Is It Really Your Feelings That Are Triggering Emotional Eating | TMOHP Episode 136

Let’s suppose that you know you’re an emotional eater. You’ve learned about emotional eating. You’ve spent time exploring your feelings. You can clearly see and describe the situations and feelings that trigger you to overeat. And all that insight hasn’t changed your eating habits at all.

How do you break out of an emotional eating loop when focusing on your feelings hasn’t helped?

This is a place where a lot of smart, amazing women find themselves stuck - and frustrated. It’s easy to blame yourself when you’re going in circles, but YOU aren’t the problem. The truth is that focusing on what you’re feeling is part of the process of healing emotional eating, but it isn’t the final step. There’s more work to do, and today I’m sharing a simple question that will help you stop going in circles with your emotions and overeating and that will help guide you toward peace with food.

In this episode:

  • Understanding real self-care: the distinction between faux self-care and real self-care
  • The value of tuning in to feelings
  • How thoughts drive energy and emotion
  • New steps you can take to shift old overeating patterns and break emotional eating habits

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

Hey, everybody. Welcome back to the podcast. Today I want to talk about emotional eating. I know big surprise. Right? But specifically, I want to talk about a place where I am seeing a lot of women getting stuck in this loop that keeps them going in circles. I guess that's what a loop is, isn't it?

So first, let me give you some background. I have been doing this work, which is helping women break habits of overeating and emotional eating for a very long time, for decades now. And over the years, emotional eating has gone from being this new idea to an overused buzzword. Much of the advice around emotional eating isn’t very helpful.

I mean, recognize that you aren't really hungry and then go do something else instead of eating doesn't work for anyone. At least not as a long term strategy. And it tends to leave you feeling bad about yourself because you can't implement this advice that really isn't helpful advice at all.

I don't mean to say that identifying emotional eating isn't important. I mean, discovering that you're using food to cope with emotions, whether you're doing it to distract yourself or to numb yourself or to try to feel something different. It's a valuable step.

Identifying what's going on is important. Knowing the reason that you're overeating and even the sense behind it is helpful. And it can be pretty empowering to figure out that first step. It can be the difference between feeling like there's something wrong with you. Feeling like you're broken because you can't stop eating because you keep going back for more pretzels.

And then having the realization that, wait a minute, there's a reason this is happening. I am not broken at all. I'm trying my best to cope. I'm trying my best to manage. I'm using food for a reason. The pretzels that I keep going back for, they're helping me in some way. Even if I don't like the habit. So understanding that emotional eating is happening is an important step.

Getting better at paying attention to your feelings, that can also be helpful. If I don't know what I'm feeling, I can't very well respond to it. And so asking myself, why am I eating? Asking myself if there are emotions behind it. Getting better at identifying what the emotions and feelings are, these are valuable steps.

You can't move forward creating freedom from overeating if you don't take those steps. So if I've developed an autopilot habit of numbing myself by reaching for something to eat when certain emotions come up or in certain situations. I might not even know that feelings are involved. It might feel like an automatic habit.

So for example, if I come home from work after a hard day and I automatically go to the kitchen and I grab the bag of chips and a glass of wine, and then I turn on the TV and I lose myself in all of those things.

I might be so on autopilot that I'm absolutely not able to answer any questions about how am I feeling? How was I feeling when I ate that? Or, how was I feeling when I got the food? Or, what do I know about what the chips and the wine and the TV is doing for me?

I might not know the answer because I'm so busy doing. And I'm not so busy being aware. I'm so involved in that reaction and that autopilot behavior, I'm not paying attention. I'm also probably not very aware in that moment of how hungry I am or how full I am, or whether I feel satisfied after I've eaten so many of the chips. Right?

Or even, I may not even be aware of what the chips taste like. Because I am busy doing the thing that numbs me out. So in these cases, actually in just about every case, taking the time to explore what it is that I'm feeling is going to be useful. I cannot take care of my hidden hungers if I'm not creating a way to know what they are.

And emotions can trigger and combine with and exacerbate all the other hidden hungers. But this episode is about whether it is really your feelings that trigger emotional eating or whether it is really only your feelings that trigger emotional eating. So again, I have some background for you.

Sometimes a new client will come to me and she will say, okay, I know I'm an emotional eater. I can see the patterns. I know the patterns by heart. I've been to therapy. I've talked my feelings to death and I'm still eating. I feel like I'm going in circles and I am so tired of it, but I don't know what it's going to take to get this to change. I just feel like I am in this loop that plays out over and over and over.

Now, a few things. I am a huge proponent of therapy as a clinical psychologist, I was a therapist. I provided psychotherapy for many years. And I cannot imagine my own life without my own therapy. Therapy is a life changing tool, and I don't want anyone to think that I'm telling you that it isn't. What I will tell you, and I hope you'll hear me out on this is that sometimes focusing on your feelings isn't the most helpful thing.

Sometimes focusing on your feelings will keep you focusing on your feelings. Focusing on what you're feeling is a part of the process of creating freedom from overeating. But it isn't the whole process. So if you have gotten to that place where you are being curious about your feelings, and you're focusing on your feelings, and you're asking about your feelings.

If you've taken on board the belief that there is a reason that you eat the way that you do, that there is a reason for your cravings. There's a reason for the patterns that you have with food that you don't like. If you're bingeing every evening, there is a reason. Then this is a win.

And you get to own that win. Please own that win. It is a part of what you need to do. If you've started to get curious about the reason. If maybe you participated in one of my workshops and you learned how to practice pausing and asking yourself specific questions about what it is that you're feeling.

This is also a win. Even if you don't know the answer, even if you are asking, asking, asking about, oh, what am I feeling? And you can't quite grasp it yet. It's a win because over time we learn more about the things we focus on. And the more you're curious about what you're feeling, the more you're going to be able to grow the answer to that question.

These are all wins and they are all important. But lots of advice stops there. What are you feeling? Right? The question is, ask yourself what you're feeling. And if you aren't hungry, don't eat. How can you face that feeling? How can you feel the feeling? What could you do about the feeling?

All of this is helpful advice. But a lot of the advice stops here. And this spot right here is where so many smart, incredibly capable women get stuck. I know what I'm feeling. I know I'm not hungry. I'm feeling the feeling. I'm still eating.

It can be such a mind game because it all sounds so reasonable. Identify the feeling. Don't eat. Do something about the feeling. And then your problem should be solved. Right? Not at all. I am here to tell you not at all. If you have ever been there, you know, this down to your toes. This advice sounds smart, but it does not magically dissolve your overeating and your emotional eating habits.

I'm going to keep saying this in different ways. The reason that this advice that sounds so basic and straightforward does not solve your overeating or emotional eating is because focusing on what you're feeling is a part of the process of creating freedom from overeating, but it is not the whole process and it isn't the end of the road.

I want to insert a little perspective here. Okay? So, let me just say you can absolutely lose over eating and emotional eating habits. You can create a way of eating that is free of struggle that doesn't involve deprivation that doesn't involve making yourself miserable or feeling guilt or feeling shame.

It can be done. I have done it. My clients do it. And the truth is when it happens it usually Amazes people because it doesn't feel hard. It doesn't feel painful to do it. In fact, so often what happens is the results sneak up on you and you realize one day that you just don't binge in the evening anymore.

Or, huh, I don't feel the irresistible lure of the drive thru as I'm driving down this road anymore. Or, huh, look at this, my pants are feeling different. They feel, they fit more loosely. You can create freedom from overeating and peace with food and it is not a 10 day plan. That's the other thing. It is a process. Because what you are doing as you do this is transforming the way that you think about and feel about and behave with food.

You are transforming your approach to food. And the way you think about approaching food for the rest of your life. Part of this transformation is learning to switch from harder and working harder and doing the harder thing. To choosing a path that is much, much easier. And this takes time, and this takes practice, and it takes retraining your brain. And messing up and then learning from mistakes and getting support to help you untangle your thoughts and your beliefs about you and about what it takes to change.

And about what food is, is doing for you in your life and, and how it feels to eat a certain way. It takes time to untangle those and to move forward and to reorganize these things in a way that works better for you. There is a reason that Your Missing Peace, which is the program where I help women do this, is six months long. Not because it takes six months to see any benefit or to feel better or to see change and create change, but because creating lasting results, embedding lasting results takes time and practice and often support.

So please do not feel discouraged if you have been caught in this loop with focusing on your feelings and feeling frustrated because your emotional eating is still a thing. You are still learning and growing. There's just more to do. You are partway through the process.

If you've been told that this place where you are in the process is the end of the road, like, okay, this is it. Feel your feelings. Don't eat if you're not hungry. Of course, you're going to be frustrated that it hasn't brought you the results. But you're not. You're in the middle of the process. So please do not be discouraged.

You might be surprised to find out that I don't talk about feelings with my clients nearly as much as I did, I don't know, 10 years ago. They're still important. Feelings are very important and we do talk about them. And if you don't know what you're feeling much of the time, that is the first step to get clearer and get more comfortable and get more in touch with what it is that you're feeling. And in fact, there are all sorts of resources inside Your Missing Peace to help you do this.

But what I want to do today is share with you the advanced step. The next step that Very well might get you unstuck and take you to the next level of creating freedom from overeating.

So, say you find yourself in the kitchen staring into the freezer at the ice cream. You aren't hungry, but all you want to do is reach in there and grab it and eat the whole pint.

Okay? See yourself there. You take a deep breath. You ask yourself what you're feeling and you have an answer. You say to yourself, well, I feel anxious and stressed about the presentation I have to finish tonight. Of course I want to eat.

Here's what I want you to do next. I want you to ask yourself a second question. And that question is, what am I telling myself or believing right now? You might want to write this one down. What am I telling myself or believing right now? You will be amazed. If you take the time to write down what comes up. You'll be amazed.

Let me give you an example from a Missing Peace member who asked this question in the midst of a very similar situation. And she asked herself, okay, what am I telling myself? What am I believing right now?

And here's what she came up with. She came up with the thought that I'm never going to get this done. My boss is going to hate this. I'm going to mess this up. I am never going to get that promotion. She was also telling herself, I can't be tired. I cannot be tired. There's more I have to do.

Okay. She was also telling herself, screw it, the night is ruined anyway, why not eat the ice cream? I just need the ice cream to feel better. Oh, I so deserve this. My boss is so unreasonable. I deserve this ice cream. And then the cherry on top, this will make me feel better.

Here's the thing, feelings are created and also magnified by what we think and believe. Let's go over those clients thoughts again, and you tell me if you could think these things without feeling more stressed or anxious or without feeding an urge to eat ice cream. Alright?

I'll never get this done. My boss is going to hate this. I'm going to mess this up. I'm never going to get that promotion. I can't be tired. There's more I have to do. I can't be tired. Screw it. The night is ruined anyway. I might as well eat the ice cream. I just need the ice cream to feel better. I deserve this. My boss is so unreasonable. This will make me feel better.

You tell me if you could think these things without feeling more stressed, or anxious or without feeding an urge to eat ice cream. Here are the points I want to make.

Number one, you can create freedom from overeating. Number two, there is a reason you overeat or that you eat when you aren't hungry. Number three, pausing to listen to yourself and ask yourself what's going on is a necessary step. Number four, asking yourself what you're feeling, learning to identify what you're feeling, and having the tools to respond to your own feelings is an absolutely necessary part of creating freedom from overeating.

And it is not the final step for tackling emotional eating. Number five, the next step is to challenge yourself by start asking the question in these moments what am I telling myself. What am I believing right now? And then I want you to do number six, which is notice if your urge to overeat or the feelings that you are having are being created or magnified by these thoughts and beliefs that are running through your mind.

These thoughts and beliefs, they, they run on repeat through our minds, right? We repeat them, we reinforce them. And if they aren't helping us, then we're just repeating and reinforcing unhelpful information. So here's what you can do next.

If your thought or your belief is not helping you ask yourself, is there something else I could remind myself of? Is there a thought or belief that would be more helpful? And this doesn't have to be rocket science.

Another client who was also stressed due to a number of things that were happening, a number of situations, and she was also stressed by her eating, saw a big change in her eating just by remembering the thought, I'm a smart woman, and I know how to figure things out.

Even if things don't go perfectly, I know how to solve problems. She had been telling herself over and over and over. I can't change this. Nothing works. Everything I try fails. Think about how you tend to feel when you tell yourself over and over again, that it's hopeless, that nothing will work and that you can't have an impact.

Switching from those thoughts to a very simple belief, a reminder that she's smart, that she knows how to solve problems, which she believes in all the other areas of her life. Making that switch in, in the thought that she wanted to remember and she wanted to repeat made a huge difference.

So ask yourself, what kind of energy and emotion are the thoughts and the beliefs that you are feeding yourself creating?

What you are thinking, what you are telling yourself, what you are believing creates a certain kind of energy inside of you. And it leads you to feel certain emotions. What kind of energy and emotion are the thoughts and the beliefs that you're feeding yourself creating? This is a question well worth asking.

This can help you break out of that loop.

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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