Embracing emotional eating to overcome emotional eating

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Embracing emotional eating to overcome emotional eating

Emotional eating has an inherently negative connotation. We all do it—even those of us who think we don’t do it. Most of us never talk about it, and if we do talk about it, we talk about it as a bad thing that needs to stop.

I fear our priorities are a bit muddied when it come to this.

We want to stop emotional eating because we fear weight gain.

We want to stop emotional eating because women are not supposed to eat so much.

We want to stop emotional eating because it’s not healthy.

And in all of this desire for it to stop, we forget to tend to our hearts.

Whenever I talk about emotional eating as a matter of the heart, I imagine my clients thinking who has time for matters of the heart when we’ve got my waistline to worry about?  Sooner or later they all come around to the fact that so long as we have have unmet emotional needs, we’re going to eat to meet them, and this is not a bad thing.

Eating to meet our emotional needs keeps us from going crazy, so it would be prudent to embrace our emotional eating.

When I first started teaching about embracing emotional eating, I skirted around the issue. I knew my clients wanted to put an end to their emotional eating, but I didn’t foresee them buying into the idea of embracing emotional eating. I didn’t see them sitting down with a pint of ice cream and savoring every bite in an attempt to appreciate the good vibes food can provide. But the more I tried to skirt around the issue, the longer it took them to mend their relationship with food.

I know it’s weird. I know it’s counterintuitive. But if you’re going to let emotions drive you to eat, you should make the most of it. Stop scarfing m&ms down in the car on the way home from the grocery store. Keep the car in park in the grocery store parking lot, turn on your favorite music and eat them one by one. Notice the taste and texture of the peanuts or the almonds or whatever your filling-of-choice is. Savor it.

I’m not telling you to eat junk food. I’m telling you that if you do eat junk food, you should at least take the time to enjoy it.

Enjoying it has some great perks for your mental and physical health…

You’ll get the full experience of whatever good feeling that food gives you.

You’ll be satisfied sooner because your brain will actually have time to catch up with your body and it will realize you’re satisfied.

You’ll have thought about it enough to deliberately choose to indulge for the sake of your sanity, so you’ll be way less inclined to feel guilty/stressed about it (especially because—if you did it right—you’ll feel great and have eaten less of it than you normally would).

In my last two blog posts (see here and here), I’ve emphasized the importance of pausing, and here I am doing it again. If you’re ever to understand your emotional eating, you do have to embrace it. How can you get to know something you’re always at odds with? And embracing emotional eating requires that you pause long enough to full experience what’s going on.

I’ll admit it sounds a little nuts. It’s a “shameful” habit everyone wants to get rid of and no one wants to talk about, but bringing it into the light has just the benefits you need to start to make some changes.

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My emotional eating story

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My emotional eating story

Have you ever been sitting on your couch post-dinner only to find yourself wrist-deep in a bag of m&ms or a bowl of popcorn? You’re not hungry, but there’s something insanely satisfying about what you’re putting in your mouth so you keep at it.

Six years ago, on the way home from my windowless, ten-hour-a-day, paperwork-stamping, beige-cubicle-prison of a job, I was stuck in traffic, pondering the life choices that had gotten me there. My mechanical engineering career looked great on the outside, but it was unfulfilling on the inside.

So, I pulled into the Krispy Kreme drive-thru to make myself feel better. I knew I shouldn’t eat donuts, and I also knew I would eat donuts anyway. I thought about ordering just one, but in the heat of the moment I ended up with two original and one fritter. I don’t even like the fritters, but I wanted to feel full of something good.

Food for comfort is surely a familiar scene most women can relate to.

Some of my clients are quick to identify their emotional eating. They will tell me they eat the candy because work sucks or they’re still lonely 6 months after a breakup. Some of my clients are less attuned to their emotional eating, in their minds they eat the candy because it’s good or because they are bored, but often—when I dig a little deeper—I find they are eating the candy because the candy makes them feel a certain way, and it’s that feeling they are chasing.

In simple terms, emotional eating is eating for the feeling it gives us.

Sure, it’s more complicated than that. Some of us chase the feeling of pleasure in the form of chocolate to avoid pain in the form of social rejection. Some of us pursue comfort in the form of fried chicken to compensate for all the fear and dis-ease we experience at our jobs. The relationship between food and feelings is a complicated one. It’s not necessarily easy to make the connection from brownies to your brain, and that’s why I don’t start there.

Last week I wrote about pausing long enough to decide what you really want to eat.

This week, it’s a different kind of pause. Pausing before we eat to contemplate what we’re feeling can be a useful tool. However, if you’re not used to thinking about what you’re feeling, you probably shouldn’t start thinking about it in the context of your tumultuous relationship with food.

Let’s start small.

Can you pause throughout your day to take inventory of what you’re feeling? How does getting up and going to work make you feel? How does talking to your sister on the phone make you feel? How do your after-work plans make you feel? How do you feel before, during, and after your meals? How does your bedtime routine make you feel? Your pajamas? Your bedsheets?

When I first asked myself these questions, they felt a little silly and my answers were rather undescriptive. Happy. Sad. Indifferent. But the more I talked to other people about it, journaled about it, and paused often to think about it, the more I could articulate that my job as a mechanical engineer instilled dread all the way to the core of my being—that’s enough to make anyone need a donut for comfort.

The problem wasn’t that I was eating donuts. The problem was I was feeling so much dread at my day job that I needed instant comfort. My husband was travelling a lot at the time and my family was far away. I did the only thing I could do to comfort myself, and it’s a good thing I did that. I would have lost my mind otherwise.

But if I had continued to do it, my health would have continued to deteriorate.

And if I had just gone and found a “healthier” way to cope, I would have only been addressing a symptom.

I had to cure the dread, not comfort it.

Now, I’m not suggesting you quit your job after a couple of stressful weeks. What I am suggesting is that you take more pause in your life to notice what you’re feeling and how often your feeling it.

Your emotional state is intertwined with how and why you eat. If you keep trying to address the eating without addressing the emotions, you’ll only run in circles.

 

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The choice between nutrition and nourishment

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The choice between nutrition and nourishment

I’m as guilty as anyone of using the words nourishment and nutrition interchangeably. But they aren’t necessarily interchangeable. Nutritious food isn’t always nourishing and nourishing food isn’t always nutritious.

If you think I’m starting to sound like a Dr. Seuss book, I can’t disagree with you.

If you know anything about me, you know that I advocate for nourishing the soul with comfort food and I advocate for fueling the body with healthy fats and leafy greens. But most importantly, I’m an advocate against the stuck in a cycle of guilt and shame we get into when we make food choices that feel good in the moment but aren’t the healthiest.

I’m against beating yourself up over the cookie or the ice-cream.

I’m in favor of the deep dish pizza recipe your grandmother used to make.

And I love an indulgent dinner followed by a fancy dessert.

I’m not telling you you can eat whatever you want all the time and as long as it feels good it’s healthy.

I’m telling you there’s a difference between nourishment and nutrition, and when you know the difference it empowers you to choose what you most need in the moment.

A couple of weeks ago, I came down with a kidney infection. It was super painful, so I took some time off for rest and relaxation. My husband—being the incredible partner he is—took over my dog-walking, grocery-shopping, food-prepping duties so I could cuddle up with a book until further notice. He would have cooked any of the super-nutritious recipes I so often prepare for us, but all I wanted was takeout.

On day one of my recovery, I paused long enough to realize I had eaten nothing but gluten free quesadillas and brisket fries.

The old me would have used being sick as excuse to eat whatever I wanted—after all, it was nourishing my soul. Right?

Um, wrong.

It’s important to note here the old me would have also gorged myself on said gluten free quesadillas, and followed my binge eating up with a few days of guilt-laden calorie restriction. It was a wild ride back then.

But this time was different.

This time I paused long enough to take inventory of how I was feeling both physically and emotionally. Did eating the brisket fries feel good? Yes. Would eating four more days worth of brisket fries and comfort food feel good? No. What did my body need?

I can’t say I didn’t still want the comfort food, but when I made the choice to fill up on bone broth and green smoothies, I wanted a lot less of the comfort food—I got the best of both nutrition and nourishment, but I had to stop long enough to contemplate it.

When it comes to our well-being—both physical and mental health—we have some decisions to make. Sometimes those decisions truly are about our bodies’ nutritional needs, and sometimes they are more about emotional needs.

I can’t tell you what you need, but I can encourage you to pause before you make your choices.

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Self-care as the cure for emotional eating

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Self-care as the cure for emotional eating

I always ask women who struggle with emotional eating if they practice self-care.

I ask this question because I know life is stressful; stress inhibits weight loss, it’s terrible for your health in the long run, and it doesn’t feel great in the immediate sense.  I ask this question because I want to know if my clients are doing anything (other than eating) to reduce their stress levels.

The answer is always no, and when I ask why, I get a myriad of explanations. I’m too busy. I have to take care of my kids. I don’t have money. I don’t have time. I don’t have energy.

What I hear is: I’m overwhelmed. I can’t wrap my mind around what self-care even looks like. My priorities are second to everyone else’s priorities. It’s never even occurred to me to take care of myself.

You know the flight attendant spiel about putting on your own oxygen mask before helping those around you? That applies here.

You have to take care of yourself if you want to take care of others well. Your kids, your spouse, your boss, and your friends all get a subpar version of you if you’re taking care of them before you take care of yourself.

And that’s only ONE problem.

The other problem—and the one I most often address with my clients—is that when you’re not taking care of yourself your subconscious will try to take care of you...with food. Food can make us feel happy. It can comfort us in our sadness. It can numb our loneliness. Food is a good friend in the moment, but it’s a toxic relationship in the long run. It keeps us from dealing with the root of the issue and it has seriously negative implications for our health.

Most people get obsessed with the eating part of emotional eating. They think if they could just stop eating, the problem would be solved. What they miss is the emotional part. When we go through life never tending to how we feel and never pursuing how we want to feel, our emotional needs don’t get met. When our physical needs—like food, water, and sleep—aren’t met, our bodies freak out. When our emotional needs aren’t met, we also freak out. It may look like you’re just eating a bag of candy or a box of cereal, but it’s actually a freakout.

You need to put your oxygen mask on first, otherwise you’re going to keep finding yourself in the fridge.

So what does it look like to put your oxygen mask on before helping those around you?

The short answer is: figure out how you want to feel, identify what’s standing in the way of you feeling that way, and do more of the things that make you feel good.

The long answer is: it takes knowledge, time and effort, and I’ve developed a program to help you get all three of these things. It starts with a free emotions and eating assessment. Click here to schedule yours.

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Are you part of the clean plate club?

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Are you part of the clean plate club?

Theme parks and the hot Florida sun are not my thing, but I’m a family gal, so I went along with it, and found myself at Disney World in the middle of June. #sunscreen #heatstroke

On day 5 of 8, I found myself at the 50’s Prime Time Cafe for lunch. I knew from a previous trip to Disney World exactly what I was getting into, and to say I wasn’t thrilled would be insufficient.

You know those people who get a kick out of someone else’s humiliation? I am not one of those people. And while I can’t speak for the employees at the Prime Time Cafe, I would venture to say it’s a requirement for employment. Waiters and waitresses (I can call them that, it’s the 50’s) publicly shame patrons, reprimanding them to get their elbows off the table and to clean their plates.

This last one really got me.

I detest the clean plate club.

I understand it’s hard to get kids to eat, and I understand we want to encourage growing boys to keep growing, but kids know better than most adults when they are satiated and when they are hungry.

Before the age of 3, most kids will eat only as much as they want, regardless of how much you serve them, as they get older, this changes. They start to respond to external cues (i.e., the clean plate club), and they slowly stop self-regulating their food intake. (Source)

As we get even older, the messages are mixed. Clean your plate. But also lose weight.

By the time most women are in middle school, they’ve been on a diet and have strong associations between what they eat, what they look like, and their worth. It’s so deeply ingrained in us by the time we reach adulthood that even our mature, adult thinking can’t undo the tangled web of experiences, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs, and we end up unconsciously clinging to them.

Your relationship with food has very little to do with your emotionally intelligent and rational adult self and everything to do with a lifetime of societal pressure, misinformation, and unintentional messages from the people who shaped you.

If part of your food story is that you must clean your plate, I encourage you to challenge that assumption.

Start checking in with your body halfway through your meal.

Pause.

What is your hunger level? How full do you feel?

Repeat the process ¾ of the way through the meal and then when you have a few bites left (if you get to that point) take an even longer pause to assess your hunger and fullness levels.

Are you full?

If so, you have permission (and encouragement) to not clean your plate.

The clean plate club is one of many unofficial food-related phenomena that can have huge implications for our relationship with our relationship with food as adults. (It’s not the only one, though. So stay tuned for more.)

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Little things with big consequences: reducing emotional eating triggers

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Little things with big consequences: reducing emotional eating triggers

Sometimes the little things are just little things, but sometimes it’s the little things that grate on our nerves and cause unnecessary stress—the chipped nail polish, the tiny stain on the carpet, the clutter in your messy car, or the mismatched dishes you haven’t gotten around to replacing.

For me, it was my phone case. I broke my burgundy Caseology phone case a few months ago. When I replaced it, I bought a navy case instead. I like navy. I was up for a change, and one Amazon Prime order later, I had a new case.

I didn’t love it when I got it, but it was just a phone case, so I didn’t think much of it.

After a couple of weeks, though, I noticed my mood changed every time I caught a glimpse of my phone in its navy case on my desk. At first, I tried to talk myself out of whatever funk the phone case was bringing on—it’s just a phone case, Erica Marie. It’s the exact same case in a color you like just as much, Erica Marie. What is your deal, woman?

I couldn’t shake the funk, so I decided to do an experiment. One more Amazon Prime order later, I was sporting the burgundy phone case once again, and just like that my mood improved.

I know it seems so silly, but how often you settle for things that you don’t love?

How often do you settle for things that kind of irritate you?

It never seems like a big deal when you’re picking at the nail polish or staring at the phone case, but it is stressful.

Before you roll your eyes at me and tell me what stressful really looks like, consider that there are different kinds of stress. No, my phone case was not a category five hurricane kind of stress, but it was a constant, low-level stressor that was inexpensively remedied with the click of a button.

And here’s the crazy part…

Low-level stress compounds, and when you put that together with your big stresses, you’re likely to find yourself turning to food for comfort, avoidance, or as a distraction from whatever is stressing you out. You’re probably not going to go straight from a navy phone case to a jar of Nutella, but if you can stop stress at the navy phone case, you never have to get near the nutella—unless you want to, in which case that’s totally cool.

The good news is, it’s so simple to address.

Take time to notice what you’re feeling throughout the day. Take time to understand what’s making you feel that way, and take strides to change it.

I know that some stressors are not so easily remedied, so when you see on that’s easy to fix, take time to fix it.

In short: take time to fix the little things.

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3 Tips for Differentiating between sad and starving (and other ways to end the battle with emotional eating)

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3 Tips for Differentiating between sad and starving (and other ways to end the battle with emotional eating)

Most women have or will struggle with emotional eating at some point. (And many men, for that matter.) The difference between humans and most other creatures is the depth to which we experience emotion; we need a way to cope with all of that. We may hate the fact we turn to food because of the implications it has for the waistline, but on the worst of days, sometimes the kindest thing we can do for ourselves is eat the ice cream. Now, I’m not advocating for pints of Ben and Jerry’s over professional help. What I am saying is there’s a perfectly good reason we turn to food to deal with our feeling or lack thereof, and the more aware we are of this, the more we can do about it.

Food can be comforting. It can be pleasurable. It can be filling. It can be numbing. It can meet a lot of our emotional desires if we choose to let it. "Choose" being the keyword here. If we know what our emotional desires are, we can make a choice as to how we want to meet them. Sometimes the answer is sweets. Sometimes it’s not. Only you can know.

Overcoming emotional eating is a process that can hardly be boiled down to just three steps, but today I’m giving you three steps to get started on the path.

  1. Know how you want to feel

  2. Stop long enough to realize you’re feeling this way

  3. Make a conscious choice about how you’re going to handle it

Want some help sorting out this whole feelings and food thing? I’m offering free emotions and eating assessments all summer long. Click here to schedule yours.

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Emotional Eating: the good, the bad, and the solution

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Emotional Eating: the good, the bad, and the solution

At our core, we are emotional beings, from our very first experiences as babies, food has been a demonstration of love. When a baby cries, mom picks her up, feeds her, and surrounds her with connection and love. So it’s natural when we aren’t feeling “good” to gravitate towards food as a pick-me-up. Food is nourishing and makes the brain happy, and it’s relatively inconsequential. (Unlike sex, drugs and alcohol, which are some of America’s finest coping mechanisms.)

Even though overeating or emotional eating isn’t necessarily healthy for our bodies, it is giving our heart what it desires in terms of comfort. In a lot of ways we’re taking good care of ourselves by indulging.

I know how easy it is to get stuck in the feelings of guilt and shame that drive you to try and out-exercise your overeating.. BUT, I encourage you to flip your perspective a bit and look at food as a form of caring for yourself.

At the same time, overeating and emotional eating are hardly the best solution to fill voids in our lives or manage stress. In order to choose differently, we have to understand what’s causing us to go to food for comfort to begin with. We have to uncover how we want to feel, figure out why we aren’t feeling that way, and decide what we can do about it.

When do you this, everything shifts.

For most of my clients, examining what they want to feel creates some resistance—it can seem inefficient, or unrelated. But the fact of the matter is that emotional eating IS psychological, so addressing the nutritional without addressing the psychological doesn’t resolve or mend or fix anything.

I know the diet industry has pushed the idea that hard work and willpower are the only way to feel good about yourself. But, when it comes to food, willpower only works for a little while. Eventually willpower will tire, your body won’t be getting what it needs nutritionally, your emotional needs will still be unfulfilled, and you’ll cave.

If you can understand and address the psychology of eating, you’re on your way to a long-term solution. If you understand your feelings—the voids you are trying to fill, the emotions you tie to food— it becomes much easier to shift your mindset rather than just muscling your way through the cravings.

Look at it this way, if you’re constantly thinking about food in terms of what is good or bad and what you can cannot eat, you perpetuate an obsession that causes stress, guilt, and shame. If your emotional space is taken up by those emotions, there’s no space to feel what you actually need to feel to be satisfied.

When you KNOW what you need to feel and you make decisions that are in line with what you need, you empower yourself to either choose food to make you feel that way or to choose something else.

Want to figure out how you want to feel?

I’m offering free emotions and eating assessments all summer long. Click here to book yours.

 

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Beauty, Body Image, and Your Relationship with Food

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Beauty, Body Image, and Your Relationship with Food

Before you were even aware of the media telling you what is and is not beautiful, there were important people who shaped your view of yourself.

Half of elementary school girls are concerned about their weight.

By age 6 they start to express concerns about their own weight or shape.

By 10 they are on a diet.

They didn’t come up with this body shame on their own.

The messages we receive about body image as children impact us throughout adulthood, unless we do something to change these largely uninformed thought patterns.

Most people’s relationship with food has everything to do with a lifetime of societal pressure, misinformation, and unintentional (or intentional) messages from the people who shaped them.

A 2015 study in Adolescent Health, Medicine and Therapeutics titled Weight status and body image perceptions in adolescents: current perspectives reports the following:

Cultural ideals and beliefs are reinforced by significant others in adolescents’ immediate environments, including family, peers, and romantic partners. Relative to family, research has shown that weight-based teasing from parents and siblings is associated with body dissatisfaction among girls. 

Encouragement from parents to control weight was also linked to heightened weight concerns among high school girls and boys.

Negative weight talk and dieting among family members, especially from mothers who serve as role models for body image, has been shown to be related to body image concerns and disordered eating behaviors in adolescent girls.

Fat talk, defined as negative body- and weight-related comments or conversations, is associated with body dissatisfaction among adolescents.

The weight-shaming, negative weight talk, and pro-diet mentality isn’t malicious. Adults do this to children because it’s what was done to them. They do it because their own sense of worth is wrapped up in their weight, and they anticipate that this will also be the case for the children in their lives. In an attempt to set these children up for “success,” they are missing the mark.

What we learn about food and body over the course of our lives ends up creating a false and unattainable measure of worthiness.

In her audio course, Men, Women, and Worthiness, Dr. Brene Brown refers to Jim Maholic’s research about women and what norms women have to conform to in order to be considered feminine. Maholic concluded that, according to society, what makes women feminine is being “thin, nice modest, and using all your available resources in pursuit of your appearance. Brown goes on to say her translation of that is to, “stay small and very very quiet.”

What society never stops to think about is that a woman’s measurements have no bearing on what she can accomplish, who she can impact, and who she will be in this world.

When we pursue a number, rather than the things that qualities that actually have value— love, connection, compassion, truth, purpose— we have the potential to end up in a very dark place. But, when we can identify what we really want for our lives and, in turn, our bodies, we get to pursue health from the grounded place of knowing what really matters. This reduces stress, it puts our decisions into a greater perspective that provides stronger motivation for making choices that are best for both our bodies and our psyches.

Want to separate food from the things that really matter?

I’m offering free emotions and eating assessments this summer. We’ll uncover some of the messages that shaped you and what you can do to change the way they are affecting you today. Click here to book yours.

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Food, feelings, and what Ricki Lake has to do with it

Food, feelings, and what Ricki Lake has to do with it

While the diet industry is busy feeding us ineffective one-size-fits-all quick fixes, they fail to address the root of our struggle with food: our food story. Our story is made up of experiences dating back to early childhood. It’s based on family beliefs around food and body. It’s is based on the way we interpret societal messages about body image. It’s based on the way our peers talked about and indulged—or didn’t— in food. We bring all of these experiences, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs with us into our adult life. Our relationship with food has very little to do with our rational adult self and everything to do with a lifetime of societal pressure, misinformation and unintentional messages from the people who shaped us.

We all have a food story. Even the rich and famous end up in the vicious cycle of self-loathing perpetuated by the media, fad diets, and every other crazy standard we hold ourselves to.

For some of us our food story stems from something seemingly mundane, like an off-handed comment from a crazy uncle; for others, it’s more extreme.

Ricki Lake was just 19 years old when she hit 200 pounds. She was molested as a child, and though she didn’t realize it at the time, she is now open about how the trauma affected her relationship with food and her body. By societal standards, that kind of weight on her 5’3” frame was unacceptable. It was her heavy frame, however, that landed her the role of Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray, and it continued to work for her on the television show China Beach and later in the movie Cry-Baby. So long as society—or Hollywood in this case—accepted her weight, she didn’t have a problem with it. In fact, for a season, she was admittedly proud of it.

But, when the roles stopped coming in, she turned to the only solution she had ever known: extreme dieting.

Ricki’s mother was always on a diet—even when she was pregnant with Ricki. In a 2011 interview with ABC, Ricki said even while her mother was pregnant, “She was on a cantaloupe diet. She gained 11 pounds," Lake said. "I was a full-term baby, and I was 5 pounds.” It’s no surprise that when Ricki felt she needed to lose weight to land more roles, she opted for extreme dieting and exercise.

Losing 100 pounds in just over six months, she sacrificed her health but regained her career—once again placing her worth in what she looked like, only this time it was on the opposite end of the scale.

Ricki went on to get married, have babies, and get divorced. After the birth of her second her child, she lost the baby weight and an additional 30 pounds. The media was thrilled with her svelte shape. The coverage continued to validate her weight and the obsessive behaviors that got her there.

Even after her impressive post-baby weight loss, she has continued to struggle with her weight publicly. She admits she still has an obsessive relationship with food. As recently as 2017, she told Oprah that she struggles with the idea of losing weight. “You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” she said.

When you look at Ricki Lake’s story from the outside, it makes sense. It’s not uncommon for young victims of sexual abuse to subconsciously want to make themselves unattractive. It’s not surprising that when she landed prominent movie roles, she was more accepting of her rounder shape, and when she stopped landing them, she was desperate for change.

Hollywood was telling her what she needed to look like, and she conceded without regard for how she wanted to feel.

While she is public about her story, it’s obvious—in the rise and fall of her weight and her admissions about her tumultuous relationship with food—there are parts of this story still influencing her relationship with food and her behaviors around it.

When we start to examine our relationship with food we begin to see it’s more about feelings than the actual food we are eating. Bad days—or bad decades—may drive us to eat more (or eat emotionally).

This sets the insane diet cycle where we diet to make us feel better about our bodies, but the dieting itself makes us miserable.

In this process, we never think about how we want to feel and why we aren’t feeling that way right now, but what if we did?

What if we figured out how we want to feel in life and let that guide the choices we make about food? What if we worked on healing the parts of the story that got us into this mess to begin with and that was enough to put an end to emotional eating?

If you’re thinking, that might work, I would love to talk with you. I’m offering FREE emotions & eating assessments this summer. Click here to book yours.

Which feelings are you eating?

Which feelings are you eating?

Feelings and food are inextricably linked—hence an entire field dedicated to Eating Psychology. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, we don’t overeat or eat our feelings because we don’t have self-control. We overeat and eat our feelings because we don’t stop long enough and dig deep enough to feel our feelings or our hunger.

If you’re cringing at the idea of a therapy session in lieu of a 9-mile run, don’t run. Stay with me.

A few weeks ago, I told the tale of the Oregon Eclipse Music Festival. The cliff notes version of the story is that I was really anxious and stressed because my mini vacation was so far from the plans I had for it that it was hardly my mini vacation at all. 

In the stress and anxiety of the moment, it would have been so easy for me to make a U-turn into the donut shop—because that would have yielded satisfaction with great ease.  But instead, I stopped to examine why I was so anxious and what I could do about it. 

I got my ease in other ways. My anxiety ceased and my trip was delightful.

But before I got to a place where I could identify what was going on and address it quickly enough to prevent myself from pulling into the Krispy Kreme parking lot, I did a lot of work to understand myself. I did work to understand how I wanted to feel. 

The feelings we want to feel are, unsurprisingly, the feelings we are looking for when we overeat or emotional eat.  Case in point:  A former client of mine had a tendency to come home to her empty space and reach into the bag of candy over and over and over again. She came to me specifically because she knew her inability to resist the candy bowl was not doing anything for her health. But before we dug into what she should be eating, we dug into why she was feeling it. She was quick to identify that when she got home to that empty house, she would feel lonely.  It’s no wonder she would reach for candy to fill that void. Subconsciously our brains will associate candy with a plethora of pleasant emotions—we get to relive the joy of opening up a bag of brightly colored m&m’s and the connection of sharing them, even when there aren’t actually any friends around to share them with. 

So when she went to reach for the candy bowl to fill the void, she knew why she was doing it and she appreciated the comfort each bite brought, which ultimately left her more satisfied with less candy. And eventually, the simple act of recognizing her loneliness was enough to inspire my client to reach for her phone or go for a walk to say hi to the neighbors instead of reaching for the candy bowl.

Want to stop eating your feelings? You have to start by knowing which feelings you’re craving. 

Here’s how to start the process of uncovering those feels:

Step 1: Pause. Take a deep breath and check in with yourself.
Just stopping long enough to take a breath is a task on its own. We live in a super reactive culture and it’s natural for us to react completely unconsciously. Look for and create more opportunities in your life to notice yourself, your surroundings, and your feelings. 

Step 2: Ask yourself What am I feeling right now? 

To get to the core of how you want to feel, you have to analyze the feelings you know you don’t want. When you’re feeling uneasy, try to specifically name that feeling of dis-ease. (Use a feelings wheel, if you’ve got the time and energy to really dig deep.) Once you can name the feeling you wish you could get rid of, look for it’s opposite.  For example, overwhelm → ease; loneliness → connection; stressed → calm. 

Step 3: Write it down and post it somewhere.
Once you’ve identified what you what to feel, write it on a post-it and put it where you can see it. If you have a constant reminder of what you want to feel, you’re much more likely to seek out experiences that make you feel that way, rather than just basking in what you don’t want to feel. 

If you went through Steps 1 and 2 and you’re still unclear on what you want to feel, never fear. This is more of an exploration than a precise formula. I’ll be writing and sharing videos (follow me over here) about it for the next couple of weeks. 

Seeking ease instead of donuts

Seeking ease instead of donuts

Eating my way to comfort was the only way I knew how to care for myself back then. And I did HAVE to care for myself, otherwise I would have gone nuts.

Have you heard this?

Have you heard this?

The approach I take with my clients who come to me for weight loss is super unconventional. It’s unconventional because I’m more likely to ask them to add foods to their diet than I am to ask them to eliminate foods. I am more likely to ask them about their feelings than how much fat they want to lose. And I’m more I’m more likely to tell them to eat cake than I am to tell them not to.

Sometimes it makes them nervous.

I know you have tried all the diets and all the workouts and are desperate to understand why you can’t lose weight or keep weight off. I also know you’ve read or heard it all — calorie counting, paleo, vegan, sugar-free, fat-free, food-free. (Ok, I may have made that last one up.)

But what you maybe haven’t heard is your diets are stressing you out and your stress is making you fat.

And because you haven’t heard it, it’s going to be hard to be a hard pill to swallow when I ask you to put down the calorie counter and tell me why you want to eat.

I know my clients aren’t always ready to understand how their feelings affect their relationship to food. Even clients who think they are ready don’t totally understand what they are getting into. They come to me to address their eating habits so they can change their weight and while they are always open and cooperative about the feelings piece, they also always want to get down to business and make changes in their diet.

And since I’m all about meeting people where they are, I give the people what they want.

While I’m a big advocate of addressing feelings before fat, here are the most common factors I tackle with my clients in their first month of coaching:

Sugar

There tends to be a lot of sugar in my clients’ diets that they are overlooking. Many of my clients turn to fruit and simple carbs—bread, pasta, pastries— for a pick me up to get them through the day—even smoothies tend to have tons of sugar.

Whether it’s the good kind of sugar or the bad kind of sugar, too much sugar leads to a blood sugar (and mood) rollercoaster.

Rather than asking my clients to eliminate sugar off the bat, I ask them to add more healthy fats in throughout the day—nut butter, avocado, butter, coconut oil, ghee. Fats sustain you for longer, making you way less likely to reach for the sugar.

Overeating/Calorie Restriction

If I had a chocolate tart for every client of mine who barely eats during the day and gets home starving, I’d be hosting the dessert party of a lifetime right now. These clients think they are saving themselves the calories throughout the day, only to find themselves overcompensating for it at dinner time. It’s no surprise they’re overeating at dinner—they are literally starving.

This comes with a slew of problems. Not only do clients end up eating more calories in one meal than they probably would have eaten throughout the day, but they are sending their digestion into overdrive at the end of the day when it should be winding down.

Eat all your meals, people.

And while we are on the topic of eating all your meals, eat them slowly.

Slow Down

If you want to feel satisfied with your meal, you need to take the time to actually realize you’re eating. Put away all of the distractions. Look at your food. Chew your food. Maybe even take a long sip of wine in between bites. Then, and only then, will your appetite be naturally regulated and satisfied. Slowing down while eating is key to allowing time for the signals to reach your brain before you’ve eaten too much.

Give it a try: this week, sit down for at least one meal a day, take three deep breaths before you eat, and put your fork down between bites.  

I go into lots more detail about these practices and many others in my program Wake Up, Buttercup. Click here to check it out.

Calorie counting and over exercise

Calorie counting and over exercise

We’ve all done this. We’ve restricted calories and worked out super hard for days, weeks, months—some of us even years. But just like the hamster eventually gets tired, so will you. 

The Mindless Multitasker

The Mindless Multitasker

She didn’t even notice that she was standing in the shower with a bowl of scrambled eggs in her hand until she had turned on the water.

 

And that is what I call a mindless multi-tasker.

Create memories, not stress

Create memories, not stress

While the notion of people not eating at a party with such beautiful food seemed absurd to me, I immediately recognized that she held this belief because she doesn’t eat at parties.