Category Archives: Blog

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Reality check: ALL eating is “emotional”

IMG_5097People often ask me,

do you really never eat emotionally anymore?

To which I usually reply something along the lines of, “of course not, everyone eats emotionally sometimes…and anyone who tells you differently is either lying OR pretty f’ing crazy around food (read: restrictive).”

As my friend Wendy Shanker once said, “there are only 6 people who eat food righteously as fuel, and all six of them are Kenyan Marathon runners.”

More on that here…

Lately, however, I’ve been re-framing my answer to this question, because at this point in my eating career, I don’t really categorize my behaviors as either “emotional” or “for physical hunger” in my mind anymore.

The truth is, my food choices are rarely, if ever, either “emotional” or “physical.” They’re almost always both, just in differing degrees and combinations.  

Everything I eat affects me physically AND emotionally, by virtue of the fact that all food both affects my blood sugar and gives me sensual pleasure (i.e. makes me feel good).

And like all other evolutionary processes designed to make us feel good (cough *sex* cough), it’s incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to separate food from emotion entirely.

My relationship with food, like my relationship with sex, is always a dance driven by both physical and emotional desire. And labeling our food choices as motivated by one or the other is not generally practical or realistic in the long run. 

That being said, in the beginning of one’s anti-diet or “intuitive eating” journey, labeling our choices as being either “physical” or “emotional” can be helpful when trying to learn the language of our bodies — a practical tool for early non-dieters to re-learn what they’re bodies are actually calling for, particularly after years of ignoring them.

In the long run, however, we must acknowledge that this way of thinking about food is elementary at best — an oversimplification of a biological process that is much more complicated and nuanced than that.

Food is not “just fuel.” Just like sex is not just reproduction.

And honoring both our physical and emotional desires in all of our eating choices is an important part of not falling into the “hunger and fullness diet” trap.

My suggestion? Let your physical and emotional hungers work in tandem. Let them inform one another, rather than overpower one another. Don’t deny either — as that may easily lead to rebellion — but rather, explore different ways of satisfying and honoring both, in food and in life.

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“I MUST lose weight to feel better about myself”

When I ask women why they want to lose weight, they almost always tell me…

“because I want to feel better in my body.” 

which is such a funny answer to me, because I know that how we feel in our body has nothing to do with our weight…I feel a million times better in my body today than I ever did at my lowest weight, and I’m at least 30lbs heavier now than I was then.

Here’s a little story to make my point even clearer: 

There are two woman, who both weigh 160lbs.

One woman recently lost 50lbs, she’s down from 210lbs; the other, recently gained 20lbs, she’s up from 140lbs.

They are the exact same size today.

But one feels thin, sexy and beautiful as she compares herself to her former self, and the other feels fat and unattractive.

Anyone who saw them both today would say they look exactly alike, although in their own minds, they feel completely opposite. 

What does this tell us about “feeling fat” vs. “feeling thin?” Well, for starters, anyone can “feel fat” or “feel thin” at any size. 

Your weight does not determine your body image;
your weight does not determine whether or not you “feel good in your body,”
your weight does not determine how sexy you get to feel,
your weight is actually irrelevant. 

It’s your perception of your weight that dictates how you feel about yourself. Not your weight itself. 

If two women can look identical, and feel completely different about themselves, that means, the “problem” of feeling badly about yourself is in your mind — not on your ass. (Tweet it).

This may seem obvious, but over and over again I hear women say that they “need” to lose weight in order to feel good about themselves.

And that’s just fucking bullshit. 

What if the answer to feeling badly about yourself wasn’t losing 10lbs; what if the answer to feeling badly about yourself was a shift in perception? 

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What does "normal" eating even mean?

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So the first question that usually comes out of people’s mouths when I say the phrase “normal eating,” is something along the lines of “what does ‘normal’ eating even mean?”

Like, most of us “get” that there are people in the world who
don’t really think about food,
and just eat what they want,
and naturally end up eating an “appropriate” amount food without really trying,
because they don’t really care about food that much to begin with. 

but we don’t understand how.

“What are they doing that I’m not?!”
“I don’t understand people like that!”

It took me a really long time to understand and emulate “normal eaters,” and that’s because I was approaching “trying to be normal” in all the wrong ways.

I was trying to control myself, trying to do something different with food, trying to “eat when hungry and stop when full” or whatever other way I was trying to “do” normal eating. 

But the reality of the situation is, “normies” aren’t doing “normal eating.”
There’s no “way” they’re eating, that you haven’t heard of before.
There’s no “trick” they’re employing, that you’ve never heard of.

They’re not doing anything.

“Normal eating” isn’t something a person doesit’s something a person thinksFurthermore, “normal eating” is not defined by how or what a person eats, but rather, by how one feels about themselves. 

If you’re “okay” with how you’re eating, how you’re eating is “okay.”
Conversely, If you’re “not okay” with how you’re eating, how you’re eating becomes “not okay.”

(And we all know what happens when we cross that line of “not okay.” All hell seems to break loose.)

The point is, it’s how you feel about what you’re eating that makes the difference, not what you’re eating in and of itself.

When you judge your performance around food — when you decided that there’s an imaginary line in the sand where “okay” ends, and “not okay” begins — you will inevitably cross that line, and probably lose your shit.

“Normies” don’t have a line to cross. If they eat a big dinner, they eat a big dinner. No big deal. If they have a cupcake in the middle of the day for no reason, they eat a cupcake and move on with their lives. If they eat an entire bag of chips in a sitting, they eat the bag and then think “ughg I need water,” and get over it.

What they eat has NO bearing on their self-esteem. It means nothing.

THAT is the difference between “Normies” and Emotional Eaters — it’s not what they’re doing, it’s how they feel about what they’re doing.

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“Feeling your Feelings” is not the full story…

IMG_2292We often hear “emotional eating experts” encourage women to “feel their feelings” instead of “numb out” with food.

Which is somewhat sound advice, as there is no doubt in my mind that getting in touch with your emotions is incredibly important for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you eat over them — I encourage my clients to feel their feelings whether they eat while doing so or not. 

That being said,  

thinking we can live a life without coping mechanisms is totally unrealistic — it goes against our biological instincts to seek pleasure and avoid pain. 

You will experience discomfort for the rest of your life, and you will reach for some kind of coping mechanism to deal with at least a portion of that pain.

Not to mention that coping mechanisms are what allow us to function during times of emotional duress. We need breaks from crying when trauma occurs. Feelings can’t be processed every moment of every day. We have to get out of bed, go to work, pick up the kids, do our laundry...

Coping mechanisms take the edge off so we can show up for life in the midst of our pain. 

Now,

when we need to pull out a coping mechanism (for whatever reason), humans usually go for the one that seems most appealing or soothing in the moment— which is usually determined by gut-instinct, not “logic.” 

The truth is, we’re not necessarily in control of which coping mechanism we choose when we’re experiencing discomfort (which is one of the reasons “taking a warm bath” doesn’t work).

But we do know one thing — dieting (i.e. trying to control our food/weight) — keeps food on the brain, so we’re more likely to turn to food as our “go-to” coping mechanism.

In other words,

The more we obsess,

the more we try to control food,

the more time we spend googling paleo recipes…

the more likely we are to turn to food for comfort. 

When we stop dieting, however, and let our natural, biological instincts around food take over without guilt, judgement, or attempts at controlwe naturally start to develop new non-food-related coping mechanisms. We make space in our brain for new practices of self-care to emerge.