers a lot easier!

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    oneteaspoon

    HealthShare Member

    I have the same thing. I'm on a wonderful drug called cymbalta that has changed my life. But medication takes time to find the right ones. I've recently had some bad lucky with injuries… Gained 20kg because I can't run, walk, stand for long periods, squat, lunge, climb stairs (I think you get the picture). When I was younger I was fit, on state teams, training all the time then when I got my injuries it was like a part of me died & my way of coping was and still is food. I'm a qualified nutritionist, I don't need people to tell me I'm not eating right I know this however I just can't stop. I even wake up in the morning with food crumbs or wrappers I gave no recollection of getting.

    My GP sent me to see an exercise physiologist who were all men in their 20s, active sports minded. They had ZERO idea of the fact that if you give me 10 exercises I cannot commit to that. Also tried telling me my eating was bad. Then gave me exercises all that involved me standing, no idea how to deal with someone in my boat. Then he writes my GP a letter saying “I'm not ready to make this lifetime changing commitment, she leads an unhealthy lifestyle that will catch up to her”. This is a well known exercise physiologist place in melb & I know others who had similar experiences. 

    Sorry got carried away there

  • Anonymous

    I am sorry to hear about this oneteaspoon, as I had seen an exercises physiologist and she was very helpfull initially I have a work related injury and  I was angry with everyone about my injury(I was also seeing a physcologist) so between seeing her and the physcologist she worked with me until I trusted her and she designed my exericse program towards my injury and worked with me on doing certain stretching exercises and also other exericses to increase my strength I think I saw her for about 20 weeks, so I am sorry to hear you had a bad experience with an exercises physiologist, see if you can see another one but firstly I would ring them and talked to them about your Med condition and discuss what the programme will be then go back to your GP to be send to them.  good luck dont be discouraged by this

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    oneteaspoon

    HealthShare Member

    I just ate 12 jam rolls…. I am soo ashamed

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    Muriel Cooper

    Psychologist

    I specialise in stress, anxiety and depression as well as general psychology. I have been a counsellor and psychologist for nearly 20 years and firmly … View Profile

    I agree that if you can absolutely connect it with a medication - get it changed immediately.  Being overweight may be more dangerous to your health than being depressed.  Also there is plenty of evidence to suggest that drugs do not cure depression - changing thoughts and behaviours does (except in cases of the major depressive illnesses).  Changing your medication also includes the option of not taking it but I would discuss how to implement this choice this with a doctor as you must not suddenly stop any brain-altering medication.

    I also agree it is emotional eating.  Here are some tips on emotional versus physical eating:

    Emotional eating is sudden - physical eating is gradual
    Emotional eating is above the neck - i.e. in your head and your mouth - physical eating is in your stomach ('growly hunger pangs).
    Emotional eating is about specific foods i.e. chocolate, chips - physical hunger is  satisfied by any food.
    Emotional hunger is paired with emotional discomfort (what are the thoughts/feelings when you want to emotionally eat)

    The last word is about the satiation response.  This is the opposite of hunger pangs but much quieter and more subtle.  It is the body telling you it has had enough - it no longer needs to eat.  Listen for this and obey it whatever you are eating and:

    eat mindfully one bite at a time - do not shovel the food into your mouth, whatever food it is.
    Take care - good luck

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    Kristen Ross

    Counsellor, Kinesiologist

    Kristen Ross is a qualified Kinesiologist, Counsellor and Sports Therapist.Affinity Wellness is her holistic wellness practice offering a holistic wellness experience by focusing on all … View Profile

    I would definitely advise that you take this problem to your doctor along with any other symptoms you may have experienced after commencing the medication. He/she may want to change your dosage or the medication. 

    I would also advise that you seek support for the behavioural issue itself so that you can manage it. 

    Kinesiology can help with disordered eating by helping you to focus on the underlying issues be they hormonal, nutritional or emotional. Meditation is also a good way to help you deal with the stress that underlies your depression.   

  • Jennifer Grant

    Psychologist

    New practice opened Feb 2018. Seewebsite www.coffspsychneuro.com.au I'm passionate about working with people from all walks of life to help them create a more vital, … View Profile

    Wow, so many responses! I trust you’ve found some ideas helpful. One additional idea concerns your “urge”. Like all urges, the urge to eat can be “surfed”. As the urge to eat rises up (like a wave on the ocean) your mind is probably saying things like “I have to eat, I cant stop, this is unbearable, I cant stand this”. There might be bodily sensations like agitation and frustration. There’ll be a behavioural push, that almost mindless reaching for food. All of this feels incredibly powerful, like a large wave rising in the ocean. The thing about urges is, like waves in the deep ocean, they subside. Then they rise up again. And subside. There’s a skill in learning to surf the urge, learning to ride it out. Like surfing on the ocean it takes practice.
    The skill of urge surfing is useful with any type of urge or craving be it for alcohol, tobacco, drugs, overeating, inappropriate sex, or – your name it – where to act on the urge would be contrary to your heartfelt values, would be inconsistent with acting in the way you want to live your life, the sort of person you want to be, and the things you want to stand for.
    Urges are small when they start, will grow in size, then will break up and dissipate. Every urge that arises will pass away. They almost never last for longer than about 30 minutes - if there is no opportunity to use our preferred substance (eg, biscuits, chocolate, chips). If there is no opportunity to use, then there is no internal struggle. It is this internal struggle that feeds the cravings. Trying to fight cravings is like trying to block a waterfall. We end up being inundated. With the approach of mindfulness, we step aside and watch the water (cravings, impulses & urges) just go right past. The main message is that urges do not have to be acted upon. You get to choose to surf the urge and watch it as it rises and subsides.
    In fact, if we just let an urge be - non judgmentally - without feeding it or fighting it (Fighting it is just another way of feeding it anyway) then it will crest subside and pass.
    Of course they come back again but over a period of time. However each time you overcome a bout of cravings they become less intense and less frequent if we don't feed the urges and if we don't give in to the craving. Moreover our mindfulness technique of urge surfing improves. If we have a slip and give into the impulse we will have increased urges for a while. However we can still apply urge surfing all over again.
    Don’t believe what I say. Try this experiment. Right now, if you scan your body with your mind’s eye, you can probably find an urge to scratch or itch somewhere on your skin. If you find that sensation calling out for you to scratch it, I’d like you to remain still, breathing, and simply observe the sensation. Keep watching it. Does it change? Maybe it gets stronger for a while. Then, inevitably it fades. Congratulations, you’ve just successfully surfed an urge.
    If this approach interests you, please consider seeing a psychologist. Urge surfing is a skill that is best mastered with professional guidance. And – once you’re surfing urges well – you might find there’s other difficulties (anxiety? depression?) that call for your attention. Many psychologists can teach you urge surfing. Ideally, urge surfing is taught within a larger therapeutic framework such as that of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). You can find an ACT therapist by browsing the listings at actmindfully.com.au.
    Best wishes.
    PS Please don’t stop eating. Please do consult a health professional.

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