How to Interrupt Emotional Eating in 60 Seconds | TMOHP Episode 132

This week’s podcast episode is about a breathing technique that you can use to interrupt emotional eating, overeating, and even a binge. What does breathing have to do with ending overeating? A lot. If you’re an emotional eater or a stress eater or someone who overeats on autopilot, you know how frustrating it can be to try to change habits that feel deeply ingrained - even automatic. You’ve likely had experiences where, despite your best efforts or intentions, overeating habits have kicked in without much conscious thought. When you’re stressed or overwhelmed or anxious, reaching for something to eat might feel like the natural, easy response. How do you interrupt emotional eating when it’s a habitual reaction?

I have a tool that can help. The best part is, you can access it anywhere, it’s free, and you can make an impact in as little as 60 seconds. Let’s talk about PACE breathing, how to use it, and why it helps (even if you do a lousy job of it).

In this episode:

  • The power of breathing to interrupt emotional eating
  • Your stress response vs. the PACE process
  • How and why to do PACE breathing

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
  • Join the Freedom from Overeating and Emotional Eating Community on Facebook
  • 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

Hey everybody, welcome back to the podcast. Today I want to talk about something I get a lot of questions about, which is how to interrupt emotional eating. How to either interrupt it when it's happening so that you are shortening what is going on. Or, how to interrupt the urge or the craving to overeat or to start a binge or to set off on an episode of eating that you know or at least a part of your brain knows you don't really want to have.

So today I'm going to teach you a power tool. And it is something that you can use anywhere at any time in just 60 seconds. The technique that I'm going to teach you today helps with emotional eating. It helps with mindless eating. And it can help stop or interrupt a binge.

It helps with stress and with overwhelm. And you can even use it in the middle of the night. If you wake up feeling worried, if you are having a lot of thoughts going through your brain. And you don't have to do anything weird, that's the best part about this. This is something that you can actually do in the potato chip aisle at the grocery store. And nobody's going to know. You can do this anywhere.

So what I am going to show you today or talk you through today since this is a podcast is a very simple and very effective breathing pattern that like I said, you can do anywhere. Nobody needs to know you're doing it. And it is a very powerful, empowering way of moving out of cycles with automatic behaviors.

And automatic behaviors are things like automatic mindless eating or emotional eating or eating to numb out or eating to push down a feeling. This technique that we're going to talk through is also very effective with stress and anxiety. And the best part about it is that it works really well, even if you feel like you're not doing it right. Or even if you are really sure you're doing a bad job of it.

No matter what your inner perfectionist is telling you, you really can't mess this up. It can only help you. I'm going to walk you through exactly how to do this in a moment. But before I do, let's talk about what breathing even has to do with emotional eating or binging or taking your power back from food.

Eating when it is emotional eating or stress eating or mindless eating or comfort eating is a reaction. When you're doing this kind of eating, you're using food as a way to cope or a way to avoid, or a way to numb. This kind of overeating is often a reaction. In fact, I think it's always a reaction. You're doing it for a reason.

This kind of overeating is something that you are used to doing without really thinking. Or it's just a habit. Right? It is, it is ingrained in you. Maybe you've developed the habit of walking into the house after a long day and walking directly to the refrigerator without a second thought.

Or you get done with something and you walk to the pantry and you open it up or you go to the vending machine. It seems like it happens on autopilot. And often in that moment. Walking to the pantry, grabbing something out of the refrigerator, going and getting the, the Coke without even thinking about it. It's what you think, what you are believing you need to do.

It's just the next thing. I need chocolate. I need a treat. But it's often not a thought out, deliberate, response. There's often a piece of intentionality that's missing from it. So often in that moment, when you reach for something to eat, or you order the Door Dash, or you grab another handful of pistachios, you really haven't paused to consider, do I want to do this?

Am I hungry? What's going on? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? What do you really want or need? Do you really want that handful of pistachios? Are you really tasting that handful of pistachios? Breathing is this amazing accessible tool that we all have that we can use to help ask these questions, to be more intentional, to interrupt a pattern.

And we can do this in a way that can be very simple. I'm going to show you an easy way to do this in a moment. And it's free. Right? You can do it anytime. There's another reason that. Emotional eating happens that comes into play here. Sometimes in the moment, the feeling that you're having or the experience that you're having just feels too big.

And you don't want to feel it or you're scared to feel it. Or you just believe if you really let yourself know the stress or the sadness or the tiredness or the anxiety that you're feeling, it will just overwhelm you. It will wash you away. And so this reaction comes in. You maybe use eating the reaction as a way to avoid a feeling. You grab something to eat as a way to push that feeling down or to distract yourself or to postpone the next thing or to numb yourself out.

This breathing technique that I'm going to teach you is something that you can use to get through a feeling. When you stop trying to stop the feeling, to not have the feeling, which, spoiler alert, you're going to have it anyway. When you stop that and when you learn how to lean into just breathing in the way that I'll show you, you can start to remind your brain that you are bigger than a feeling.

This is a technique that can help you allow feelings that maybe you don't feel comfortable with right now. It can help you feel more confident with feelings and it can help you with practice, learn and remind your brain that it's okay to let this happen. The feelings will move through me. Now, I do want to stop and say here that this podcast, just a reminder, is never, ever a substitute for mental health treatment or for therapy.

If you are experiencing feelings or situations that are getting in the way of your health, if they are interfering with your health, or with your ability to function, or if you are feeling unsafe with your feelings or having thoughts of harming yourself or others? Please, definitely give yourself the gift of a good therapist or a mental health provider.

And if you don't know how to do that, talk to your physician about ways to access that kind of care. Therapy has changed my life. Therapy has changed the life of so many people. I'm a huge proponent of therapy. It is one of the most helpful resources I know of. And I just want to interject here. Do not ever short change yourself. Always ask for help.

This is not a substitute for therapy. And learning how to use your breathing to center yourself, to take a pause, to calm yourself, to get perspective? This is learning to use a resource, your breath that we usually take for granted.

So, let's talk a little bit about stress and emotional reactivity.

Our bodies have physical responses to stress. We all know this. Right? We feel it in our body. There's a physical stress response. When we go into stress, our bodies react and our bodies function differently than when we are relaxed. So we have a physical stress response. We also have a physical relaxation response.

When we get anxious or stressed or triggered by difficult emotions, our body and our brain tends to react without a lot of thought. It reacts quickly. It's a physiological fight or flight or freeze response and it is a very old survival mechanism. The problem is that this can cause a number of problems.

When you're in a stress response, you're not likely to give a lot of thought to, huh, how would I like to solve this problem? What are my options here? Is this really my best move? Your brain isn't working like that. When you're in a stress response, you're more likely to act quickly or react. You're likely to revert to old familiar habits.

Maybe habits that you've tried really hard to break. Maybe habits that you've been working all week long at changing. Right? Like when you're working to change your eating. When you are in a stress response, you're more likely to react on autopilot to mindlessly reach for something to eat, to try to soothe yourself or to numb or to push away a feeling so that you can keep going.

Stress responses have an adaptive function, but unless you're running into a burning building to save a child, being in that stress response is not setting you up to make helpful decisions. The key to taking your power back from things like emotional eating, or overeating, or even binging in these situations, is to first do something simple to break out of that stress response.

Right? You want to break out of that place where everything in your body is positioning you to just react, put out the fire, make it stop, do something fast. Do the automatic habitual thing. When your body wants to flee or fight or freeze, it is really important to interrupt that.

And in the past, I have taught something that I've called the PACE response, P A C E. And PACE is an acronym. I think it could be really helpful here. I just talked about the stress response. A great goal is to transition yourself into a PACE response. All right? So what you want to be able to do is pause. That's the P in PACE, which might be as simple as taking a deep breath. You want to pause so that you can assess what's going on.

That's the A. You pause, you assess. So maybe what you assess is, Ugh, I'm feeling really nervous. All I want to do is go into the kitchen and get some potato chips. I paused, I assessed. After you have assessed, doing those two things allows you to make a choice. Okay. I could go eat all the potato chips and that might help for a little bit, but I'm still going to be nervous.

I'm still going to not feel great about this. And then I'm going to feel really crappy afterwards. Or maybe I could do something that would really soothe me in the long term. You get to see the choices. Right? You pause, you assess, you take a look at your choices, you make a choice. Okay. And when you have that information from those first three steps, that is when you can execute E. Right? When you execute, you actually move forward with a choice that feels right for you.

The stress response is a reaction. It's something happens, must eat potato chips. The PACE response is pausing, taking a deep breath, assessing what's going on. Having the bandwidth to start to see, to actually realize that there are choices. The stress response doesn't have a place for you to actually see options. You just react.

The PACE response, you pause, you assess, you can start to see choices and then you can execute. You can make a choice. You can make a choice that feels doable and right for you in the moment. Maybe it's that you hold off going and getting those potato chips for 15 minutes.

Maybe you take a little break. Maybe you put on some music or you go for a short walk and you give yourself a moment to see if what you're doing helps. That's the PACE response. And the breathing that I'm going to show you is something that is very useful for interrupting the stress response and that reaction mode so that you can start to PACE things.

So that you can create the circumstances where your brain will actually look for choices and consider choices and so that you could actually have the option of executing or making a choice that moves you in a different direction. Instead of reacting on autopilot and doing the things that you don't want to do.

So one more thing before we do the breathing, and this is really important. When you are anxious or stressed or overwhelmed or feeling strong emotions, and somebody asks you to focus on your breathing, it is very likely going to feel very hard. And that's because it is. If you are in the middle of a stress response or a reactive response and your body is having that stress response, remember this is a physical thing, then you are actually geared to be taking more frequent breaths, more shallow breaths.

And so trying to focus on your breathing or slowing down your breathing or breathing more deeply is going to feel awkward. Because in a stress response, your body wants to do the opposite. Feeling like you can't do it is normal and that's absolutely okay. The mistake that a lot of really smart people make is that they are in a stress response.

They try to do some kind of breathing exercise. And they feel like they're not doing it very well because, hello, I'm in the middle of my body trying to do the opposite thing. I'm trying to slow down while my body's saying, take quick, shallow breaths. It feels like it's not going very well. I can't do this. And so then they quit.

This is what I want you to remember. Your body cannot get more stressed and more relaxed at the same time. I want you to think of two lines. One is ramping up and the other one is coming down. You can't do both at the same time. Getting more stressed and getting more relaxed are two opposite reactions.

So if you've got a stress response going on and you start to do something that starts to bring on that relaxation response? Even if you are doing it poorly because you're already very stressed, it is going to back down the stress response. It is going to help you be less in the stress response and more in the relaxation response.

Even if it feels like this is not working. I am not relaxing. I can't slow down my breathing. I'm still breathing very hard. It may be that what you're doing is decreasing that thing that was getting worse and worse and worse. You're stopping the escalation of the stress response. So that eventually the relaxation response can begin to kick in.

I hope I'm saying this in a way that makes sense. And I really want you to store this away because it's important. You do not have to feel blissed out or completely calm when you try to do a breathing pattern. And you're not going to, if you're coming from a place of overwhelm or anxiety or being in that place where you are ready to eat all the snacks in the house. It's okay, just keep going.

So let's do some PACE breathing. Remember, you can do this anywhere. So you can do this while you are listening to the podcast episode with me. Let me show you how this works. What we're going to do is inhale for a count of four. Hold that breath for a count of four. And then exhale for a count of four. And then wait for a count of four. And then we're going to repeat the process.

PACE breathing is also called square breathing because you can imagine yourself breathing in the pattern of a square. In for four, hold for four, exhale for four, wait for four. So sometimes if you're a visual person, that's a helpful pattern to have in your mind.

Another helpful thing is to know that each cycle, each square in the PACEd breathing, takes about 15 seconds. As you get more relaxed, you'll slow things down. If you are feeling pretty stressed at the beginning, those 4 seconds might be shorter than 4 seconds. Right? Because your body's conditioned to be taking those shallow, quick breaths.

But in general, in 60 seconds, you can do about four cycles of breathing. You can do as many of these cycles as you want. But 60 seconds can start to bring you from that stressed, reactive place into a more relaxed, calm place. So that you can pause and assess and see your choices and then execute the kind of decisions with food that you want to make in this moment.

Okay, so let's try the PACE breathing. Empty your lungs and now we're going to inhale two, three, four. Wait two, three, four. Exhale two, three, four. Wait two, three, four. Inhale two, three, four. Hold two, three, four. Exhale, two, three, four. Wait, two, three, four. Inhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four. Exhale, two, three, four. Wait, two, three, four. We'll do one more. Inhale, two, three, four. Hold, two, three, four, exhale, two, three, four, pause, two, three, four.

And then take a deep breath. And just notice how you feel in your body. You should feel a little more present. Maybe a little more anchored or centered.

You've just paused. And this is a great place to do a quick assessment about what's going on.

What do I know about what I'm feeling? About what I'm needing? Am I hungry? Is it something else? And then you can ask, what kind of choices can I make? Can I walk into the kitchen and get some chips? Well, yes, I could, but could I go for a walk? Could I do a few more rounds of the PACE breathing? What would serve me best? What would be most helpful? What would take care of me and the feelings that I'm having? How could I best respond in the circumstance that I'm in?

So you pause, you assess, you see your choices, and then you can execute. You can make a choice. Not from a place of reactivity or from a place of mindlessness or from a place of being on autopilot with old habits. But from being in a grounded place where you've done the PACE process. And you can continue to move forward a step at a time deliberately.

So that's PACE breathing and now you have that in your toolkit. A great resource to pair that with would be my free hidden hungers quiz. If you haven't taken that yet, that would be a great secondary step to take with the PACE breathing.

The hidden hungers quiz is a free quiz that you can take to determine what is driving your overeating. Some of those reasons that you are overeating. What's the primary hidden hunger and what's the next most strategic step that you can take to break the cycle? I'll put the link for that in the show notes, because I think it pairs really well with what we talked about today.

Go practice your breathing.

Don't worry about getting it perfect.

And I'll talk to you soon.

Enjoy the show?

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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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