Why is Emotional Eating Happening? | TMOHP Episode 022

Emotional eating is a label that gets thrown around a lot. I’ve talked to women over the years who:

  • Felt like emotional eating was normal - and something everyone did
  • Felt great shame around their emotional eating and believed it meant there was something deeply wrong with them
  • Felt like emotional eating was a “cop-out” and that it “should be easy to give up.”
  • Felt like they understood their overeating triggers and the emotions that led to overeating but didn’t find this understanding helpful at all

I could go on. A recent conversation about the tangled-up information about emotional eating led to this episode. Let’s talk about some basics about emotional eating and how you can use this concept to make it helpful for you.

Also, enough of that miserable advice you might have received about emotional eating in the past! If you’ve been told that you should “identify emotional eating and avoid it” let’s get real and talk about a much better approach - one that works - and that can help you reduce or eliminate the urge to overeat.

If you like what you hear, be sure to take 30 seconds to subscribe (hit that big white button on the podcast player) and leave a review. It makes all the difference in my ability to share this information!

What you’ll learn in this episode:

  • Why it might be helpful to identify emotional eating, or why it may leave you feeling helpless
  • The helpful question you need to ask after you realize emotional eating is happening
  • Why I believe emotional eating is more common for people who identify as or were socialized as women
  • The one way to really know if emotional eating is a problem for you

Featured on the show:

  • Take the free Hidden Hungers Quiz and find out your primary Hidden Hunger and your best place to start shifting your relationship with food.
  • Join Your Missing Peace: If you want to be a part of a group that will celebrate your new thoughts and beliefs, where I will coach you through those blind spots, and where you will learn how to combine new thoughts and beliefs and ways of treating yourself with behaviors that change your eating, then it’s beyond time that you join me in Your Missing Peace. This is the program where we dive into how to be uncomfortable AND unstoppable without stress, drama, or quitting on yourself.
  • Visit https://toomuchonherplate.com for more tips and resources to create peace with food and overcome overeating and emotional eating

Enjoy the show?

Full episode transcript:

Hello, welcome to the Too Much on Her Plate Podcast. Wherever you are. Right now, take a moment to get present in that moment. In this moment, take a moment to take a deep breath. Take a moment to be curious about when the left as time was you checked in with what is going on inside of you, what you're feeling, what you're thinking, what it feels like to be living inside of you in this moment. Take a moment. Just breathe. I don't know. Maybe I needed that more than you did, but I think it's important. I think we just get on autopilot so much of the time, this episode has a different flow to it, or I think it's going to have a different flow to it. We'll see.

I was contacted recently by a writer who was writing a story. She wanted to write a piece on emotional eating and she had some questions for me that she wanted me to answer her pet peeve about emotional eating was that she said, I, I feel like that so much of the time it gets talked about like there's something really wrong with you. If you are eating emotionally or it's a really deep seated problem, that's a sign of something really bad. And she said, actually, I think it's pretty normal. I think it's something that so many people, particularly women and struggle with, but because it gets treated like it's this super strange kind of behavior or this behavior that should be so easy to control. People are embarrassed about it and people don't talk about it. And she wanted to have a conversation about some of her questions about emotional eating. So after we talked, I had these notes about the topics that she had brought up and I thought it would be a good idea to cover her questions in this episode, because they may be questions that you have. And as we had our conversation, it got me thinking about some things in a different way. And I wanted to share those with you.

All right. So as you know, emotional eating is when we use food to cope with feelings. What she asked me is, so what's the number one reason that we eat emotionally. And my first reaction was well because it's, we have feelings, right? We're eating, we're eating to cope with feelings, but I don't think that's the best answer. And I think this is a really good question. What is the number one reason we eat emotionally? That's such a good question because this, one of the reasons that emotional eating feels like, um, a topic that is not very useful is that some, some of the standard talk out there about emotional eating. And you've probably heard me say this before is it's really important to recognize emotional eating recognize when you're eating because of a emotions and not because you need fuel and don't fall for it or don't do it, do something else. Okay? I mean, how's that working? It's such incid advice, knowing that you eat emotionally is important, but the bigger question is why are you eating emotionally? And the answer isn't emotions. At least the answer isn't always emotions. Sometimes we eat emotionally because we have emotions that we Jo don't have the skills to deal with. We don't know what to do with them, but a lot of the time we resort to emotional eating because the bandwidth, the energy and the focus and the problem solving that it would take to deal with those emotions in the moment to cope with them in a different way is more than we can do so many times we turn to emotional eating, not because we are, um, weak, or we need to strengthen our ability to deal with emotions. It's that our tolerance for the emotional situation has been weakened by other hidden, other hidden hungers that are raging inside of us.

Right? So what is the number one reason we eat emotionally? Well, the answer diff first, and that is exactly why I created the hidden hungers quiz, because knowing why we are not feeling resilient enough to cope with our emotions, to cope with the current situation in a way that doesn't involve food is really important. If you want to solve the problem. So why do you eat emotionally? Sometimes it's cuz you don't know what to do with the feeling or sometimes it's because there is something else that is restricting your ability to take care of that feeling directly hidden hungers like a hunger for rest, because you're exhausted a hidden hunger for self care and me time, which leads to using food and, and eating to fill in the gaps because it doesn't feel you're getting the, the care and the nurturing and the rewards and the recognition that you need.

Sometimes it's a hidden hunger for compassion, which can be as straightforward as recognizing the difficulties in your life and being gentle with yourself instead of the negative self talk and the judgment and the harshness and the frustra with ourselves that so often comes up when you're struggling with overeating. And sometimes it is a hidden hunger for stress relief. Sometimes we have so much stress going on in our lives that we just, you know, all that energy gets used up and we don't have anything left over to deal with the emotions that come up that may have to do with the stress, or they may have something, you know, to do with something else. We reach for food to cope or to distract or to numb or to distance or to try to transform the situation. And sometimes that label of emotional eating gets applied in a blanket way.

Oh, that's just emotional eating that. Isn't very helpful. Sometimes we use that blanket of emotional eating. And if we don't recognize that there are hidden hungers happening underneath, if we don't recognize that there are reasons that we are not feeling capable of responding to our emotions in a more effective way, then it just feels like a stuck spot. Yes, it's emotional eating. I know I'm not supposed to give into it. I know I'm not really hungry for food, but you know what, in this moment I don't really care. Okay. The reason that you don't really care isn't because you really don't care. It isn't because you are incapable of not emotional eating. It is because there is a reason going on beneath the surface that needs to be addressed in order for you to be unstoppable in order for you to be resilient in order for you to have the bandwidth, to conjure up the energy, to care enough, to start to think about and to have the energy, to, to be able to creatively think about other solutions and other scenarios and other ways that you can be in the world instead of reaching for something to eat.

So I hope that makes sense. The bottom line is knowing that you're emotionally eating is an incredibly powerful thing to know, and even, or powerful thing to know is what is the number one reason that you are eating emotionally because sometimes a lot of the time it is more helpful to target your primary, hidden hunger than it is to start fussing with your emotions. Because as long as that hidden hunger is making it difficult for you to fuss with, or deal with or tolerate or challenge or manage your emotions, everything else is gonna be harder than it needs to be. Now, the second question that came up was, do you think emotional eating is more prevalent in women in the female population? And I think that yes, as a generalization and again, when, anytime we talk about large groups of people, it, it is really difficult or if not impossible to, uh, we have to talk in generalizations, but as a generalization, people who identify as, or are socialized as women are also socialized, uh, in a different way than people who are socialized as men to tune into emotions and to care for and to prioritize the emotions of others.

And that often comes at the expense of taking care of themselves. So for women, it is not uncommon. In fact, it is very common to be socialized, to tune, into taking care of other people, to be worried about what other people are feeling and to feel like that is, can be more important than taking care of themselves and their own feelings and their own needs. And when you don't feel like you have the space or the time or the right to respond to your own needs and feelings, guess what it becomes so much more tempting to use food, to try to fill in the gap. It becomes so much easier to give yourself something quick and easy and accessible to take care of an unaddressed need or a feeling that you have. If you don't feel like it's okay to take up the space or to prioritize your own needs over somebody else's and let's face it, food is so accessible.

It is, it is so easy and it is easy to use food as a, you know, cheap, temporary substitute for a deeper need or a deeper, hidden hunger. Um, it's easy to do that without in, without asking something of anybody else without taking up space and self care and me time and even self compassion take up space. They require us to say I'm important. My needs and feelings are important. And, and I deserve to take care of myself. It doesn't mean this habit is unchangeable and here is the good news. There, there is a way of looking at this that is very empowering. And that is if you are somebody who identifies with this, if you are somebody who knows that you have been socialized to tune to people's feelings and people's emotions, and to be really aware of how things are impacting a other people, then you have some skills you may have set yourself up, or you may have been set up to, to live in a reality where other people are getting more priority than you are.

And other people's feelings and needs are getting more priority than yours are. However, if you are really good at tuning into emotions, if you are really good at identifying what people need, what's coming up for people. And, and if you are really good at responding to those things, then you don't have a lot of new skills that you have to learn what you need to learn to get more of what you need is how to take all those skills, take all that deep intuition and empathy and care and think of it as a search light shift, that light so that you get to stand in it along with everybody else.

This is so powerful because sometimes when we take a step back and we look at ourselves and we see what is a aren't working there is this tendency to think, oh my gosh, it's such a big problem. And it's all, it's all screwed up. And I have so much to learn and I've been doing it all wrong. And you know, our brains can be so self critical, but the truth is you are probably doing a lot of things, right? You probably almost certainly have so many skills that are exactly what you need to untangle the relationship with food that you have, that isn't working for you so much of the time when I'm working with a client, it isn't about learning a whole new way of being. It's learning that you get to step into, uh, being the benefactor of so many of, of your own strengths.

It's learning that you deserve what you're giving everybody else. It's learning that you get to take the things that you can give to other people sometimes so effortlessly. And when you can make that shift of one or two degrees, I mean, think about it again, like just shining your search light a little bit to the left of where you've been shining. It, it has the power to change so much for you and your life and your relationship with food. Here's another question that came up in this interview. And again, I, I am just going through the flow of questions that came up as we were talking. So this isn't, this, isn't a real linear flow of, um, topics that I'm giving you, but we, one thought kind of led to another and, and we just kind of bounced around a bunch of ideas. So the one thing, the other thing she asked me, or another thing she asked is, do you ever work with clients who say, you know, I wanna lose weight.

I really wanna lose weight, but I also don't wanna stop eating. And I thought, well, yes, all the time. Absolutely I do. And the there's often so much frustration and also shame attached to that. Like, like oftentimes people will say that and they, they don't even wanna say it out loud. They, they, that it might start with, I hate to admit this, but I really don't wanna stop eating. I, I, it, I really don't want to, and I'm really frustrated that I'm gaining weight or I'm really frustrated that my clothes don't fit, but here's the thing. Of course you feel that way. That is such a normal way to feel.

Overeating is always based in a reason. There is always a reason for eating. We always have a reason when we eat. And if you have a pattern of overeating or emotional eating during the work day or coming home and binging before you go to bed at night, or if you have a pattern of going through the drive through in the afternoon, what, whatever that pattern is with food that you don't like, it's happening for a reason. And what so often the, the struggle, or at least the path to ending, the struggle gets up. As you know, are you ready to rip off the bandaid? Are you ready to just stop it and knock it off? And so absolutely. Yes. Most of the time people say, well, yes I am. And no, I'm not. I am, I am not happy with the consequences of my eating.

And just, just to be clear, sometimes the consequences are weight. Sometimes the consequences are the way you feel your energy level, the, the disrupted sleep that you're having because of your eating patterns, how you're feeling when you wake up in the morning, sometimes the reasons you're not happy with your overeating have to do with the emotional baggage. I cannot tell you how many women I've worked with who have said, I am just so tired of thinking about this. I am just so tired of this taking up space in my brain. Yes. I wanna see these changes. Sometimes it's losing weight. Sometimes it's something else and no, I don't wanna stop eating. And so many people stay stuck in this place. And maybe you can go to one side for a little bit. You can work really hard on changing your eating, and then there's a boomerang effect.

And you go back to the other side, but I don't really wanna stop eating. I need the eating. It's important to me. I don't really care today. And then you get mad at yourself and you stay over there a little, little bit too long, and then you go back to, okay, wait, I do really wanna lose the weight, or I do really wanna stop thinking about this, or I do really wanna stop feeling tied to the scale instead of going back and forth. And I, and the way out of that back and forth, which is entirely normal, the way out of that back and forth is to realize that there is a reason you don't wanna stop up eating. And that takes us back to the very first part of this podcast, where I, where I said, you know, one of the power questions you can ask yourself is what do I know about the reason I am emotionally eating? And if it doesn't feel like emotionally eating, what do, what do I know about the reason that I am Bing at night? What do I know about the reason that I'm in this way that I don't want to eat? It is most likely a hidden hunger.

It is absolutely something that this act of eating is doing for you, that you are really uncomfortable giving up or with the idea of giving up. And so that's the, no, I don't wanna stop beating. Not because you're lazy. Not because you're on discipline, not because you don't care enough. It's because food is a way of coping. It is doing something for you. And so to understand why you are overeating or to understand why emotional eating feels out of control or not in the right proportion in your life, or, or you're doing a kind of eating that you don't wanna do understanding that is one of the most empowering things that you can seek to do.

So I know, you know, about the hidden hungers quiz. If you don't, we'll put the link in the show notes, but there is a free quiz that you can take. It is very simple. It just takes a few minutes and it will help you sort out what your primary hidden hunger is. It is very common to say, ah, I have so many hidden hungers. I have stress. I'm exhausted. I am too busy. Okay. Yes. And it is absolutely very common to have multiple hidden what we need to sort through all the TLE. What we need to start feeling empowered is a place to start. And that's the point of the hidden hungers quiz. All right. So I wanna wrap this up with, with one other question that we talked about, which is how do we know when our eating is a problem? How do know if something is emotional eating well, first of all, that topic, emotional eating, or that, that label emotional eating gets used so much. There is nothing wrong with eating emotionally. There is nothing wrong with eating when you don't have a pure need for fuel just about all of us eat emotionally at times.

I think the important question to focus on is whether or not the way of eating that you've got going on, whether it's emotional, eating, or overeating or whatever you're gonna call, is it a problem for you? And you get to decide that you get to decide if the way you are eating is a problem. If eating feels out of control, if you're eating and you know, you don't need fuel, and you don't like the results, whether it's the results on your body or the results inside your brain in the way, it feels the emotions that you're living with, the, the emotional baggage, the energy that it takes, those are the signals. That the way that you are eating is a problem.

And if you're eating in a way that isn't working for you or that you're not happy with, or that doesn't feel good, digging deep to, you know, what do I know about why this is happening? What do I know about why food has the power that it does in my life? That is the most empowering question that you can start to ask, knowing that you're eating to take care of a need, or that you have a need that isn't, isn't a need for fuel is only the first step. It is really important. Ask why you are not able to do something different in the moment or why you don't feel like you have the energy to think about doing something different in the moment or why you don't have the energy to care enough, to do something different in the moment. And the answer is not those self blamey kind of statements that only lead to a dead end and do not you to curiosity about what is really going on.

Why is your bandwidth to do something different than reaching for food? Why is that bandwidth depleted? That is the power question. Don't be afraid to be curious. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Don't assume that you have to know the answer right, or way if you knew the answer right away, it wouldn't be a question, right? So take a look at the things that you don't like about your current situation with food, notice what they are, and then dig into them. Be curious about what you know about why they are happening and do not accept the answer. There is simply something wrong with you. It is so tempting to blame yourself and then fall into that place of guilt and blame and shame or frustration or hopelessness. It is so tempting to do that. And it is also so tempting to get into a argument around why it is, why it is true, why there is something wrong with me, why it is all my fault, why I really am, you know, lazy or undisciplined.

Let's not do that. Argument know that it is not helpful. Self blame is a dead end. That is not gonna get you anywhere in changing your relationship with food, being curious, asking questions, understanding why the balance of power is out of whack. Why food has the power. That is how you take your power back. That is how you deflate the power that food has in your life. And that is how you dart the ball rolling so that you can shift a relationship with food so that you're not struggling to be in control so that you're not struggling with cravings that you don't wanna have so that you're not trying to sit on your hands so that you won't overeat, but so that you feel like you are in the driver's seat, making the decisions with food that serve you, that work for you and the so that you are getting your needs met in a way that actually feels good and satisfying and helpful. So that's what I talked about with this writer last week. And I hope it is helpful for you too. I hope it gets your brain moving in some new directions. And most of all, I hope it gets you asking yourself some new and more powerful questions about why you eat, how you want to eat and what can be different in your life. I'll talk to you soon. Okay.


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Emotional Eating Coaching Program

Your Missing Peace: The Coaching Club is the group coaching program where smart women discover their power to create freedom from overeating and peace with food – with more ease and joy than they ever thought possible.

If you’re a smart, busy, high-achiever who’s tired of going in circles with overeating and emotional eating, and you're ready to create results that last, check out Your Missing Peace today!

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