Emotional eating is something different than what most people think.
Emotional eating isn’t just binging on your favorite ice cream after hearing bad news. It’s actually happening every time you eat in response to your emotions.
What’s even worse is that emotional eating will get in the way of you creating the future you want most.
In this episode, I teach you how to identify when you’re emotionally eating and how to stop.
Here are some of my favorite resources to go along with this episode:
- How To Stop Emotionally Eating (blog post)
- Body Love (podcast)
- How To Love Your Body ( And The Mistakes Most People Make) (blog post)
- Mindset Blog Posts (blog posts to read)
- How To Improve Your Mindset (podcast)
- Overcoming Self Doubt Free Course (free training)
- Grow You (coaching)
Full Episode Transcript
Welcome to the Design Your Dream Life podcast where it’s all about designing your life on your terms and now your host, Natalie Bacon.
What’s up friend? I am so happy to be here with you today. I don’t number my podcast episodes, but today is number 90 which means in 10 episodes we will be at episode 100 and I have a special book being created for you that will be free and I cannot wait to offer that and give that to you to celebrate.
We’ve been together for so long. I vividly remember being so nervous and having so much resistance to starting the podcast because I was so comfortable with blogging and I had no idea how to create and produce a podcast. It probably took me about six months to do it and I share that story so you know that things are easier after you do them for a while and anytime you’re doing something new, there’s a lot of resistance and that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.
It just means that it’s hard and that you can do the hard thing. What are we talking about today? Emotional eating. I think that sometimes I underestimate how important it is for me to talk about health topics. You may not know this, but along with being a certified life coach, I am also a certified weight loss coach. I have personally lost over 25 pounds. That’s including kind of my highest weight, which was in college. I lost a lot of that after college, about 15 of those pounds and in the last year I’ve lost 10 pounds.
There is also an amazing bonus that so many students and members of Grow You use in the bonus courses called Change Your Eating Habits Forever. I share that with you so you know where this is coming from and how I can help you with your health. I think that most of the time we’re talking about our mental and emotional health and that is what will change your body, change your weight, change your experience of the world.
But today I want to specifically talk about it with respect to eating and emotional eating. So what I hear is people saying, I’m not an emotional eater, right? Because they think that being an emotional eater means you are really in the extreme category of in bed eating ice cream, sort of hating yourself and for sure that is one version of it.
But that is not what most of us are doing. Okay. Maybe we’ve all been there or you know, after a breakup or after something really disappointing, we can kind of remember back to when we were using food as a crutch in that way. But I want to talk with you today about the more common emotional eating and I’m defining emotional eating as any time you are eating in response to a positive or negative emotion. Let that sit with you for a second.
It’s eating in response to a positive or negative emotion. So what this means is that everyone is an emotional eater. I know very few people who truly don’t emotionally eat at all, right? Including myself. I still emotionally eat sometimes, but now I have the awareness of what emotional eating really is. So that gives me more freedom because I feel more in control and I know when I’m doing it and I know how it’s getting in the way of the rest of my life.
And that’s what I want you to take away from this episode is not that I want you to take away all the pleasure from your life or all of the good food that you enjoy, but that you are now equipped to with understanding what emotional eating looks like in your life and having the awareness of when you’re doing it and having the option to stop doing it if that’s what you want to do.
And I’m going to try to convince you that there is so much goodness on the other side of giving up being an emotional eater, but that of course it’s not a perfect journey. And like I said, there’s still times when I’m emotionally eating and I’ll share that with you as well.
So let’s talk about what emotional eating looks like. It’s always the eating in response to a positive and negative emotion or negative emotion, right? But there are four different times when I think we are emotionally eating. One is we’re going through life, beating ourselves up. And so we feel terrible because beating yourself up feels terrible. And so you’re eating to feel better, right? It’s like I’m not good enough. And then you feel terrible. So then you eat.
The second time you will emotionally eat is when you’re sort of ignoring how unhappy you are. Your not beating yourself up and saying, Oh my life is miserable. I’m miserable and eating. You’re just ignoring the unhappiness that you’re feeling. You are sort of apathetic about your life. And so your eating to escape that apathy, that dissatisfaction with your life, right? So if number one is sort of that really harsh, beating yourself up, number two is a little bit milder, but the effect of eating to feel better is still the same. It’s still emotionally eating.
The third way I see this, and this is a way I see the most, is using food as a reward for every time you do a good job or want to feel better after hearing bad news. So food is the reward. So you are promoted at work and to celebrate, you go eat right, you are given a raise or you find out amazing news, you know that you’re expecting or whatever the case is.
It could be your kids too. We do this with our kids, right? We’re like, Oh, you know, congratulations. You got good grades or whatever they did, they learned how to ride a bike and so we reward them with food. It’s the ice cream. It’s the donut. It’s usually sugar for kids, not always for adults. It might be a fancy meal, whatever it is, but and now I’m not telling you to never celebrate and I’m not telling you to remove all of the pleasure from your life. I just want you to see that there is a reward in the accomplishment itself. So in accomplishing whatever it is you accomplished in paying off your debt, in getting a promotion in, fill in the blank, whatever that accomplishment is, that is the reward, but you don’t have to get a reward from food. The same is true. This is the third category.
I counted it in here as well is doing it, but in the opposite way. So you hear bad news. So you are mad at your husband for forgetting to pick up something for the kids. So you order take out for yourself to feel better or you’re stressed about a project at work and you kind of escape that stress by microwaving some popcorn and eating.
So anytime there’s a negative emotion or you hear bad news, you immediately seek food. The same as sort of true with alcohol, right? Or drugs. People do drugs, right? It’s to feel better. So you get good news or you get bad news and the reward isn’t in the good news and you don’t know how to just be with the emotional experience of that negative emotion. If it’s bad news. So you seek food to feel better. That’s the third type of emotional eating.
The fourth type of emotional eating is thinking that your food is what connects you to people thinking that food is what makes you have a good time. So it’s going to a party and immediately needing to eat to feel connected. It’s thinking that your connection to people around the holidays is through food.
So follow me here for a second. If you only have a good time because you’re going out to eat, there’s not enough good in your life for you to enjoy yourself and the company because you think that the goodness is coming from the food and if you’re not eating your thinking about the food and that the food is missing and that you can’t have a good time. You are essentially thinking all these horrible thoughts about the party, about yourself and about other people. So you’re judging yourself and them. So truly you don’t actually want to be there.
You want to just eat. And what I say with this fourth category, I think this is the most subtle form of emotional eating. I say that it’s so important for you to bring awareness to this so that you can strengthen your connections with humans, with people.
There’s a difference between going to a party and needing the food to feel good and going to the party to connect and then you happening to eat while you’re there. Do you guys know the difference? I’ve done this before where I need the food. I’m like, get me the food. Where is the food? Then I’ll enjoy this party and the truth is I’m not actually enjoying the party. I’m getting this dopamine hit from the food. I’m trying to feel better by putting something externally into my body to enjoy myself instead of focusing on my thoughts about the party and deciding on purpose if I even want to be there.
When you have the awareness that this is what’s going on in any of the four ways you’re emotionally eating, you can see where it’s a problem in your life and then you can decide when and how you want to remove it. You can focus on your life, you can focus on people and you can focus on connection. I think that the biggest problem is the lack of awareness that we’re even doing it.
So that’s what I want you to do first is bring attention to the fact that you are emotionally eating at some point in the day, right? You’re eating in response to a positive or negative emotion unless you truly plan all your food 24 hours in advance. If you don’t do that, then you are emotionally eating at some point in the day and just notice it. The second part of this, it’s sort of the second problem.
I think the first problem being we don’t have awareness that we’re doing it. The second problem is that once we have awareness that we’re doing it, stopping is really hard. And the reason that it’s hard is because we are eating to seek comfort. We are uncomfortable in our own bodies. We have this emotional discomfort and so we choose food to feel comfort. You guys following me?
This fits in so well with everything I teach with respect to goal setting and how uncomfortable you must be willing to feel in order to transform your life, right? If you are constantly seeking comfort and you want to feel good all of the time, you cannot lose weight, right? You cannot transform your life and grow really and you need more and more comfort to feel better.
So the first part of solving this is awareness is really identifying where you’re doing this in your life and in your day. Okay, it’s, Oh, it’s Friday night and I’m bored, or I’m restless, so I am going to go to the kitchen and see what’s there. Even though I’ve already eaten dinner. I love the quote, and I’m not sure who said it, but it’s snacking is always an emotional event.
When I heard that I felt sucker punched to the stomach because I’ve always been a snacker and I thought about what my life would be like without snacking. And it was actually a Grow You member who said to me that she didn’t really understand what I meant by becoming someone who didn’t even think about losing weight, right? She wanted to lose weight and she didn’t really understand what I was explaining to her about, you know, when you have lost the weight, when you’ve become this person you want to become, you’re not even going to be thinking about it anymore.
And she emailed me and said that she had lost the weight and that she was no longer a snacker. She just didn’t identify as a snacker and she didn’t snack and to her that was the transformation. That’s how she understood and started to understand becoming someone with a completely new identity.
So you can do that kind of cold turkey, but I find that it’s harder, especially if you are new to this work and really changing your identity so you could just decide, I’m just going to stop emotionally eating. I’m going to plan food at least 24 hours in advance, kind of from your prefrontal cortex. That’s what you’re doing there instead of reacting to that toddler in the moment brain, but for a lot of you, that’s going to be really, really hard. It’s easy to plan it. It’s really hard to follow through, right?
That’s what makes this so challenging is the follow through. On the other side of quitting emotional eating is a lot of discomfort because you are eating to feel better and it works, but you don’t grow and you have no way of seeing the truth of your life and what changes you want to make because you’re constantly eating food to feel better.
You would rather eat food to feel better and for some of you gain weight than to sit in the truth of your life and including all of those negative emotions. Now, I will say that this is just at first, so if you stop emotionally eating and you plan all your food at least a day in advance, at first it will be very uncomfortable, but that’s okay. You can do it. You can feel discomfort on purpose. Like I said, if you aren’t willing to feel negative emotion, you’ll continue to gain weight and seek external pleasure to numb that pain.
What I want to offer here is that the secret to being successful with this is to allow any emotion that comes up as if you have chosen it. So go back to my content, my podcast episodes on processing your emotions because this is what you’re going to have to do when you stop emotionally eating. And this is why when I teach weight loss and I teach people how to become conscious eaters and stop emotionally eating, I don’t teach a specific food plan.
I teach you how to create a plan and I give you suggestions, but you get to decide on the actual food that goes into your mouth, right? The reason that this is important is because food goes in the action line, meaning if you are eating, you’re taking action and that’s why a lot of these diets or fads, they will work if you stick to them, but most people don’t stick to them because they don’t get to the cause of the problem.
I teach you how to get to the cause of the problem. It’s like breaking your arm and wrapping a bandage around it and kind of setting it in a sling that’s going to help you feel better temporarily, but it’s not going to help you reset your arm. You need to go to a physician who’s actually going to reset it in order for it to actually heal.
It’s like getting to the symptom of the break versus just covering up. So you can eat kind of whatever you want. You don’t have to give up sugar like I recently did and kind of suggest and talk about, you don’t have to intermittent fast, but that’s one of the options and tools that I like and use because of how it affects your body. But you do have to plan. When you plan ahead and follow through. You stop emotionally eating.
It will be hard, but this is when you start changing the conversation in your head and moving forward without food as your crutch. The emotions that you experience will show you the truth about your life. What are you really thinking about? What are you really feeling? When you allow the emotion and you process it as if you’ve chosen it? That’s a very different experience than resisting it.
So if you feel restless, you can either eat to feel better or you can resist it, which means you’re not eating, but you’re also fighting it, trying to do all the things in your house and you’re avoiding it and you’re, you’re making it worse and it doesn’t go away. Or the third option is you can allow it as if you’ve chosen it. This is really deep work and it’s not easy, but it is the most important work you can ever do in your life. And it’s kind of the foundation for all of the work that I teach. It is allowing your emotions, all of them, the 50% that are good and the 50% that are bad instead of resisting them and trying to cover them up with food.
When you stop emotionally eating, you bring to the forefront what you’re thinking about, what you like and don’t like about your life. And this is the catalyst to change. I talk about this in the podcast where I talked about stopping escaping, right? It’s a very similar in the sense that when you stop all of your escapes, whether it’s TV, social media, alcohol, food, you are presented with your life and it’s very uncomfortable.
But that awareness allows you to decide on purpose, what changes you want to make so that you can create a life that you truly love. You don’t have to stay in the life that you have now, but I promise you that over there there are still problems and negative emotion. So a lot of time I have to remind my students and clients that being future focused and creating your future intentionally is so important, but you also have to remember that it’s not a tool for you to use to escape negative emotion and problems.
Again, the example of going from single to an a partnership, you go from having single people problems to having married people problems. It’s just a different flavor of problems. There is no point where you arrive in your future where you have no problems and that’s okay, right?
That just means all of this, all the growth and the work that we’re doing on ourselves, it’s for fun and we don’t have to beat ourselves up and we also don’t have to use food to feel better. We can start to understand ourselves and be in our bodies and be present in our bodies without that resistance. So notice this about yourself if you are resisting or allowing emotion, if you decide to stop emotionally eating and the way that you do that, I’ve kind of touched on this without saying it expressly, is to plan your food ahead of time.
You plan what you’re going to eat and when and you got to do it at least a day in advance and that’s it, right? Because then you’re not eating in response to your emotions. Right. You are planning from your highest self and your future self will thank you.
I have done this recently, most recently with sugar. I think stopping, drinking alcohol and stopping eating so much sugar in the last year has been what has led to my last 10 pounds, losing the weight the last 10 pounds for me. When I say sugar, I’m not checking all the labels and making sure there’s no sugar in there. I’m just not eating sweets. So for me that was my emotional eating. It was the Reese’s cups and the chocolate and that type of food. So by removing that and removing the alcohol, I feel better, but it was really hard and I still had some of those cravings, but I allowed the discomfort and the way that you allow it without resisting it is you get connected to your body instead of in your head.
I think most people are in their heads and they want to fix it and make it go away. And instead you say, Oh, this is restlessness. I can do restlessness. Where do I feel it in my body? It’s kind of in my chest. Kind of feels a little warm. It’s a little tingley. There’s a little pressure, not so much. And you get connected to the emotional experience of your life.
And interestingly, but not surprisingly, when you are connected and you process and allow your emotion like that, the negative emotion will pass so much more quickly than if you resist it and you’re trying to, you know, Oh, I’m going to go for a walk. I’m gonna listen to music and listen to a podcast to make it go away. You’re trying to solve for it instead of being present with it. So for you in your life, where are you emotionally eating?
I struggled with emotionally eating way more than I ever struggled with my weight and my guilty pleasures has have been snacking and sugar. Alcohol could be a third, but I never really relied on it in the way that I relied on snacking and sweets. So I quit drinking about a year ago and I have enjoyed not drinking. It’s amazing. I always say that I could start drinking again if I want, but I just don’t want to right. I feel very empowered when I think that it’s my choice, it’s my life.
I can always choose differently and right now I really like not drinking. Same as true for sweets. This was more recently I stopped eating the red vines, the Reese’s, the jelly beans. I love chocolate and candy and I didn’t really have a weight problem, but being a life coach and using these tools on my life, I knew that I was becoming more dependent on sweets and I was not able to see the truth of my life because I was seeking comfort with all that sugar and I thought about the long term effects on my body if I kept this up for 20 more years.
So as a challenge for my own growth and to improve my health, I gave up those sorts of sweets, the desserts, the candies, all of that. It was harder for me than giving up the alcohol, but it’s been so worth it. I feel so much more steady. I don’t get those high highs or those low lows with the sugar rush and I’m not using it to feel better, which means I’m in charge of my emotional experience, which means that I’m getting stronger, which means I’ll be able to create my future, right more than I’ve been able to in the past because I’m willing to feel those negative emotions on purpose without resisting them.
If you really want to get good at becoming a conscious eater, the first step is awareness. The second step is planning and the third step is following through. Bring awareness to how you’re using food in your life. Where are you emotionally eating? Do this from a place of love and curiosity. Don’t try to fix yourself. You’re not broken.
You’re just a human doing your best, so you want to approach it very curiously. Huh? That’s so interesting. Every time I eat a meal, I have to have sugar after. Hmm. Every time I get an email from my boss, I go to the kitchen. Hmm. I wonder what that’s about. I wonder what my brain is thinking and I wonder what emotion it’s creating, right?
So bringing attention to the fact that you’re the creator of your thoughts and your feelings will help you here as well. And then you want to create a plan, a food plan. It doesn’t need to be complicated. It’s just something you do a day in advance at least. And say, this is what I want to eat. So you’re planning from your highest self and following through instead of using food to feel better, you’re deciding what goes in your body and using food as fuel. And then the third step is the following through.
And this is the hardest part because it means that you have to be willing to feel those negative emotions, the restlessness, maybe it’s sadness or apathy or even feeling deprived. You have to be willing to feel those emotions and if you’re willing to feel them in the short term, you win in the long term. All right, my friend. That’s what I have for you today. I will talk with you next week.
Hey, if you liked this podcast you really should check out, Grow You, my life coaching program. I coach you on everything I teach on the podcast so that you can uplevel your life. We 10x it so you get the results you want most. Just like a monthly gym membership to get your body in shape, this is a monthly personal development membership to get your mind in shape. It is an investment your future self will thank you for. Check it out at Nataliebacon.com/coaching. That’s Nataliebacon.com/coaching. I will see you there.