How Curiosity Can Break Emotional Eating Habits | TMOHP Episode 133

Let’s tackle the challenge of emotional eating head-on. In this episode, I’m offering a specific plan centered around the powerful strategy of curiosity. I’ll explore how understanding the reasons behind emotional eating can empower you to regain control over your eating habits. By fostering curiosity rather than self-blame, you can uncover the underlying needs driving overeating and emotional eating and develop tailored strategies for healthier eating patterns. Through prompts and exercises, this episode guides you through a journey of experimentation to cultivate lasting peace with food.

In this episode:

  • The curiosity strategy as a powerful tool for overcoming emotional eating habits.
  • How self-blame prevents growth and change.
  • Practical tips and prompts for you to explore your emotional eating patterns and identify your underlying needs and cravings.
  • Guidance on designing a personalized seven-day experiment to address emotional eating triggers and test alternative coping mechanisms.

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Freedom from Overeating Roadmap for Smart, Busy Women is your guide to ending overeating and emotional eating habits. Designed for multitaskers and busy women, you’ll take your power back from overeating with this free guide which includes resources for addressing the reasons you overeat and a user guide for Dr. Melissa’s most popular podcast episodes. Download your roadmap here:
  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz. The free Hidden Hungers Quiz was designed to help you target the reason you're overeating so you can create changes that last. Take a few minutes to find out what you're really craving (that isn't food) and get your Hidden Hunger profile and customized action guide. Join over 34,000 women who have used the free quiz to get to the root of their overeating and emotional eating.
  • Your Missing Peace is my signature 6-month 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
  • Private Coaching for Emotional Eating and Overeating: I have openings in my schedule to work with about twelve women a year and openings are filled as space becomes available. Private coaching meetings are scheduled via Zoom or phone and we can connect from anywhere in the world. Private coaching is customized to you and your goals and we'll work together for a minimum of six months. Learn more and apply here.
  • Visit for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

Episode Transcript

Hello everybody, welcome back to the podcast. And if this is your first episode, welcome. I hope that in listening to this, you take away something of value for you and for your relationship with food. In this episode, I am going to talk about curiosity and how curiosity can break emotional eating habits.

I have a specific plan for you that you can start to play with and to put into practice. We all know that emotional eating can feel like a very strong habit. And when you are deep in the trenches with it, it can feel overwhelming to think about how you're ever going to overcome this habit that is so ingrained.

It doesn't have to be this way. You can cut through the overwhelm that your brain wants to create and work with a very simple strategy. This is a strategy that you can leverage that you can use in all sorts of situations, just about every situation to take control of emotional eating. And when you use it correctly, we're talking about curiosity here, this strategy can be an absolute power tool.

It allows you to focus your efforts with this precision that's quite frankly, it's laser like. It helps you reduce struggles with emotional eating. It can reduce your need for willpower. It can also minimize and even take away your cravings and your urges to overeat. You can use this simple curiosity strategy to increase motivation, to increase energy, And to feel better as you are at the same time, creating peace with food.

I know it sounds like magic. I know it sounds like an unrealistic thing that somebody sells on late night television, but this magic that I speak of is the curiosity strategy. It is what I recommend to everyone I work with. It is what you need to start with. Absolutely. If you are ready to take control of emotional eating.

So let's dive into this. What does it mean to use curiosity to take control of emotional eating? When you start to use curiosity strategically to change emotional eating and overeating habits, you start with the assumption that there are important reasons that you are eating the way that you are. Even if you don't like the way that you're eating. If you're eating too much sugar, if you are constantly snacking throughout your work day, there is a reason.

If you stay up late and you overeat at night after everyone else has gone to bed, there is a reason. If you're in a cycle of losing weight and then regaining it and then rinsing and repeating, there's a reason for this too. Before we go any further, it is also important to cover or to review what curiosity is not.

Or rather, I want to warn you about the first thing that your brain might do when you decide, okay, I'm going to play this curiosity game. Your brain will not be unusual at all if she defaults to deciding that the answer to your curious questions is self-blame. So if your brain starts to say things like, oh yeah, I know why I'm eating, I just need to stop buying the ice cream.

Or, I know what this emotional eating is about, and I'm just too lazy to do what I know I should do. Or, it's my fault. I just don't stick with things. I just don't work hard enough. I just don't try hard enough. Self-blame, deciding that you are the answer, is not the way out of overeating. And when it comes to using curiosity strategically, focusing on self-blaming and on the guilt that goes with it is actually backing you into a corner, and that is not effective.

Here's why. Once you decide that you are to blame, once you decide that it's all your fault, there is actually nothing left to be curious about. You've decided. It's you. It's you. It's your fault. Problem solved. You have shut down curiosity. And when you shut down curiosity, there is no room to learn and to grow. There is very little room to change. You decide it's your fault. You need to be different. End of story.

This is a really common process that our brains go through. Self-blame. End of story. It's your fault. Just be different. Just try harder. Let's be honest. How's that working for you so far? It's not. So put aside the self-blame.

So you put aside the self-blame. You start being strategic about using curiosity and looking for the reason that you are eating in the way that you're eating. Now, the curiosity strategy is really powerful because of this assumption, which turns out to be true, that when you understand the reasons for emotional eating and overeating, you start to have a ton more power and ability to address them, to take care of them, to respond to them.

And when you're able to respond to these real hungers, the need for stress relief or the need for rest or compassion or whatever it is that you're really needing. Then food loses its power because you've been using food as a band aid. You've been using food as a way to not focus on what you need or to not have to deal with it or to numb yourself out.

Not only that, when you address those real hungers, those underlying needs, your life gets better. Because you're taking care of yourself. You're getting what you really need. And when your life gets better, you're addressing your underlying needs. You feel more motivated to continue what you're doing because there's a payoff in it.

It's not all about Self-control and restraint and discipline and not eating certain things. It's actually about feeding yourself and getting more of what you really need and want and what feels good.

So let's talk about what it looks like to put this into place. Let's talk about a plan. How do you start using curiosity to take control of your emotional eating? How do you connect the two? So for many people, the easiest way to begin doing this is through writing. And this is something I'm a big fan of. And when I say writing, I want to encourage you to do it the old fashioned way. I want to really encourage you to grab a piece of paper or a notebook and a pen. There are some reasons that that works better than typing on a keyboard. We have research to show this.

So get comfortable. Don't overthink this, grab something to write with, and then take some time. Sit quietly in a place where you feel safe to do this and consider the following prompts that I'm going to give you without judgment. Remember judgment and self-blame are a dead end for curiosity.

There aren't any right answers. Just give yourself permission to write what comes to you. Give yourself permission not to know all the answers to the questions that you're going to ask yourself. Just focus on what you do know and give yourself a little bit of space, but you don't want to overwhelm yourself with this idea of writing, because actually the point of these questions is to get your brain thinking in directions that maybe it hasn't gone before and so it can be overwhelming to put yourself in a space where you're staring at a bunch of questions You don't fully know the answer to.

Keep it simple and keep it doable I would suggest maybe giving yourself three minutes to write in response to each of these prompts Another way that you can fight the perfectionism that often comes up or the tendency to self-sabotage that our brain wants to do is to Make an agreement with yourself that for each of the prompts, you're going to write for at least three minutes. And you're going to keep your hand moving on the paper.

You're not going to stop. If you don't know what to write, you just keep writing what comes up. Even if it is, I don't know what to write, but I'm not going to stop writing. What you want to do is create an environment and create some time and some space and some permission to just allow yourself to be curious and to wonder about what you know and about what you can discover.

So don't overthink this, give yourself permission not to get any kind of perfect answer and maybe not even a complete answer. And make an agreement with yourself that you're just going to keep writing and keep asking and keep an openness to curiosity, no matter what comes up. This is how you start leveraging curiosity to change emotional eating and overeating habits.

The first question that I want you to play with is this one. In a typical 24 hour day, what one period is the most challenging when it comes to emotional eating? And what do you know about why this is? So I want you to start by choosing one part of your day to focus on. Just one. It could be late afternoon, or maybe it's right before bed.

Maybe it's after lunch. Maybe it's while you're preparing dinner, or when you're trying to complete a difficult project at work. Pick one period, one time of day, or one event and ask yourself, be curious, what's significant about this particular situation or this particular time? What is going on at this time of day?

What do you know about why this is challenging? And again, give yourself three minutes. Write whatever comes up, don't stop writing. Give yourself an expanded space to be curious and to listen to yourself.

The second question to play with is this. During this same time period, the one that you just identified, what do you know about how you are feeling, either physically or emotionally or both? What do you know about what you might be needing or wanting that isn't food?

And again. You are just going to be curious and write. This is your only job. So, what do you know about how you're feeling, what you are needing, what you are wanting? Are you tired or stressed or bored? Are you frustrated or anxious? Are you feeling confused? Maybe you're feeling adrift, like not really anchored or sleepy.

Again, there are no right answers. Focus on what you know. Or focus even if you don't know what you know, maybe what do you think you might know? What is possible about your situation? Ask yourself about what you know about what you're feeling and then do the same with what you know about what you might be needing or craving or wanting that isn't food.

You will probably hit a wall of I don't know at some point. That is human. That is absolutely fine. That is part of what happens when you start being curious. Don't let it stop you. Just keep your hand moving for three minutes. Do your best not to judge whatever comes up as right or wrong, because there's no such thing and don't get into this trap about whether it's solvable or not.

You're practicing being curious about what comes up. About what you know, about why this time period when eating is such a challenge is such a challenge. What do you know about what you might be needing or wanting and what you're feeling during that time?

All right. The next thing I want you to play with with writing is I want you to brainstorm a list of ways that you could possibly address or simply acknowledge and respect the needs or the feelings that you wrote about in the last question.

Write down everything that occurs to you. Be curious, stretch your thinking, challenge yourself to keep brainstorming for at least three minutes. Just keep writing every idea you have, every thought you have about what you might do to address the needs, the feelings, the desires that come up. Or if you can't address them, how could you acknowledge them? How could you be with them?

Be curious. I know this is challenging sometimes, but curiosity needs time and space to pay off. You really want to give yourself the time even if, and especially if, you don't know what to write. Just keep going.

Then what I want you to do is take what you've written, take a look at it, and design what I call an experiment. I want you to design a seven day experiment.

Here's the question I want you to be curious about. If you were to try something new, something that might make this one time of day work even a little bit better for you, what could you commit to for the next seven days?

This is not something that you need to write about for three minutes, although it might be really helpful to give yourself some space to just be curious and to brainstorm. What could you commit to for the next seven days that might make this one time of day work even a little bit better for you?

Taking the information that you came up with by asking those questions, what kind of an experiment could you create? Your mission is going to be to create a plan that you know you could follow through on for a week.

So do not overwhelm yourself with big plans. There is no prize for a big experiment. Ask yourself what could help you take an inch more control of emotional eating during this time of day. What could you play with for seven days to be curious, to see how it works? Use curiosity over the next week and begin taking control of emotional eating.

Here's more about what it looks like to use curiosity to really make progress. Using curiosity strategically means that you're going to use this experiment, the seven day experiment that you're designing to learn and to improve and to grow. Not to be perfect. So you do an experiment and then you ask yourself curious questions.

Let's say that you decide that your experiment is going to be taking a short break and doing a little bit of deep breathing at work after meetings, where in the past you have gone to the vending machine and you've had this habit of snacking. Because you're stressed. So your experiment is going to be taking a five minute break and doing some deep breathing.

Doing this in a curious way means asking questions, having wonder after you do this about, did it help? How did it help? What didn't work as well as it could have about this strategy? How was it helpful? How wasn't it helpful? You ask yourself curious questions like, are there ways I could adjust this to work even better?

So let's say you take the five minute break and you do some deep breathing and it kind of works, but not exactly. Do you need to make the break a little longer? Or did you decide you were going to take a five minute break and it turns out you don't have five minutes? Could you experiment with three minutes?

How could you adjust things? So that what you are trying works even better for you. If you designed an experiment to avoid stress eating after work, and the plan is, after work, I am going to go for a short walk instead of walking from my car right into the kitchen. That's the experiment that you set up.

But let's say you set up that experiment, and you find not taking the walk. This does not mean you failed, because this is a curiosity experiment. And that is the beauty of this strategy. Because when something doesn't work, you don't have to trash the whole thing and start over. When something doesn't work, you keep going.

So you had an experiment that instead of stress eating after work, I'm going to go for a short walk. And then I get home from work and I don't go for the walk. The way that you keep going is you get curious about why didn't that work for me? Why am I not walking? What might be a better way? What can I take from what I learned about why I didn't walk, why I didn't want to walk, or why I was too tired to walk. Or why I forgot that the weather was really crappy this time of year.

How can I take this and use it to create the next step in my strategy to take care of my stress so that I don't end up stress eating? The goal here is not to do any experiment perfectly. The goal here is to use the experiment to learn more about why you eat and what else helps you meet that need. It is okay if you design an experiment that it turns out the thing that you were going to try doesn't work for you at all. As long as you use what you learned to get one step closer to your goal.

What is it that you really need? What is it that will really help you take care of what it is that you're feeling or what it is that you're wanting? We know it's not food. Food is a substitute. And it very well may not be the thing that you started experimenting with. But if you take your curiosity about the reasons that you're eating, and you take your curiosity about the experiments that you're doing, what works and what doesn't work. You are going to continue to get closer to figuring out what is really going to help you feel taken care of.

Everything is an opportunity for learning. The things that don't go well are as this valuable as the things that do. By asking the questions, you're going to get better at identifying where to focus your energy, how to get the best results. By asking questions and being open to the answers, you're going to discover more and more about why food is powerful. And what you're really needing and what you're really wanting that isn't food.

It is okay if in the beginning you don't know the answers. It is okay if in the beginning you are setting up experiments that don't seem to work at all. As you get better and better at listening, as you get better and better at being curious, you are going to get better and better at feeding your real hidden hungers.

And as you do that, not only will the cravings be reduced, you're going to feel better. And you're going to have an easier time feeling peaceful with food because you're not going to have this buildup of hidden hungers.

Perfectionism and telling yourself that you have to get this perfect and you have to get an experiment just right is never going to work. One of the reasons it's never going to work is that curiosity is a never ending process. You can always learn more. You can always grow more.

And you can often make things work better. Even better and more easily even when they're already working better than they were before. You can always grow. Asking what you need asking how you're feeling asking what's working and also what isn't working as well as it could be. These are the things that are going to help you design your unique path. Your unique process for creating that peace with food and that lasting freedom from emotional eating and overeating that you are probably craving.

So start playing with this. Start being curious. Start asking questions. Worry less about knowing the answers and focus on what could you do? What could you play with to make things one inch better?

I'll talk with 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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