Freedom from Emotional Eating, Food & Weight Obsession

Craving Structure Instead of Food

For years, I’ve been listening to coaching clients and people in the A Weigh Members’ Circle talk about how much they crave structure, order, routine; that without it they often feel overwhelmed, distracted, disorganized, rudderless, mindless…and that makes them even more vulnerable to binge eating.

Often, people tell me they just need to get their home (or office) more organized, or finish this project or that, before they can focus on fixing their binge eating problem.

Here’s what one person shared, as she reflected back on her week,

“I feel like something is holding me back from really using the tools and making this a priority. Maybe all things in order and time…I have been doing a ton of different things to get my surroundings in order and de-cluttered. This feels great! You have really helped get me going with this. Maybe psychologically I am feeling like I need to clean up the outside stuff before I can really get to the inside stuff?? Maybe I can tell myself that it’s ok to do a little of both.”

She was onto something here!

And I completely identified with what she was feeling and doing! I used to stay compulsively busy doing everything else I could possible think to do to stay distracted from what I actually needed to do; which was to connect–-with my thoughts, my feelings, my responsibilities, acknowledge the impact my past experiences had on my life…and then live in the present.

tornadoI always felt I needed to have structure; be following some plan, be constantly in motion. Years ago, one of my staff people said working with me was like being caught in the middle of a tornado (clearly, not a compliment). I just felt if I kept spinning, kept planning, kept doing, I didn’t have to feel…anything.


I had two speeds.

1). I was compulsively organized and busy, perfectly productive–-in an unconscious attempt to stay disconnected from thoughts or feelings that might leave me feeling emotionally uncomfortable.

2). I wanted to shut it all down, turn it all off, go numb. So, I turned to food.

Now, I know that that compulsive drive I had for “structure” was evidence that I was feeling a need to escape my life, to “go away”. When structure failed, as it always did, I’d go back to the food to create a short-lived escape. And then I’d use food over and over again to keep that numbness going.

Then, the cycle repeated. I’d try to create new structure so I could stop the binge eating. Often, that structure came in the form of a new diet. “If I just follow this diet perfectly, I’ll feel glued together again.” We all know how that turns out.

On the subject of “structure”, one of our A Weigh Out Circle Members wrote, “I can get overwhelmed when I don’t have it in my life, yet I get overwhelmed when I have too much. I struggle each day finding that balance!!”

It is a balance. Structure and organization can be a very helpful thing…or a way to escape thinking and feeling.

Today, I know when my need for structure and organization feels compulsive, even desperate, I know something is up.

When I feel organized and proactive in my everyday life, when I am calmly, systematically handling stuff that needs to be planned, organized, de-cluttered, I know I’m “connected”; present in the moments of my life, and living mindfully.


Ellen Shuman is a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. She is the founder of A Weigh Out  Life Coaching & Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present). She is a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012), and Co-Founder of the Academy for Eating Disorders Special Interest Group on “Health at Every Size”,, 513-321-4242.

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About Ellen Shuman

Ellen on the phone

I have worked in the Wellness Field for 30 years. I created an Emotional Eating & Binge Eating Disorder Recovery Program way before most people knew BED was an eating disorder, NOT a “willpower” issue. Personally, I suffered for years before finding answers and the help I needed and deserved! I became a Coach in 1997 to help others who were still suffering as I had. I love being a Coach!


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