How to Stop Emotional Eating when You’re Angry or Feeling Powerless | TMOHP Episode 110

How do you break the cycle of overeating when you’re frustrated? How do you stop emotional eating when you feel powerless? Can you stop using food to push down feelings of anger?

These are questions that come up all the time inside Your Missing Peace.

Overeating because you’re angry or frustrated or feeling powerless in a situation is an incredibly satisfying cycle to break. This overeating pattern usually leads to even more frustration and more feelings of being out of control, so when you learn how to short-circuit this cycle, it can feel VERY empowering. In this week’s podcast episode, I’m going to share four steps to stop emotional eating and overeating when you’re angry.

In this episode:

  • Breaking the cycle of guilt, shame, and frustration that keeps the cycle going
  • How to move your brain out of autopilot or reaction mode
  • You don’t have to fix things to feel better
  • 4 steps to stop emotional eating when you’re frustrated or feeling powerless

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • Not sure why you’re overeating, or what your Hidden Hungers are? Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and get a free set of resources matched to your results.
  • 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
  • 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.

Episode Transcript

Hey, everybody, welcome back to the podcast. Today I want to tackle a topic that can feel really insurmountable. It can feel like a showstopper if it's something that you're struggling with. And that is how to prevent emotional eating in situations when you are feeling frustrated or angry or powerless. That situation where, Oh, I was so mad I was so frustrated. So I ate. Right?

Have you ever found yourself eating because you're in that situation? I've definitely been there. Ah, I'm just going to go to the cupboard. Right? I'm just going to go grab something to eat. And this week, the reason I'm doing this episode is because I had a couple of conversations with members of Your Missing Peace, my program for ending emotional eating, where they were struggling with this exact issue or a variation of this issue. Right?

So one member was talking about being on the phone and having this incredibly frustrating conversation with customer service. You know, how these things go, where you got charged for something that you shouldn't have been charged for. And then it was supposed to have been dealt with. And then it wasn't dealt with. And after being put on hold for an interminable amount of time, you are having this conversation and the person is saying things that don't make sense and you're getting more frustrated. But there is nothing you can do except continue to have the conversation. Right? We've all been there.

So she had this and she had this conversation. She got off the phone. It wasn't resolved. She had that, oh, feeling. And she said, you know, I hung up the phone and I was angry and I went straight to the refrigerator and I got a pint of ice cream and I ate it. And then it was over and on top of everything else. And on top of all that frustration, now I was mad at myself. Right? Can you relate? 

And then another member of Your Missing Peace was talking about, it was actually another phone incident. But it was a difficult conversation with a relative that one of those recurring patterns that happens, those recurring conversations that don't go anywhere and that go on and on where she wasn't feeling heard and she wasn't feeling understood.

And then she got off the phone and she walked to the cupboard and she grabbed the chips and she ate them. And she said, you know what? I didn't want to do it. I knew what I was doing. But I didn't know what else to do. It just felt like it had to happen. 

So this is the kind of emotional eating that I want to talk about today. And I want to give you some steps that you can take so that a situation that starts with you feeling powerless or out of control and frustrated doesn't lead to another situation, the eating, .That leaves you feeling more powerless and more out of control and more frustrated.

Now, before I go into the four steps that I'm going to share with you today. That are going to help you stop emotional eating when you're frustrated and feeling out of control. I want to highlight one key thing that was going on in both of these conversations with Missing Peace members. Because this is something important for you to practice as well.

What they were doing was talking about situations that hadn't gone well. And trying to get something from them. Trying to learn from them. Trying to understand from them. This is so important because one of the things that happens over and over again inside diet mentality is that we develop this thought pattern of I need to get it perfect. Here's the set of things I need to do. When I don't get it perfect, I have blown it. It is ruined. And so now I just need to beat myself up and get mad at myself. And I'm going to need to start all over again. Right? It's ruined. 

If you can take experiences that don't go well and instead of getting lost in guilt or shame or berating yourself because you're so frustrated with yourself. If you can take these experiences and use the experiences that don't go well to learn something that will help you do it differently in the future. You are going to be ahead of the game. 

And I just want to point out that, that that's one thing we do a lot in the Your Missing Peace program. One of the foundations of the program is reinforcing the idea, well, breaking the myth that you're ever going to get it perfect because you're not. And reinforcing the idea that that is okay. And that imperfection is a part of the process. Messing up as a part of the process and learning from that instead of spiraling down into some kind of shame cave is the, that's the power move. That is the winning move. So let's start there. 

Think about the situations that have not gone well for you. Think about the times that you have eaten in response to feeling powerless or frustrated that just, ugh, so angry, you know, that feeling. Think about the experiences that you've had in the past and it's not too late. You can start to mine those experiences for data. And learn from them. What can you learn from what didn't go well, so that things can go differently in the future?

So let's talk about the four steps that you can take to stop emotional eating when you're feeling angry or frustrated or powerless. And again, you're not going to get these perfect. But if you take these steps, have them in mind, and try your best. Notice when you're not doing them. Pull yourself back to these four steps. I think it will make a real difference. 

So step number one is to stop. Or pause. When you are angry or frustrated or feeling powerless, it is also pretty likely that you are emotionally activated. And being emotionally activated isn't just something that happens with your behavior. Right? When you are emotionally activated, this affects your brain chemistry. This affects the way you literally process information. You are in reaction mode. And that's not only a behavioral thing that is a physiological thing. And it is a prime setup for autopilot reactions or mindless behaviors like emotional eating.

Remember how my client said I hung up the phone and before I knew it, there I was staring into the refrigerator or there I was with my hand in the bag of chips. Part of that is physiological and so what you want to do is change that process. Or interrupt that process. So after you hang up the phone, after you walk out of that meeting, after you have that reaction. Right?

Practice pausing. Taking a breath. Interrupting what's going on long enough to allow your brain to engage. Right? Long enough to absorb what is going on. Because if you're in reaction mode, physiologically, you are not processing things the way you usually do. So it helps. It seems like a little thing, it helps to take a breath. It helps to actually say to yourself, I am so frustrated. 

Part, part of what happens when you do that is it allows your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that is going to help you choose a helpful next step. It helps you to engage that part, because if you're emotionally activated, that part of your brain is not involved in your decision making. 

And if you don't pause, you are going to be at the mercy of that reactive part of your brain that doesn't have access to your creative problem solving skills. It doesn't have access to your self compassion. It doesn't have access to your interest in doing things differently.

There is nothing fancy that you need to do here. This pause, like I said, it can be as basic as just taking a few deep breaths. Right. Noticing that your pulse is racing. Acknowledging to yourself, either in your head or even better, if you can say it out loud, I am so frustrated. Just take a few deep breaths. And allow yourself to notice what is going on.

If you don't know what the feeling is, if you're not a feeling oriented person, it might be just, ugh, this is so hard. Or, I cannot believe that person didn't understand what I was trying to do. Verbalize a little bit about what you know about what is going on.

That is step one. Take a breath, pause. If you can verbalize something about what is going on, even better. Right? 

Step two. Check in with what you know about what you are feeling, needing, or wanting. You may have already done this in the process of taking a pause, but if you haven't, take a moment to wonder about what you feel and what you need, and don't judge it.

And if your automatic reaction is, I want chocolate. Okay, chocolate may sound fantastic. That is a reaction. I want you to go beneath the food. What are you feeling? And really challenge yourself to look for a feeling, okay? It is not unusual to come up with something that isn't a feeling at all. 

Like, in this situation, one of the responses that I got from the Missing Peace member was, I wanted them to understand. I wanted to get this settled. Right? I wanted to not have this frustrating conversation. Okay, those aren't feelings. There are feelings in those. Right? But what are you feeling? 

If what you're feeling is anger or powerlessness, you may know that right away. Or you might not realize it immediately. Or you might not put words to it immediately because for a lot of people, anger and powerlessness are really uncomfortable things to feel. And so it is easy for your brain to focus on, I wanted her to understand. I wanted him to get the point. I wanted them to leave me alone. Right? What is it, what do you know about what it is that you are feeling? 

After you come up with a feeling, I want to challenge you to check in to see if there's anything else you're feeling. Are you feeling anger and hurt? In the situation that my client had with the customer service rep, she identified her anger right away. And then she checked in to see, is there anything else she's feeling and she can do that. And then she can ask herself, what does she know about what does make her so angry and frustrated in situations like this? What was it that led to the anger? Not being listened to was one of them. She was feeling dismissed. 

So check in with yourself, ask the question, what are you feeling or needing or wanting? You might not be able to fix the situation. You probably can't. That's why you're feeling so angry and frustrated and powerless. But you can find a compassionate ear. You can give yourself a compassionate ear. Or you can express what you're feeling. Maybe you can scream in your car or rub your shoulders or reassure yourself that you deserve better than this. Or that this was unfair. Or that you did your best.

If you're craving calm or reassurance or reward the first step to taking care of yourself and not falling into mindless eating well, the first step is to pause. And interrupt that reaction mode. And then the next step is to identify what it is that you are really wanting or needing. What you are craving that really isn't food.


I want to warn you about something that comes up here a lot of the time. So often a reaction that comes up, remember the difference between reaction mode and slowing down your brain. But so often a reaction that comes up that we are actually conditioned to as women is that I just don't want to feel this way. That's what I want. I don't want to feel angry. I don't want to feel powerless. I don't want to feel frustrated. That's what I want. 

And along with that want, oftentimes comes this conditioned belief that what I should really do is make this feeling go away. I shouldn't be angry. .Or I should get over the anger. And guess what? If you have a feeling that you don't want to have, or if you have a feeling that doesn't feel acceptable, or if you have a feeling that you feel uncomfortable with, How many of us have been conditioned to use food to numb that, to push it down. Right?

To distract ourselves from that. It is a recipe for emotional eating. So be very careful about this pitfall. 

The helpful answer to this question, what do I know about what I'm needing, what I'm feeling, what I'm wanting? Is not going to be, I don't want to feel this way. It's okay that you don't want to feel this way, but you do feel this way. And pushing it down or trying to deny it is just going to make things worse. Okay? 

Which brings me to step three. Right? You've paused and interrupted reaction mode. You've asked yourself what you know about what you're feeling or needing or wanting. Step three is to apply self compassion. What does this mean? Well, often one of the hallmarks of feeling frustrated and angry or powerless is that feeling of not being able to change things. I mean, that is what powerlessness is. Right? 

In fact, it's the powerlessness that often leads to the frustration and the anger. And if you couple that with feeling powerless about feeling something that maybe you just don't want to feel. Like I said, it can be a recipe for throwing up your hands saying, I'm so damn mad there's nothing I can do about it. So I just might as well eat the ice cream. It's ruined. My day is ruined. This is awful. Right? 

Okay. Self compassion. You do not have to fix your feelings to respond to them. And you don't need to make your feelings go away. This is so important. You do not have to fix your feelings to respond to them. And I'm putting fix in quotes, right? Because I don't even quite know what that is, but we tell ourselves that. 

So how do you take care of yourself if you can't make yourself not feel what you're feeling? How can you take care of yourself when you do feel angry and you do feel frustrated and you do feel powerless or any combination or any one of the three?

Think about this. When you were little and you were sick, let's say you had the flu. Your parent did not magically take it away. But you might have memories of special things that one of your parents did. That quote made you feel better end quote, except we don't even need to put that in quotes because you may have memories of things that a parent did for you when you were sick that made you feel better, even if they didn't really make you feel better. Even if they couldn't really take your flu or your illness away. 

These are comfort strategies or compassion strategies. So, compassion when you apply it really liberally, it's like that special blanket that you got when you were sick. Or it's like the way your parents made you a tent on the couch. Or maybe they gave you special permission to watch TV all day. It didn't cure you. It didn't make you not have a fever or not make you nauseous. But it did help you feel better. 

You can feel anger. You can feel frustration. You can feel a lack of control. And you can give yourself comfort and compassion. Never underestimate the power of compassion. It is so powerful and sometimes it is the strategy. Sometimes all you can do in the moment is to be in the moment. Be with yourself. Acknowledge that you're having a hard time. Acknowledge that you are having feelings that you do not want to have. 

Maybe you rock yourself back and forth a few times. Give yourself a few minutes to feel misunderstood and unheard. Give yourself a few minutes to feel the unfairness of the situation. Give yourself a few minutes to feel frustrated on your own behalf. Which is so different from feeling frustrated because you feel the way you do. 

If this is really hard for you or if it's hard to access, that's not unusual, tell yourself the things that you would tell a dear friend. Or the things that you would tell a child who had a problem that you can't solve for them. How would you be there for them? How would you put your literal or figurative arm around them? How would you show them comfort? Never underestimate the power of compassion. This is such an important step. 

So after you have taken these three steps, however imperfectly you've taken them that may be enough. You may find that your brain has calmed down. The moment has passed. The urge to eat through your cupboard has gone away. That may be enough. 

If not, you can move on to the fourth and final step, which is something I call instead strategies. And instead strategies are your plan for what you will do instead of eating. Okay? It is a plan for doing something else. Because not doing something is the hardest, if not impossible, most impossible kind of change. Right? And that is what gets taught all the time inside diet mentality based programs. Don't eat. .Don't give in, have more willpower. If it's an emotional situation, recognize it and don't go into the kitchen.

Not doing is the hardest kind of change to create. Having an alternate plan of what you will do instead is much easier. Okay. Now there are a lot of ins and outs to creating instead strategies that work. It is something we spend a ton of time on in the Your Missing Peace program. There are different kinds of instead strategies, but let me give you two keys to start with.

The first one is to recognize that part of the reason these situations, when you're angry and frustrated or feeling powerless so often lead to emotional eating and what you try to do often backfires is because our tendency is to start with an instead strategy. Ah, what can I do instead of eating? 

I think in both of these situations with members of Your Missing Peace, even though they know all of this stuff because we've covered it in different ways, their question began with, what should I have done instead of eating. Right? It is so logical. That's where our brain goes. 

However, you have to do those first three steps before you get to the instead strategies. Like I said, if you work through those steps, sometimes this step will take care of itself. Sometimes by the time you get to thinking about what do I do instead of eating, the urge has, has faded or even gone away.

If you skip pausing. Paying attention to what you really need and what you feel and applying self compassion. If you skip those steps, the instead strategy you come up with, the thing you're going to do instead of eating is likely to be wildly off target from what you need. And probably ineffective. It will seem like another item on your to do list that you don't want to do and it's not going to really work. Or it's not going to work at all.

The second thing that is really important to keep in mind about what you decide to do instead of eating Is that it's important to remember that whatever you decide to do instead of eating probably isn't going to fix the problem. And by the problem, I mean the situation that you were in before you wanted to eat.

Whatever you decide to do isn't going to erase or probably even ease your anger. It's not going to fix your feelings. Remember? That's okay. What you need is an instead strategy. Something to do instead of eating that takes care of you. Not a strategy that makes you not angry or not frustrated or not feeling like you don't have control in this situation. That's not how it works. Okay. 

So those are the four steps. The four step process. Sometimes it's a three step process. It works. You might notice results right away. You might have a hard time remembering the steps. You might get it together imperfectly. You might find that you need to cycle through the steps a few times.

Give it time. Let your brain and your body learn a new response to anger and frustration and out of control situations that isn't emotional eating. 

Breaking the cycle is absolutely worth it. 

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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