Short-circuit Emotional Eating With These Smart Tactics | TMOHP Episode 121

You’re here because you want advice that works - smart tactics that will short-circuit emotional eating. Some of the worst advice about emotional eating I’ve ever heard: “Recognize that eating those oreos when you aren’t really hungry is emotional eating. Recognize that you aren’t really hungry and don’t give in to the urge.” Really? Sometimes identifying emotional eating isn’t all that helpful. Naming an overeating habit doesn’t change it.

When you’re trying to stop emotional eating, your brain’s default strategy is to focus on “not doing it” or coming up with an alternative to-do list - things to do instead of eating. While this can be helpful, it’s important to remember that sometimes your urge to go have a snack is triggered by already having too many things to do! In this episode of the Too Much on Her Plate podcast, I’m covering tactics that go beyond doing more things or relying on willpower or distraction. The strategies in this episode will help shift you, your brain, and your behaviors toward what you really need to take your power back from food.

In this episode:

  • 5 smart things to do instead of emotional eating
  • Why your brain will resist these tactics
  • How to become more anchored and present so you can make better decisions about eating and taking care of yourself
  • The brave step of seeking support


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Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • The Freedom from Overeating Workshop Series for Smart, Busy Women: If you’re a smart woman who secretly wonders whether it’s really possible to change your overeating or emotional eating habits, the Freedom from Overeating Workshop Series is for you. Join psychologist Dr. Melissa McCreery for this live, online event and learn powerful strategies to take your power back from food, from cravings, and from that urge to wander into the kitchen and mindlessly eat all the snacks. You can stop fighting with food. You can end the cycle of running out of willpower, blaming yourself, and endlessly “starting over” on Monday. Take advantage of this special invitation and reserve your free seat at

    **Yes, I know you’re busy. There WILL be replays if you can’t join the event live!

  • 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.
  • 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
  • Visit for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

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Full episode transcript:

Hey, everybody, let's just dive right in. I want to talk about how you can short circuit emotional eating using some smart strategies that probably aren't the strategies that your brain is telling you, you ought to be using.

You know, sometimes I think that labeling emotional eating as emotional eating isn't very helpful. I mean, knowing that you're an emotional eater doesn't help change anything. And some of the worst advice in the world is to just know that you are eating emotionally, that it isn't real hunger. Or, you know, identify that your eating habit, that, that habit you have of Going for the whole sleeve of Oreos and eating them all so that you can decompress knowing that that's emotional eating is important because then you can just not do it. That's horrible advice. Incredibly unhelpful.

Not doing something is not a strategy that works. At least not for very long. And probably not at all. So what does work instead of emotional eating? The tactic that is so easy to turn to, which I think is only mildly effective, is to generate an alternative to do list.

So, what do I do instead of emotional eating? I will do this. I will do this. I will do this. And it looks something like instead, instead of snacking on pretzels after work, I will clean the kitchen. Or I will go for a walk. Or I will do yoga. You fill in the blanks, but we are really good at coming up with these should lists, these to do lists of what you're going to do instead of eating when you have the urge or the craving.

Your brain wants to come up with something different to do instead of eating. This is how we're wired. And I want to be really clear. There's nothing wrong with having alternatives. In fact, there is an entire module that I teach on how to craft an appropriate instead strategy, because that's what I call these things. How to craft an appropriate instead strategy that fits you and fits your situation.

I spend a whole module teaching this inside my emotional eating program. It's an important resource. However, we as human beings get overly focused on doing. And if we're honest, and I want you to really think honestly about your worst periods of overeating, sometimes the urge to eat or to numb out with food or to mindlessly crunch on pretzels is the result of too much doing. Or too much pressure to do and that feeling of being exhausted or overwhelmed that results from all the doing and the I should be doing thinking that happens inside our heads.

So I thought it would be helpful to take things in a somewhat different direction in this podcast episode. I am not going to give you a specific to do list of what to do instead of emotional eating. What I'm going to do in this episode is to share broader strategies or tactics that you can customize to you and to your situation.

The tactics that I'm going to cover, they will take you out of the realm of white knuckling it and trying not to eat. You know, that feeling, I will not do this. And these tactics will shift you and your brain and your behaviors into directions that can help address the things that you really need to take your power back from food. And to really start making lasting shifts in how you think about food and when you think about food and when you have a desire to eat and when you don't.

So here is the collection I have for you of smart things to do instead of emotional eating. And I have a warning before we dive in. Your brain is always looking for something to do. I said that earlier and it's really important. Your brain is always saying, what do we do? We need to do something. Its first response is going to be to dismiss these tactics that I'm going to share with you as insufficient or soft or not big enough to make a difference because your brain is going to think we really need to do something. We need to do something. How are we going to eat? What are we going to not going to eat? How are we going to change the eating?

Don't listen. I really want to encourage you to try out these smart ideas, try them out, have an open mind and see what happens.

It's really important that I started right there with that warning because the first tactic that I want to share with you that you can do instead of emotional eating is to pause. Right? It's the opposite of doing pause. Don't do anything. At least for a moment. Give yourself permission to pause.

The impulse to reach for something to eat, even the thought, I want to reach for something to eat. Right? I need to, I want a cookie. I need to have chocolate. The impulse is often a reaction. That reaction is spurred on by your brain telling you that you need to do something in response to something else.

So you could be having a feeling or you could be having a fear that a tough feeling is coming. If you don't do this, I'm going to have a feeling. It's impossible to be in control of any situation if you are reacting instead of acting intentionally.

And so, one of the most powerful things you can do when you feel triggered to grab something to eat or to walk into the kitchen. Or to keep eating, even though you've already decided that you're full, or when you find yourself just mindlessly staring into the open refrigerator. One of the most powerful things you can do is to practice the simple act of pausing. Just take a beat, take a breath, come back into your body. Make sure that you are present.

Pausing, very, very simple. Just pausing, taking a breath, coming back into your body is the first smart tactic that you can start practicing.

The second one is to ask a question. You have to pause first. Once you're present in the situation, instead of mindlessly reacting, you are actually present in your body, you've taken a breath, ask yourself a question.

There isn't a right question to ask. There's no right question to ask about overeating or emotional eating or about feeling triggered or about the chocolate.

Just be curious. Just ask a question. Asking and answering questions puts you back in the driver's seat. It could be any question. You might ask, why am I standing at the refrigerator? What got me here? You could ask, Am I hungry? You could ask, what am I feeling right now? You could ask, what do I know about what I need that isn't food? You could ask, why am I feeling differently this afternoon than I felt yesterday?

As human beings, we get so hung up on having to answer the questions, knowing the answer to the questions or deciding in advance that we don't like the answer to the question. So there's no point in asking. Asking the questions these are valuable actions. Asking questions about what's going on inside yourself helps you become more anchored and more present. And that will allow you to be in charge, be in control. And then make better decisions and better choices. So, strategy number two, just practice asking questions.

Okay, the third strategy, remember I told you your brain is going to push back on these. Third strategy, give yourself time. You are stepping into the realm of doing things differently. If you are not used to pausing, that may feel weird. If you are not used to asking questions, And especially if you're asking new and different questions, you may not know the answer. These are new questions. It will take time to wrap your brain around these questions. It will take time to let the answers emerge.

And it may take time, even when answers emerge, to allow yourself to pay attention to them, to let the answers sink in. Think about it. If your brain is triggering emotional eating as a way to push down or to ignore a feeling. Or to soothe you or protect you from feelings that are difficult or painful, then your brain is also going to be really quick to yell, I don't know when you ask these curious questions. Right? I don't know. Don't ask me that. I don't want to think about that.

Realize that when your brain does that, that's a reaction, too. Giving yourself time to practice moving from reaction mode to a more grounded and intentional space is empowering. And what that might look like is, wow, I don't know the answer to that question. That's interesting. Maybe I want to think about that. What do I know about why I don't know the answer to that question? Huh, is there a question that I do know the answer to that would be helpful to ask?

Give yourself time to move around with pausing and being curious. Practice giving yourself five minutes before you do anything. Just to consider the questions that you've asked yourself. And notice I use the word consider because considering or thinking about them is different from answering them. Right? It is not a test. Give yourself time to play and be curious with the questions.

Okay, take a deep breath because this may not have been what you expected when you tuned into an episode about tactics that you can use to not eat emotionally or to not overeat. Right? These are very different than, you know, tie a string around your finger. Or keep yourself busy or distract yourself or find something to do with your hands.

But these are the deeper strategies and tactics that you can use to really begin to identify and to address the reasons that food has taken on such a powerful role in your life. The reason that you're feeling out of control. Or like you are on autopilot and you can't stop yourself from opening the cupboard and getting yourself a snack or finishing everything on your plate when you go out to eat. Right?

Pausing. Asking questions. Giving yourself time. And if those have felt new and different, the next thing I'm going to share with you is probably going to feel really different too. To go back to where we began this episode, your brain is wired to drive you into action. What are we going to do? What are we going to do? What are we going to do?

I want you to consider something. Think about the eating that you're not happy with. Think about the overeating, or the binging, or the mindless eating, or the comfort eating, or the stress eating. What if the urge to eat, in those moments that feel so hard to control, what if sometimes that urge to eat isn't about food?

What if it is an urge simply an urge to do something? I need to do something and I don't really want to do it so I'm going to get something to eat. Or I have some free time and it feels uncomfortable. I'm not sure where to go next so I'm going to wander into the kitchen. I'm going to get a snack. I have ended this one task and I'm not quite ready to do the next task but my brain is saying okay, it's time to do things. I need to do things. So I'm going to wander over there and get a snack.

It's time to make dinner and I'm tired and I don't really feel like making dinner. So maybe I'll just pick at this food here while I kind of get things together and think about getting started.

What if sometimes the urge that you have to eat isn't about the food? What if it is a way of responding to that urge or that message that it is time for you to do something? This is such a powerful tactic that I am sharing with you. And your brain's not going to like it. But I want to encourage you to practice not jumping into action, not doing.

And I want you to practice focusing on being, what do I mean by that? Well, say you have an urge to go get something to eat your brain's like, okay, what am I going to do so I don't eat. What am I going to do? What do I need to do instead? What should I, what should I be doing? How do I know? I don't want to do the things. I'm just going to go get the thing to eat. Right?

What will happen in that moment if you do nothing? Don't do, be. What will happen if you sit and breathe and just stare at whatever feeling or sensation you're having for the next five minutes? Not trying to do anything, not trying to make it go away, not trying to push it down, not trying to decide what you have to do about it. What will happen if you give yourself permission to simply be?

I'll tell you what we know about being with strong feelings, even really difficult, painful feelings. If you give yourself permission to truly just be. And breathe. And watch the feeling, unless you are feeding that feeling with more thoughts and more stories that keeps it churning around. If all you're doing is watching and just being, not trying to do anything with the feeling, your strong emotion, that feeling, that anger, the anxiety, the fear, the sadness, whatever it is, it will move through you like a wave.

It will not get stuck. It will not engulf you. It will not bury you. As long as you are not feeding it with thoughts and often those thoughts are, okay, what am I going to do about this? Or I have to fix this. Or she can't feel this way. Or she can't talk to me like that. Right?

If all you are doing is being, your strong feeling will move through you like a wave. It will crest and peak and it will go back down. It will not engulf you. Because you're bigger than your feelings. And every time you practice this, every time you practice not jumping into doing, doing is reacting, just being. Every time you practice this, your brain will get better at remembering how to be. Your brain will get more comfortable knowing that the feeling will pass through.

And you will get more comfortable being. And feel less inclined to jump into that reaction mode of what am I going to do? This is such an important strategy. And again, your brain is going to fight back because when I say, don't do anything, it feels like, Oh, well, I'm not doing anything. What's happening? You are being, you are letting the situation change while you stay present.

Here's a final thought that I have for you. Sometimes, I think about the way we are inclined to approach changing our eating. And I'm talking about the old way, the deprivation thinking, the diet mentality. It's kind of like that game Whack a Mole. Where, do you know that game where the, the animal pops up and you hit it with the mallet, and another one pops up and hit it, and pretty soon you're hitting and hitting and hitting, trying to get the, cause the, the moles are coming up faster and faster and faster in that game?

That's reaction mode. That's what happens when you're constantly trying to be strong and be on top of things and do the hard thing and never get it wrong and be really strict with yourself and use up all your energy and that's whack a mole.

The final thought I have for you is to give yourself permission to play the long game. This is a strategy. Creating peace with food and freedom from overeating is a long game. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And that's okay because your relationship with food is a lifelong thing. You are going to have your relationship with food for the rest of your life. And so start practicing looking at this as a lifelong game. A lifelong project.

What that means for me is that I want to have a relationship with food. I choose to relate to food in a way that I want to relate to food. In a way that is going to serve me for the rest of my life. In a way that I don't dread or wonder how many days do I have to do this before I get a cheat day? Right?

Pick an approach and a set of strategies that are designed to free you from the patterns that you don't like. That are designed to dissolve the patterns and the habits and the behaviors and the thoughts that don't work for you. While at the same time, building a way forward with the choices you make about eating and what you eat and when you eat and why you eat and what you do when you don't eat, that you actually want to stick with or continue to adjust with for the rest of your life.

And I want you to notice that I used the word adjust. Right? There is no forever plan that I'm going to have to do this forever. First of all, you don't have to do anything. You get to make choices. You get to make decisions. And you get to adjust them based on what works and what doesn't work for you in the present moment, which is one of the reasons it's so important to be pausing and asking questions and giving yourself time to be in the moment and to be being and not doing so that you're paying attention.

This will help you get out of the cycles where self-control and willpower are destined to let you down. Because that's what you're, you're, you're, you know, trying to be strong with. Give yourself permission to mess up. Give yourself permission to adjust things. This is a lifelong relationship that you're building. Right?

Give yourself permission to fall off track and get back on. And as these steps, as you work these steps, if they aren't enough, consider getting more help. Consider asking questions to other people outside of yourself about what could work, what could help with this, what could I do instead. How could I address this situation?

When we don't give ourselves permission to ask for help, which, again, is another Hugely powerful and empowering tactic, when we don't give ourselves permission to ask for help, it is so easy for you to get stuck in your own head.

And your thoughts and your beliefs and the stories that you tell yourself about you. About what it takes to change. About food and the role it has in your life, those stories and thoughts and beliefs are the biggest hurdles to creating freedom from emotional eating and overeating. And the very biggest hurdles are the thoughts and the beliefs and the stories that you don't even know are just thoughts and beliefs and stories.

We all have these thoughts and beliefs and stories that are so vivid for us. Are so entrenched in the way we talk to ourselves and the way that we think. That we don't even recognize that they're just thoughts and beliefs and stories. And they could be changed.

This is one of the biggest reasons why it can be helpful to bring an expert in. The fastest way to change the fastest way to get where you want to go, particularly with thoughts and beliefs and stories and the way you are managing your mind and fueling your thoughts your, your thoughts and moving yourself forward. The fastest way to change this is by working with someone who can help you see and move past your mental blind spots. And can show you how to do it differently.

This is game changing and it is not a sign of weakness. I have made changes in my life, I've made changes in my relationship with food that I don't think I ever would have been able to make. I certainly would not have made them as efficiently without help from somebody else. Without another set of eyes, without another set of ears, hearing me talk something through that to them did not make sense. But in my mind, because I had never seen it any other way, seemed perfectly logical.

So asking for help, playing the long game. Giving yourself permission to, to mess up, to play around and then asking for help where you need it. This is definitely not a sign of weakness. My clients will tell you it is often the bravest and the smartest thing that you can do. And it can simplify things far more than you can imagine inside your own head. Because again, that's another blind spot that so many of us have.

If you are anything like so many of the smart women I know who are ready to be done with struggles with overeating and emotional eating, you do not need another long list of things to do. Regardless of the lists that your brain wants to construct for you, you don't need another to do list. You don't need more hard things.

What you need is to start untangling a relationship with food thoughts about eating, habits related to eating, ways of dealing with feelings, ways of dealing with hidden hungers that aren't serving you and that are leading to the stress eating, the comfort eating, the border, boredom eating, the eating at night, the wandering into the kitchen and not even noticing until you've got your hand in the box of crackers.

And these are the tactics that can help you Begin to unwind and untangle this. And not only that, these tactics can help you create something much, much better. So start playing with them. And if you haven't signed up for my free workshop series yet, take 30 seconds to do that now, because we're going to be doing a whole lot more of this. The link for the workshop is in the show notes.

Play with these things. Pause, ask questions, give yourself time. Less doing more being play the long game. Ask for help.

You've got this.

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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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