Shame and Emotional Eating

On our path to your consideration of identifying, modulating and processing specific emotions, I think it is important for us to make a pit stop to have a look at the topic of "shame".  Keep in mind that even as we take up shame, I am asking you to take up the practice of being curious about your emotional eating by responding to an urge to eat by first stopping for a moment to consider what it is about.  With practice, you really can train yourself to see a STOP sign as the conditioned response to recognizing an eating urge, so you have a moment to be curious about what is happening. 

Shame

Shame is an exceedingly important issue in weight management. Shame is most often what is at play when we have such a difficult time "experiencing our experience". People often ask what we mean by shame and how it is different from guilt.  You can research that easily on the web.  Here are a couple of suggestions:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shame/201305/the-difference-between-guilt-and-shame
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hale-dwoskin/guilt-and-shame_b_3862489.html

BODY SHAME:  A rather ubiquitous experience of shame for patients at NCWW is shame about experiencing your body.  Shame about the weight makes you turn away from looking, from feeling, from experiencing your body. This is why so many people are shocked when they unexpectedly see a photograph. Shame keeps you from being in touch, being in tune with your body. It leaves you handicapped by taking away the feedback loop of being aware of your body. Our emphasis on yoga is to help you restore body awareness.

EATING SHAME:  Shame is of course also true when it comes to experiencing your eating. Shame is at root in sneak eating. Shame is often at root in mindless eating. Shame makes it difficult to keep food records when you are veering off the path - even in the face of knowing that lapsing is when the food records can be most helpful. This is how powerful the shame can be.  You care sooooo much about getting back on a good path.  But shame about facing the eating keeps you from using one of the most helpful tools!  It's a problem.

EMOTION SHAME: Shame is often also at root in the difficulty people have experiencing some of their emotions (sometimes all of their emotions). This shame may be about the feeling itself, or it may be about the intensity or the target of the feeling.  Shame is one cause for emotional eating since the eating can distract from the shameful feelings - even though the person is ashamed of the eating, it is somehow more acceptable than the shame of the emotions. 
 
Please note:  We need to look at shame because it stands directly in the way of being able to utilize the systematic approach I am teaching for the management of emotional eating. My approach features "pay attention." Shame features "don't pay attention."

Once you have a feel for the shame/guilt distinction, I recommend considering some of the following articles:

1. Qualitative Studies of Shame, Guilt and Eating Disorders: I think this is an excellent place to get started!! Remember that in most cases I advise you to primarily read research I share by simply reading what is offered as the background and then skip to the discussion and conclusions.  In the case of this study, however, if you can digest it, I recommend reading the whole thing.  This looks at qualitative studies rather than quantitative ones.  You will find good stuff throughout the article.

2. The Mediating Role of Shame in Why Self-critical Patients Present with Eating Disorders:  This is another excellent article that I think those of you who know you are very self-critical should read. If you can hang in there through the whole article, you may find it worth it.  Otherwise, be sure you read the background and discussion sections.

3. Are Shame, Guild and Embarrassment Distinct Emotions has great stuff in the background and discussion portions.  Skip the study!!

4. Healing Shame is an excellent, excellent article on the deeper, most ambitious level of resolving shame.  If shame is a really big thing for you, please read this and share it with your therapist.  You can work on it in good therapy with huge, huge, benefit!  My experience is that patients find resolving shame every bit as life changing as is attaining sustaining positive weight management.

5. Obesity Related Coping and its Association to Shame. It's totally excellent too!!!!!

6. Finally, I highly recommend The Obese Child for anyone who was (or thought they were) obese as a child and anyone who has a child with obesity

I offer, but do not think I need to introduce, the other articles below.  Start with the ones above. Some of the others are more focused on body shame.  If you like reading, all have merit!

Please note that my diagram of Variable Consciousness is something we will reference in class. You will come to understand how it can serve to organize your work on shame and on emotional eating.

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Bill Picon,
Mar 29, 2015, 9:36 AM
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