Category Archives: VIP Blogs

The Biggest Misunderstanding about Emotional Eating

One of the many symptoms of dieting or food restriction, is an increased desire for food in moments of emotional discomfort or distress—otherwise known as “emotional eating.”

Researchers have found a strong correlation between “restrained eating” (e.g.  restriction, diet-mentality, etc.), and a person’s likelihood of turning to food when dealing with emotional stressors. This correlation is so strong, in fact, that researchers have found the exact opposite effect—loss of appetite or interest in food—when those who have no diet history are faced with difficult emotions. You can check out this research in this important book.

Of course, there are several theories as to why we see this correlation—perhaps our ability to “willpower” dwindles when managing emotional challenges? Perhaps we learn to associate food with relief after having been deprived nourishment in our past? Or perhaps another reason altogether?

Irrespective of the reason, the fact remains that our previous assumptions that “emotional eating” is learned from a parent or during some traumatic event, or that we’re simply “born that way,” is an incomplete recall of the likely sequence of events. More likely, we learn diet-mentality—perhaps even the simple belief that “thin is good” and “fat is bad”—and our behaviors follow suit.

This new research has seriously challenged conventional “treatment” for emotional eating, which typically employs some form of diet-mentality (e.g. “don’t eat emotionally!”) to help people “recover” from what are misguidedly considered pathological behaviors.

The problem with this way of “treating” emotional eaters is two-fold:

  1. When we apply diet-mentality to resist emotional eating (e.g. “Emotional eating is bad! Don’t do it!”) we’re actually contributing to the very physical and psychological mechanisms that pre-dispose us to emotional eating to begin with. Additionally, villainization of emotional eating (or any food behavior) is a classic trigger for binge-eating episodes…which is why “I’m bored, I want a cupcake,” so often turns into “I-fell-off-the-wagon-and-I-can’t-stop.” In other words, this way of treating emotional eating doesn’t usually work long-term and will probably spur on more compulsive behaviors around food in the long-run. (Also, if you’re confused about the difference between “emotional eating” and “binge-eating,” make sure to check out Video #2 of my free video training series here.)
  1. Diet-mentality, weight stigma, or villainization of certain food behaviors, is almost certainly more painful and damaging to the psyche of emotional eaters than emotional eating itself. After all, the primary reason that people are so concerned about emotional eating to begin with, is almost always fear of weight gain or fear of “failing at the thin ideal.” If the thin-ideal didn’t exist, it’s unlikely anyone would care! All the self-loathing and self-judgement that makes emotional eating so painful for folks, would literally evaporate if we didn’t attach thinness to love, acceptance, power or self-worth. Outside of the context of diet-mentality, emotional eating is actually a pretty benign form of coping. I can think of a lot more problematic and “unhealthy” ways that people deal with their feelings—like, compulsive comparing, worrying, obsessing, or even food restriction or dieting. In fact, I could easily argue that the worrying, shaming, judging and stressing about emotional eating is much more damaging to our mental and physical health than the simple act of eating over feelings.

This all to say, that in many ways, emotional eating is a product of diet-culture—and not so much a separate issue. The only way to not be tortured by emotional eating, is to let go of diet-mentality around it—not to think too much of it, not to give it so much power. 

This isn’t to say that we can’t practice mindfulness, or listen to our bodies when making decisions about food (those things are great too!), but if our practice of doing so is motivated by fear of weight gain, a belief that emotional eating is “wrong,” or a hyper-vigilance about emotional eating beyond what may be rational if the thin ideal did not exist…you’re probably not doing yourself any favors.

On that note, if you’d like to work with me more deeply around these issues—without contributing to diet-mentality and shooting yourself in the foot along the way—make sure to sign up for my wait list for private coaching. I’ll be sending out details in the next few days—exclusively to those on my wait list here.

Getting out priorities straight around food…

Recovery from “feeling crazy around food,” really begins the moment we decide that we want sanity & freedom

more than we want thinness; more than we want our food to look a certain way.

there will no doubt be triggers towards restrictive thoughts and behaviors along the way; there will no doubt be struggles with body-image, diet-culture, or a desire to control;

but when we decide that our mental health is more valuable than trying to control our food and bodies at all costs; when we prioritize our mental health and well-being over whatever rationalization for dieting/body-hatred that our fear-brains have come up with that day,

that’s when we can finally do honest, effective work towards healing our relationship with food—that’s when we’re really on our way.

Every moment that we make a choice to put our recovery first—over our compulsive desire to control—is a moment that we stand for and move towards our own liberation.

This is the “the work” in a nutshell.

Click here for more reminders.

Rejecting Dualistic Thinking in Your Pursuit of “Health”

Understanding the “non-diet” approach, means understanding “health” on a spectrum basis,  and rejecting over-simplified, dualistic (aka “black” and “white”) interpretations of health in our culture.

In reality, there is no such thing as “100% health” or “100% un-health,”
but rather, we are constantly bouncing around between these imaginary endpoints,
falling on different points on different days, depending on a million factors.

The word “spectrum,” in fact, may itself be misleading,
as health (and health choices) do not fall on one two-dimensional line,
but rather, on a multidimensional matrix—a collage of intersecting realms of “health”
(e.g. physical health, emotional health, and evermore subsections beyond them).

In essence, “health” is not binary

it is not something we “do” or “don’t do,”
it is not something we “have” or “don’t have,”
and it is certainly not something at which we can “fail” or “succeed.”

Health is an ebbing, flowing, living web of choices and experiences,
that we navigate differently from day to day, depending on
our ever-changing priorities, environment, and personal circumstances.

More on this in my video series here.

A note about Intuitive Eating & “Health”

Let it be known, that choosing not to eat something that makes you feel physically unwell in no way conflicts with the non-diet approach.

In fact, this is what traditional descriptions of Intuitive Eating are all about…listening to how your body feels physically, and consideringits needs in your decision making process around food.

If there’s any confusion about this, read this book.

That being said,

“considering” my body’s needs is the operative word here.

As a practical matter, if I choose to eat something “unhealthy” (e.g. my desire to eat something my body doesn’t love outweighs the consequence of not feeling so hot later), it is fully within my right to make that decision.

My mental health and liberation require that I be empowered to make such decisions for myself, because—while diet culture tells us that our life’s “success” or “failure” with food depends exclusively on our BMI, waistline, or our physical health status

I choose to consider my holistic needs,

the complexity of my human experience,
my emotional state,
my desire for soothing,
my pleasure, my fun, my celebration,
my schedule,
my stress relief,
my demands at work and at home,
the physical and emotional resources available to me in any given moment,
which can never be compared to those of anyone else,

right next to my desire for “physical health,” however that may be defined.

And I know what you’re going to say… “but I shouldn’t get my pleasure or soothing from food—I should go to therapy or write in my journal instead!”

To which I say…therapy and journaling are great ways to pursue self-care! Give yourself what you need girl!

AND let’s acknowledge that we don’t live in a perfect world with every self-care option available to us at every moment, nor are our emotional circumstances so one-dimensional that journaling will always feel like an equal substitute to a bowl of ice cream and an episode of Friends.  

Sometimes a bowl of ice cream will be the best that we can do—it all depends on our personal circumstances, complex emotional needs, and what feels most holistically nourishing to us given the resources we have available to us in a particular moment in time.