A smart, step-by-step plan for breaking free from emotional eating | TMOHP Episode 111

This week I'm sharing a step-by-step plan for breaking free from emotional eating.

Most smart women who struggle with emotional eating (stress eating, comfort eating, or eating to avoid or cope with other feelings) make a strategic mistake. They use up all their energy and discipline focusing on the wrong thing – food. Breaking free of emotional eating cycles happens when you look beyond the food and start addressing the reasons cravings and overeating are happening. This time around, start with a winning game plan. I’m sharing the steps you can take to build a foundation for lasting results with tried-and-true success strategies.

In this episode:

  • A deprivation-free step-by-step plan to break emotional eating habits and stop overeating
  • Why you don’t start by figuring out what to eat
  • Techniques that diminish cravings and urges to overeat

The 14-Step Plan for Breaking Free from Emotional Eating

1. Practice asking yourself why you are eating or why you are feeling hungry instead of focusing solely on what to eat.

This helps you identify the root cause of your overeating.

2. Create a clear picture of what “peace with food” means for you.

Visualize yourself at your best and the role you want food and eating to play in your life.

3. Use curiosity to target what you’re really craving.

Before you eat, ask yourself what triggered your hunger and what you are feeling. Feeling hungry doesn’t necessarily mean you need food. You may need something else like a break, stress-relief, reassurance, or even sleep.

Psychologist Dr. Melissa McCreery

Free Masterclass! How to Create YOUR Plan to Stop Overeating & Emotional Eating

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4. Substitute curiosity for self-blame and perfectionism when you get off track.

There is a lot of important information available when things don’t go well. Examine why you overate and what you can learn from any missteps. This helps you be successful in the future.

5. Develop a bigger vocabulary to describe your emotions.

Getting better at identifying your feelings helps you learn how to respond to them instead of overeating.

6. Record what’s on your mind.

Write a paragraph or two about how you are feeling every day. Journaling is a powerful way to download your brain and address your emotions directly instead of turning to food.

7. Find ways to connect with yourself and to stay aware of your feelings, your hunger, and your needs.

Set a reminder on your phone to check in with yourself, practice meditation, or spend quiet time alone.

8. Respect your need for “me” time and self-care.

Practice doing something just for you on a daily basis.

9. Identify the feelings that can trigger emotional eating.

Experiment with alternate ways of addressing them.

10. Keep it positive.

Focus on what you will do instead of declaring what you won’t do or eat.

11. Be playful and be curious when you are starting a weight loss plan.

Expect to make mistakes, encounter bumps, and to tweak your plan as you go.

12. Create reminders.

These can be phrases, pictures, quotes, etc. of your peace with food goal. Put the reminders where you will see them frequently.

13. Identify a support system and practice using it.

Friends and mentors can help you stay on track when you don’t feel confident or motivated or need a gentle push forward.

14. Be honest about who you are and what works for you.

Your eating and weight loss plan or program must be a good fit for you and your life if it is going to work.


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Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Free Masterclass  Learn how to stop overeating and emotional eating - without the frustration, vicious cycles, or going hungry. You’ll also get an inside look at Your Missing Peace, my coaching program for creating freedom from overeating. 
  • Your Missing Peace  is the program for women ready to stop overeating and emotional eating for good. Enrollment is open and NOW is the perfect time to join us! Go here to learn more
  • Facebook Community. Join my free Facebook community here.
  • Private Coaching. One-on-one coaching is for you if you’re looking for something completely individualized and specific to your situation. Openings are limited. Learn more here.

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Full episode transcript:

Hello, everybody welcome back to the podcast. Or welcome if this is your first episode. Today I am going to address something that I hear over and over and over again. Over and over, I hear the same thing. Here's what I hear. I hear, I just want someone to tell me what to do. What am I supposed to do? I'm so tired. I'm so tired of fighting with my eating. I'm so tired of fighting with my weight.

And my brain is so full of to do lists and shoulds and suggestions and plans. And it's just overwhelming. So just tell me, what am I supposed to do? Where do I start? What even works? How do I change my eating? How do I lose the weight for good? How do I stop overeating at night? Just tell me what to do.

Okay. You have heard this from me before, but let's just be consistent, let's keep with the theme because it's important. Most smart women who struggle with emotional eating or stress eating or comfort eating, or eating too numb or eating to avoid or eating to cope with all the other things that are going on in their lives...

Most smart women make a strategic mistake .And it is a well-earned strategic mistake because they have been taught to make this mistake their whole lives. But what they do is they use up all their energy and their discipline trying to stop overeating by focusing on the wrong thing. Focusing on food.

Those pleas that I shared with you. What do I do? Those pleas for what to do are usually embedded so deeply in deprivation, thinking. Deprivation, thinking that you are so familiar with you probably don't even recognize is there. What am I supposed to do? That question is almost always code for how am I supposed to eat? What am I supposed to do is almost always really the question, just tell me how to eat in disguise.

And it's important to recognize that because breaking free from emotional eating happens when you look beyond the food. And when you start addressing the reasons that these patterns are happening. The reasons that the cravings are happening, the reasons that the overeating is happening.

So in this episode, I'm going to satisfy your brain. Kind of. I'm going to give you a step by step plan for how to break free from emotional eating from overeating. I'm going to tell you what to do. But it is probably not at all what at least that deprivation part of your brain thinks it's going to hear.

So here you go. This is my diet free deprivation free plan for breaking free from emotional eating. Otherwise known as a smart plan for ending emotional eating in a lasting way. Now, there is quite a bit of information in this episode. It is simple and it's straightforward, but it's actually quite a bit of information. So I have two suggestions.

First, let it wash over you. Just let it wash over you. Don't worry about taking in every single thing I'm saying here. Listen to the episode. And just notice what pieces sound either the most currently important or relevant for you. Or the easiest to implement. Or Start with the first step, listen to the others, but, but take action with the first step and don't worry about the others yet. You can re listen to this episode.

If you want a deeper dive into this process after you listen to the episode, know that this is all covered and practiced and taught and coached on inside Your Missing Peace, which is my six month coaching program where we create freedom from overeating in lasting ways. And I will put a link to that. You'll find that in the show notes.

I'm also going to drop a link for a free on demand masterclass that goes deeper into what I'm sharing with you today, and will help you get more ideas about how you can implement this in your own life. Okay?

So what are the steps? Let's get to the steps. Here is the no food plan required diet free deprivation, free plan for breaking free from emotional eating. And again, I'm going to clarify this one more time. These steps are simple, but they are deep. And the last step in the process is going to be rinse and repeat. So be patient with yourself don't worry about getting anything perfectly. All you need to do is practice these steps.

I actually love the word practice because that's what this is. This is a practice. It is something that you and I are practicing. And it implies that you aren't going to get it perfect and you don't need to. So the first step in this process is to practice. Practice asking yourself why you're eating or why you're feeling hungry.

Practice these things, these questions, instead of focusing solely on what to eat. Just practice. The more you practice, the better you are going to get at paying attention to, identifying and noticing the root cause of your overeating. What's motivating the overeating or the emotional eating that's happening?

The next thing that you can put into place is, and this is actually really important, create a clear picture of what peace with food means for you. Keywords, picture and peace with food. Right? What is that feeling that you want to have with food? What does that look like? Visualize yourself at your best with food, the way you want to be with food. The way you want to feel with food and the role you want food and eating to play in your life.

What you want is something that you can visualize that you can see and that you can feel. Create a clear picture of what peace with food means and feels like and looks like for you.

Okay, step three. Practice using curiosity to target what it is that you're really craving. Okay, there are layers to this because you may be saying, I don't know what I'm really craving. I don't know why I'm eating. I don't know the reasons.

Practice using curiosity. Before you eat, ask yourself questions. Be curious. Ask yourself what triggered your hunger. Ask yourself what you're feeling. Feeling hungry doesn't necessarily mean that you need food. It might. But you might need something else like a break or stress relief or reassurance or... Even sleep or maybe especially sleep.

Practice using curiosity and being open to the idea that it is worthwhile being clearer or figuring out what it is that is triggering you're hungry, why you're hungry, what it is that you might be really needing.

Once you've started playing with curiosity, then move on to the next level. Substitute curiosity for self blame. Substitute curiosity for perfectionism, especially when you get off track or when things don't go the way that you want them to go. There's so much important information available when things don't go well. But we lose that information when we just descend into that spiral of being mad at ourselves or deciding that it's all ruined because it didn't go perfectly.

Substitute curiosity in those moments, and you can be amazed. Examine why it is that you overate. Examine why it is that today was harder than yesterday was. Ask yourself what you can learn from any of the steps that you took, or the actions that you took that you aren't so happy about. This is going to help you learn about what it is that you really need, about what it is that works for you and doesn't, and How you can be more successful in the future.

Are you seeing how this stuff is, on the one hand, really simple, and on the other hand, how far it can take you if you really play with this? And also how we're not talking about what to eat. We've actually gone to the next bigger, much more impactful level.

So, the next step... That you can incorporate, that you want to incorporate into your mission to create freedom from overeating and emotional eating is to start working on developing a bigger vocabulary to describe your emotions.

Why is this important? Well, because I have known so many women who are very verbal, very smart, very educated, who don't have a very sophisticated relationship with their own emotions, with their own feelings. And so aren't as adept as they could be at identifying what is it that's going on.

When you get better at describing, well, at identifying and then describing your feelings. When you get clearer and better at this, you are going to be more adept at learning how to respond to those feelings instead of overeating. Bad, as in I feel bad, is not a feeling. I feel like I want to go get something to eat is not a feeling.

The bigger, the broader, the richer your vocabulary is for identifying what is going on. And it might be an emotional feeling. Sometimes it's a feeling in your body. My chest feels really tight. My shoulders are up around my ears. My stomach is hurting. Sometimes it is starting with these physical things that can help us get into the emotional words.

And the more you can fine tune what it is that you're feeling. As in, I feel like going to the vending machine to get three candy bars. Well, why do you feel that way? What is the feeling? I'm feeling anxious and I'm feeling like I really disappointed that person in the meeting. The more you understand what's going on with your feelings, the more you can respond to them.

Recently in my private Facebook community, I asked a question about journaling. And I have to admit, I was a little surprised at how few people who responded actually journal or write things down about how they're feeling or what's going on in their lives. Journaling is an incredibly powerful tool. Which brings me to the next step in this plan to break free from emotional eating that I think is so underused and can be so useful.

This step is to record what is on your mind. And by recording, I mean writing, preferably by hand. Although if you are absolutely tied to your keyboard or your phone, you know, that's okay. But there is research that writing by hand is more effective. Write a paragraph or two. Just, just a paragraph about how you are feeling every day. Create a ritual and in the morning or at lunchtime or at the end of the day. Where you stop and you write a few sentences about how you're feeling.

Journaling is this amazing way to download your brain. To untangle what is going on in your head. To actually create some space between you and the thoughts or the emotions that you're having. And when you get them out on paper, sometimes you can actually see them differently or think about them with a different perspective.

Journaling is a powerful way to well, a powerful way to take your power back. To start to get not just clarity about what's going on, but there's something that happens when you take the time to put things on paper and you go through that process. Where you can create enough distance that that will allow you to be less reactive and more purposeful and more intentional about what you do with these feelings in these situations.

And this process can help you be a lot more effective at addressing your emotions and your needs in ways that are different and actually more effective for you than turning to food or overeating or having a binge. Going on autopilot, basically. Which is what we often do with food. Journaling, stopping, thinking about what's going on and going through that process of writing about it, even if it is just a few sentences can be a complete game changer.

Okay, next step. Find ways to connect with yourself and to stay aware of your feelings, your hungers and your needs. What does that mean? Set a reminder on your phone to check in with yourself. Establish rituals like Journaling in the morning or taking a few deep breaths before you dive into a stressful project. Establish rituals or habits. Practice meditation. Try some guided visualizations Plan for quiet time even if it is just a few minutes in between activities.

Finding those ways to connect with yourself finding those opportunities Where you are in a space where you have the space that will allow you to be aware of what it is that you're feeling, whether you are hungry or not, what it is that you're hungry for, it might not be food, what it is that you're needing in that moment. Repacing or recalibrating your life so you have those instances throughout your day will make a huge difference.

Sometimes people ask me about the connection between self-care and emotional eating and overeating. And these things are absolutely connected. One of the steps in the process for taking your power back or breaking the cycle of emotional eating is to start respecting your need for me time and self-care. And start working on any kind of mindset issues that you have that tell you that you are not entitled to these things. Or that they are extra or that they are luxuries. They absolutely are not.

Overeating and emotional eating is so often a replacement for me time and self-care that these things are fundamental needs. So practice doing something just for you on a daily basis. That's a good way to get started. Make that a commitment. Practice doing something just for you on a daily basis and make it a commitment, a promise that you will keep to yourself.

So don't be all pie in the sky about this. If your commitment is, I am going to do something for me every day. Then it has to be the size. The kind of thing that you can actually keep your promise about. Don't worry about it being too small. If you're not getting me time and self-care and you start with something small. That's more than what you had. That's more than what you had originally. If you are only sporadically getting what you need and you make a commitment to be consistent by keeping a small promise to yourself that is going to be huge.

All of the pieces, the steps that I am sharing with you today are going to help you feel more confident and more capable. Will not help you feel, help you be more confident and more capable at feeding your hidden hungers. At taking care of you. At taking care of the situations and the reasons that can lead to patterns of overeating and emotional eating. And it helping you become more aware of what the issues and the patterns are so that you can take your power back from them.

Which brings me to the next step in this plan, which is something we've kind of been talking about all along, but I really want to make sure it's specific. And that is, you want to practice identifying the feelings that can trigger emotional eating.

So you've worked on expanding your vocabulary for feeling words and, you know, paying attention and asking yourself what it is. Start connecting the dots. .Start identifying how your feelings and emotions trigger emotional eating, trigger an urge to go numb. Trigger you're wanting to use food to push something away, and then start experimenting with alternate ways of addressing those feelings.

Or start creating more strategies for coping with those feelings. If you have feelings that make you exquisitely uncomfortable, pull in that curiosity. Be curious about that. And consider being open to developing some new skills or some strategies. Or here's a big one. That's so hard for high achievers, getting some help with this. Get some help. Create more emotional resilience and emotional confidence. And you will have more power over anything that has triggered you in the past to overeat.

Here's something else I want you to consider. And you can actually think about this as a literal step in the process. That is that I think it is so important. When you are working to change a pattern with food to keep it positive. Deprivation mentality and diet culture has done such a good job on, on ingraining in us this, this deprivation. Right?

What you aren't going to do. What you can't have, what you are going to go without. How strong you are going to be. How much willpower is going to be required? You are going to get a long way with making changes and partly because you'll, you'll get farther, partly because it will feel so much better if you set yourself up for success by keeping it positive.

What do I mean about that? Well, first of all, focus on what you will do instead of always declaring what it is you aren't going to do. That's a path for deprivation. I'm not going to eat dessert. I'm not going to buy chips anymore. I'm not going to eat after seven o'clock. Right?

Focus on what you will do. Focus on the additive things. I am going to go to the grocery store every Thursday. I am going to include vegetables in my meal. I'm going to eat a salad with protein for lunch. I am going to journal every morning. I am going to stop starting over. I'm going to keep going. Keep it positive. Focus on what you will do. Plan for what you will do instead of getting sucked into that mindset of all the things that you aren't going to do. Or the things that you are going to give up. Don't set yourself up for a deprivation plan.

Okay, next step. Be playful. Combine playfulness and curiosity whenever you start a plan to change your eating. So when you get to the food part, and if this is a weight loss plan, you want to be playful and you want to be curious. None of this hard stuff, tough love, I'm going to be strong. I'm going to be powering through. Be playful, be curious, expect to make mistakes, expect to encounter bumps. Not because there is something wrong with you, but because that is the human experience.

Expect that you are going to need to adjust your plan as you go. Approach whatever it is that you are starting to do. And I really mean this. If it is a food plan that you have decided to embark on. Be playful, be curious. What works? What didn't? Oh, what do I learn from what didn't go so well? If it is something like even joining the Missing Peace program, you will find when you're in there, we talk so much about doing things imperfectly.

We talk a ton about being playful. Having fun, experimenting. When something doesn't go well, it's not like, Oh, I'm so sorry. It's like, well, okay. So what do you know about that? What did you learn? Expect to be human.

We have been taught way too well that when it comes to overeating, somehow getting it right means being perfect and being a superhero. And by the way, we're never going to do it. Which is why there is an industry that has made millions and millions of dollars around people constantly feeling like they blew it and they have to start all over again. So be playful. You can have fun with this.

Okay, next step. Important for high achievers who are really used to just getting stuff done and being successful sometimes on the very first try. You want to create reminders. So much of creating peace with food and freedom from overeating is about doing things differently. It's about stepping out of one mindset that deprivation mindset. And starting to learn different ways of thinking, starting to embrace different beliefs. Starting to realize that small actions can be powerful, that it doesn't have to be all or nothing that you don't have to get it perfect. And so you are going to need reminders.

These can be phrases or pictures or quotes that inspire you. These can be timers that you set on your phone to remind you to do a new habit that you are trying to build. Right? It's journaling time. Don't expect yourself to hold all this stuff inside your head. You're busy. These can be reminders of the vision that you have of what peace with food is going to look like and feel like, and be like for you.

Create reminders that motivate you. Create reminders that help you stay consistent. Create reminders to be playful and to be curious. To be positive, instead of creating a long list of things I won't do today. Right? Use reminders to help you rewire your brain and your habits. It will go a long way.

Another step that is so important for high achievers is to identify a support system and practice using it. I cannot tell you how many highly capable, amazing women I have met who are feeling so isolated and so alone in this journey. And here's what happens when we are alone with the thoughts we have in our head it is really hard to change them.

And shame and guilt and self-blame they flourish in isolation. And I will tell you diet mentality, deprivation thinking is a breeding ground for shame and guilt and self blame.

So many women who I work with, so many women who joined the Missing Peace program will say after, One experience in the group or a week or so in the program, wow, I had no idea there was a group like this. Or wow, I had no idea that other people thought the way that I did. Or wow, I didn't realize how alone I felt with this.

So I realize that when it comes to eating and overeating, that can be a very personal thing. It is a very personal thing. And there are a lot of systems out there that are supposedly set up to give us support that don't feel very supportive at all.

You want to be discerning about choosing your support system. A support system should feel supportive, not judgmental. And you also don't want to ignore all the research that continue, the research that continues to grow and grow and grow about the value of connection, human connection and support for our mental health and for our success. So this is an important step.

Alright, the last step before we get to the rinse and repeat part of this cycle is to be honest. Be honest about who you are and about what works for you. There is not one singular path to creating the kind of results that you want. In fact, the kind of results that you want are probably different from the person who might be sitting next to you.

The results that you want, the picture that you have of what peace with food is and looks like and feels like for you. The way of eating that is going to work for you. That is unique to you. Your eating your weight loss plan, if weight loss is a part of this, your ongoing relationship with food, the program that you use to get there has to be a good fit for you. It has to fit your life. It has to fit your style if it's going to work.

Again, diet culture has done a number on us by teaching us over and over and over again, that if something didn't work, you failed. If you didn't lose the weight, you failed. If you're still binging, you failed. Instead of teaching you that so often, so much of the time, what happened is that the plan failed you.

So, these are the steps. They are simple steps. They are deep steps. There is very little in here that has to do with food. But they will change so much about how you interact with food. How you think about food. And how you use food.

Play with these. They are simple, they are not a diet, and you will never get them perfect, but you don't have to.

Just try them out. And like I said, rinse and repeat, keep moving through them, be curious, be playful, and keep moving forward.

I'll talk to you soon.

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Your Missing Peace is the psychologist-designed program that provides the tools, the support, the coaching, and the confidence to create freedom from emotional eating and overeating. Finally - emotional eating help done right! Your Missing Peace is specifically designed for smart, high-achieving women who are DONE with diets, who want a lasting solution, and who are ready to take their power back from food, from overeating, and the scale. 

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