Eating Disorder Series: An Interview With Edward J. Cumella!

This is part one of a series. We will be discussing current issues as they relate to emotional eating and some things that can be done to reverse the epidemic.
Eating disorders come in different forms but are all dangerous. In this series, we will discuss several different eating disorders and how to overcome them with professionals from Remuda Ranch, experts in the field of eating disorders.

Part One: Emotional Eating
An Interview With Edward J. Cumella, Ph.D.

[ Q ] How common would you say the problem of emotional eating is?

    25%-30% of Americans have emotional eating issues.

[ Q ] Does emotional eating seem to affect men as well as women?

    Unlike the other eating disorders of anorexia and bulimia, emotional eating affects men and women about equally.

[ Q ] Is there a most common age group?

    Also unlike the other eating disorders which affect primarily younger women, emotional eating occurs across the lifespan. It can start much earlier in life than anorexia and bulimia, as early as 1-2 years old.

Anorexia: Food Is The Enemy!
Over a year ago I was hospitalized for an eating disorder. The following article explains exactly what anorexia is and following afterwards is the story of my experience with it.
[ Click here to learn more. ]

    Emotional eating can be a real problem with those struggling to lose weight. They want to lose weight, but are depressed so they eat. They get more depressed and eat more.

[ Q ] How can someone break this cycle and learn to eat for hunger versus emotions?

Two Things Are Needed:

  1. The person must learn new ways of dealing with their emotions so the need to rely on food is not present. For example:

    • Focus on the present rather than the past, and on the positive aspects of your life.

    • Take time to nurture yourself in ways other than food (a walk, movie, hot bath, etc.)

    • Talk to someone rather than choosing food for support.

    • Think about your accomplishments, positive personal qualities, and valued relationships, and affirm yourself for these things.

    • Identify goals and activities you have been putting off. Make a list and start doing them now.

    • Set small goals that you can accomplish easily, and congratulate yourself for every success.

What Are Your Goals?
>Lose Fat
>Build Muscle
>Improve Energy

    • Recognize your personal rights. You have the right to say no, to express your feelings and opinions and to ask to have your needs met.

    • Find a growth-oriented, non-judgmental community of relationships, such as a church, youth group, or appropriate 12-step group.

    • Keep a journal of your experiences, feelings, thoughts, and insights. This is a safe place to be honest with yourself. The journal is for your eyes only, no one else will be reading it or judging it.

      The journal can also help you identify the feelings, internal messages, and triggers that lead to your emotional eating, so that you may prepare yourself to choose alternate strategies.

    • Don't let the scale run your life. Remember that numbers on a scale are not a value of self-worth. Throw the scale away.

    • Let go of faultfinding, blame, guilt, and shame. Focus on the present, and take responsibility for what you can change today.

    • Understand that shame and guilt often lead to emotional eating, and emotional eating then leads to more shame and guilt, creating a vicious cycle that can be broken.

    • If you have a personal faith, pray for guidance and strength from your higher power.

  1. The person can begin to practice the principles of balance, variety, and moderation regarding both food and exercise. All foods (variety) fit into a healthy diet if consumed in moderation.

    Exercise means any kind of movement that a person likes. Including moderate amounts of movement/exercise helps the body to regulate food cravings so the person can listen to and trust their hunger signals.

[ Q ] What are some of the underlying causes of emotional eating?

    The number one cause is living in a culture that values thinness. As such, all Americans are at risk. Cultures that value thinness create categories of forbidden foods, leading to a chronic experience of food deprivation.

    The situation for Americans is exacerbated by the abundant availability of rich foods and large restaurant portions sizes, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle promoted by cities built around automotive travel rather than walking.

    These experiences place Americans in a contradiction:

    We're told to fight our biological drive to eat and minimize food intake in order to be thin, but we are simultaneously saturated with a plethora of available and appealing foods and food choices.

    In this environment, eating becomes a highly emotionally charged event and becomes intertwined with a variety of feelings and needs.

    Other causes include lack of knowledge and skills on how to self-soothe and calm ones troubling emotions like anger and anxiety. History of abuse, coming from an overweight family where emotional eating was modeled by parents and relatives, and low self-esteem.

[ Q ] How can someone approach a friend of family member they suspect of having a problem with emotional eating?

Do You Or Anyone You Know Struggle With Emotional Eating?
Not Sure, But I Suspect So.

  • Before approaching, learn what community and healthcare resources are available, so you can offer your loved one good advice on how to seek help.

  • Understand that emotional eating is complex. Recovery is not just a matter of will power.

  • Discuss your concerns with the individual. Be compassionate; listen.

  • Let them know that they are not alone, that many people in the U.S. eat for emotional reasons and that there is help available.

  • Try to understand things from the person's perspective. Understand that persons with emotional eating often make decisions based on their feelings rather than on facts and logic.

  • State what you have observed, list evidence of the problem.

  • Express your concerns about the person's physical and mental health, not their weight.

  • Indicate your conviction that the situation should at least be evaluated by a professional.

  • Explain how you can help; with a referral, information, emotional or financial support.

  • End the conversation if it is going nowhere or if the person becomes upset. But if possible, leave the door open for further conversations.

  • Have patience: If rejected, try again later, explaining that you are coming back because you think the person can have a more rewarding life if they learn new ways to handle their emotions that dont involve food.

  • Respond during emergencies: If the person is complaining of chest pain or talking about suicide, get help immediately.

  • Find support for yourself. Talk to a counselor or healthcare professional; attend a support group for family and friends of those with mental illness or emotional/compulsive eating.

[ Q ] What are the dangers of emotional eating and when should professional help become involved?

    Dangers include self-hatred, feeling out of control, which can generalize to other areas of life and medical problems including:

    • Obesity
    • Diabetes
    • Constipation
    • Digestion problems
    • Reflux
    • Chronic tiredness

    Involve A Professional:

    • When any of the above problems are occurring.
    • When on a 1-10 scale, the person believes that their emotional eating is causing them distress rated at a 7 or above.
    • When emotional eating is occurring more than once a week.

[ Q ] Do you have any advice for people struggling with emotional eating?

    Emotional eating problems have become so common in the United States that we forget they are seriously distressing and very treatable! So don't be ashamed of your emotional eating or keep it a secret; you are not alone!

    Seek professional help, because treatment works and it can provide you with a much more satisfying life and relationship with food.

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Dr. Cumella Bio

Dr. Cumella is Director of Research and Education at Remuda Ranch Programs for Anorexia & Bulimia, Inc., the nation's largest inpatient facility dedicated to the treatment of women and girls suffering from eating disorders.

Remuda also offers a specialized 30 day inpatient program for women and outpatient services for men and children struggling with emotional eating.

Dr. Cumella has published and spoken widely throughout North America on eating disorder topics. he can be contacted at:

Phone: 1-800-445-1900

Author Bio

Pamela is a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer with a passion for fitness and good health. Her certifications include Personal Trainer from the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), Physical Fitness Specialist, Biomechanics of Resistance Training, Indoor Cycling and Focus Pad Training from the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas as well as Personal Trainer from the American Council on Exercise (ACE). She has competed in NPC Figure Competitions and is represented by the FAME Agency for fitness modeling.

Pamela offers personal training sessions in the Dallas area and online for those outside of Dallas. She is available to administer comprehensive BodyAge assessments and is a health and fitness writer and speaker.

Please visit her website for more information on how to Make Today Matter at