Tag Archives: tools for emotional eating progress

Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Halt Emotional Eating

Don't set the world on fire while you're changing your relationship with food.

Don’t set the world on fire while you’re changing your relationship with food.

This blog post was supposed to go out early Thursday morning but when I went to put the finishing touches on it Wednesday (last minute, of course!) we had a local internet outage that lasted several hours and by several hours I mean from about 12:30 until 6pm!! I love how easy technology makes our lives most of the time, but I really hate how much we’ve come to require it. So many aspects of my job depend on it and most things come to a halt when it’s not working. And when things aren’t working for me, I tend to have a total meltdown. I’m not very mature when things don’t go my way or according to plan. I didn’t know what to do with myself (luckily, there is always something that needs doing around the house! I took a forced break to house clean after my last client!)

This behavior translates into other areas of my life.

When things get tough, when I don’t understand something, when I hit a wall, I flip out and give up. I essentially set my emotional world on fire. Emotionally I’d just say “No way, not going to do this, feel this or experience this!”. I do this when I’m learning something and struggling with it. When I discover I’m wrong. When I don’t like an outcome. You name it. And in the past, I would turn to food to cope with whatever I didn’t want to feel. Whatever obstacle I encountered would be attempted to be climbed over with food. It was how I soothed bad feelings.

I don’t do that anymore. Or at least, I rarely do it now. And if I do catch myself reaching for food when I don’t want to feel something, I’m aware of it and can bring my attention to the feeling.

If you’re an emotional eater, I know you can relate to this. You probably have a bit of an “all or nothing” mindset yourself. If a little bit of something will help, then a lot will really cure it! Right?  Let’s burn it all down and start over! Because of this kind of thinking, and an inability to deal with uncomfortable emotions, emotional eaters tend to fall into several “traps” of the same nature when they are trying to stop eating emotionally. Instead of viewing it as a staircase where we make changes step by step on the way up, we try to leap from the bottom step to the top step without touching on the steps in between. We want to skip over the hard parts. We want to get from A to B without feeling uncomfortable on the way there. But that’s not possible!

I want to share a few of the most common mistakes people fall into when they are trying to halt their emotional eating in the hopes that you can avoid getting stuck in them like I (and so many others) have. Watch out for these!

Common Mistakes We Make When Trying to Halt Emotional Eating:

  1. We equate getting better with being perfect. Healing from emotional eating does not mean you’ll never have another moment where you put food in your mouth for reasons other than hunger – it just means you’re making a concerted effort to eat thoughtfully and while fully present most of the time. Some days it will look really great, other days it’s going to be ugly. Don’t make too much of it. The day to day is really is no big deal.
  2. We get too dogmatic about the rules, tools and which teachers that can help. Some people need to eat mindfully 100% of the time to stay on track, others do better when they eat every 2 hours whether hungry or not. Some only listen to what Geneen Roth’s ideas or only Kay Sheppard’s or only Ellen Satter or only their Yoga teacher and are distrustful of anyone but their preferred “guru”. There are lots of teachers, tools and rules that can help you have a better relationship with food. You don’t have to subscribe to one and one only. Try to remain open minded and be willing to listen to the experiences of others, even if they’re different from your own. You never know when you might learn just another way to peace. And different tools and teachers will make sense for us at different times in our lives. It’s ok to change with time.
  3. Avoiding social situations that center around food. Don’t you dare kill your social life. If you want to heal your relationship with food, you have to be able to manage food in all settings and that includes socially. Consider each social situation with eating as a component as practice in figuring out what works for you and what doesn’t work for you. Maybe you need to eat a snack before the event so that you don’t go overboard during. Maybe you need to eat cleanly and thoughtfully during. Maybe you need to eat exactly what you crave during so that you don’t go home and binge. Go to events. Eat. Be thoughtful about it. Let yourself be human and enjoy human things.
  4. Automatically banning the scale. Yes weighing ourselves obsessively doesn’t help and if weighing yourself causes you to feel bad or virtuous depending on the number that appears, then yes, you should try reducing your use of a scale (and dumping it completely in some cases). But if you’re one of those people who can weigh themselves and it’s entirely neutral for you, then it’s ok to keep using it as a guide. I find weighing myself several times a month gives me feedback that tells me if I’m on the right track in listening to my hunger signals and stopping when I’ve had enough. When it moves up or down a few pounds I don’t worry (normal fluctuations) but if I see if trending too far in any direction, I know that means I’ve gone off track and helps me bring my attention back to where it should be. When I’ve stopped weighing myself completely, I tend to go back to old eating habits and it has on more than one occasion resulted in unhealthy amounts of weight gained. So I keep the scale in my arsenal of tools. That works for me. It does not work for others. The only way you should keep using the scale as a tool is if it is no more upsetting than taking your temperature would be. When we take our temp, we either have a fever or we don’t. It doesn’t affect how we feel about ourselves or our body. Can you be that neutral with the scale? You need to decide what is the most loving thing to do for you.
  5. Thinking that it’s not worth doing if you can’t do everything. You may have great success when you first start implementing different tools and strategies to conquer your emotional eating. This is the “honeymoon” phase. Things will go well, you’ll feel like you’re on top of the world, and then because this is real life, something will happen that throws you off your game. You’ll find yourself back at square one, resorting to all your old habits and when you get sick of it and want to get back at it, it won’t feel quite so easy to implement those tools back into your life. You’ll feel resistant and even resentful. You’ll wonder why you ever thought you could do this in the first place. You’ll think everyone who claims they healed their relationship with food is a fucking liar. Slow down. Take a step back. You don’t have to get yourself back to where you were when you slipped. That’s a huge hurdle! Just pick one tool or one strategy that was working for you before that seems doable and go from there. You will get to where you were before, but not by skipping any steps along the way. Just pick up the pieces one at a time!

You didn’t become an emotional eater overnight. It’s not like one day you were eating normally, competently and the next day you turned to food for comfort. It was a coping strategy that you adopted over time in response to certain situations. In many cases it developed over many years. We have to have patience in changing it. We have to accept that we’re going to stumble a little, slip a little and that it might be uncomfortable, sometimes painful and often ridiculously slow! Be cautious of falling into these traps, take your time and don’t judge yourself for wherever you are in YOUR process. This is your journey and you need to do it however makes sense to you.

How are you doing with you own emotional eating or chronic dieting struggles? Could you use some support? If so, contact me to set up a Discovery Session. It’s free.

Like this? For more, download your free copy of Healthy Eating Shouldnt Be a Workout:  Real Life Strategies to Take the Confusion Out of Healthy Living (includes recipes, snack and meal ideas, ways to save money and more!).

An Exercise to Try: Take Regular Inventory of your Food, Body and Activity Habits

Take inventory of your habits that help or harm your progress. If twice a week happy hour is working for your goals and life then there’s no reason to change it. But if it’s preventing you from being where you want to be, it might be worth changing.

Sometimes we get stuck in routines, or how we’ve just always done something and in doing so, we limit our progress, because it’s much easier for our brains to let us do what we’ve always done, than it is to interrupt the pattern and try something new. The problem with this is that it sometimes means we get stuck doing things that actually aren’t helping us move forward. We think they’re working just because they used to in the past or because it’s what we’re comfortable with. We also sometimes get really scared of doing things differently and this rigidity can keep us unwell.

I have an exercise that can help you loosen up the hold some of your habits have on you – especially if they’re not helping you get where you want to be. It’s taking inventory every few months of all the things that I’m doing (and not doing) in regards to food, body/body image and physical activity – and then adjusting when needed.

This has become one of the most important things I’ve done while rehabbing my own relationship with food. I frequently take inventory of what I’m doing in relation to it.

Doing an inventory like this is important for a few reasons:

  1. It prevents me from doing things that are dangerous or unhealthy (ex. regular bingeing or excessive restriction of calories).
  2. It limits how long I’ll spend doing something before I change direction due to ineffectiveness (ex. doing the same exercise for years).
  3. It keeps me honest with myself (lying to ourselves is common with overeaters/undereaters).
  4. It helps me move forward instead of getting stuck in an unhelpful place.
  5. It helps me break out of rigidity thinking and absolutes that keep me unwell.

So what do I mean by taking inventory?

Well, I sit down with a pen and notebook and answer a bunch of questions around my eating habits, my body image or composition concerns and my physical activity routines to assess what things are going well and I should keep doing and what things might need to be tossed out. I want to stress that there are no “right” answers to these questions – it’s really personal and totally normal for the answers to change over time. Your honesty and openness is what will make this the most helpful thing.

Here are the questions in my inventory:


  • What motivates my decision to eat?
  • How am I determining what and how much to eat? And is this working for me?
  • Do I feel energized with the quantity and quality of food I’m eating?
  • Am I eating foods that are both good sources of nutrition and enjoyable?
  • What foods have I been eating too frequently?
  • What foods am I not eating enough of?
  • What foods am I eating that make my body feel great?
  • What foods am I eating that make my body feel not so good?
  • What changes with food can I make so that my body feels better and has more energy more often?
  • Is the environment I choose to eat my meals in a benefit to my relationship with food? (rushed? relaxed? etc) Is there anything I can do to improve the environment that I eat in?


  • How satisfied am I with my physical body (size, shape, composition etc)?
  • What am I using to determine this level of satisfaction? (ex. scale, measurements, clothing etc). Does this tool feel like a positive or negative part of my routine?
  • How satisfied am I with my body image?
  • What actions am I taking that make me feel good about my body or think positive thoughts about it?
  • What actions am I taking that make me feel badly about my body or think bad thoughts about it?
  • What needs to change in order for me to live more harmoniously with my body?
  • What do I love about my body today?
  • What parts of my body could use more love and gentleness?

Exercise / Movement

  • What is my motivation to exercise?
  • What physical activity am I doing?
  • What results am I after?
  • Am I making progress towards those results?
  • Does the movement / exercise I do make me feel powerful and energized? Or drained and exhausted in a bad way?
  • Does my body “like” my physical activity of choice?
  • Does the amount and type of exercise I’m doing fit in with my life and the type of life I want to have?
  • Is my activity interfering with the life I want to have?

Other Questions to Wrap Up

  • What tools, materials, thoughts and habits are serving me well at this time?
  • What tools, materials, thoughts and habits are not serving me (or possibly harming or hindering my progress)?
  • What have I been doing for months or years that will continue to make me feel good and reach my goals?
  • What have I been doing for months or years that is not helping and may need to change, be adjusted or dropped completely?
  • Are there any habits or actions that I’m doing that I feel like I need to hide from others? If so, does this feel like something that will help me heal my relationship with food or my body? If not, how can I change this action or get support to remove this obstacle?
  • What changes do I want to make that feel scary or overwhelming?
  • What changes do I want to make that I feel resistance towards making?
  • What changes do I want to make that I am actually looking forward to?
  • Where do I need support? And who could help provide that support?
  • When will I do another inventory? Schedule it in your calendar and re-answer these questions for your current situation.

One final thing I wanted to share about doing this type of inventory is that chronic dieters, emotional eaters etc tend to get themselves stuck in a land of absolutes. You know what I’m talking about (I can’t eat full fat foods. I must exercise 10 hours a week. I must eat less than 1300 calories a day etc) and I want you to use this type of self-questioning to knock that stuff on it’s butt.

What I mean by that . . there are some people who believe people with a disordered eating history should never weigh themselves, or they should never count calories. There are others out there who think you should never eat bread, cake or anything else that we could label as “bad”. There are some who think you can’t desire changing your body and also have a healthy relationship with it. But none of these are always true for everyone who has ever struggled with their eating or body image. There are certainly people who have a rough relationship with food who can use a scale without going into a tailspin. And there are people who can count calories without being too obsessive. The key is knowing who YOU are and what makes you well or unwell and using that to guide you.

I want us to throw all the “shoulds”, absolutes and inflexible ideas out the window. I think that kind of rigidity is part of what keeps us unwell. If we’re so attached to an idea or habit that we are unwilling to let it go even if it’s not working for us, we’re never going to get out of our own way. Answering these questions honestly and giving yourself permission to adjust or change where needed can be incredibly freeing.

I once thought that I had to count calories in order to lose weight. Then when I realized doing that never taught me to eat properly and I decided that not counting calories was the way to go. And that was working for awhile too. I went through a phase where I had to weigh myself every day, otherwise I would kind of turn a blind eye to how much I was eating and I’d gain and gain. Weighing myself let me adjust my behavior before it go out of control. Then I went through a period when I tucked the scale away and let how my clothes fit be a better indicator. For awhile I was using measurements.  These days, my weight or specific size is not something I monitor closely. I’ve come to decide that it’s healthier for me to think less about that stuff and more about how I’m caring for myself, regardless of my body size. As far as fitness goes, for years it was about burning as many calories as I could, then it was being as consistent as I could be, right now it’s about getting and feeling as strong as I can be.

What feels good? What doesn’t make me feel obsessive? These things change over time.

I am always evolving and I am not afraid of changing. I’m trying to not be so dogmatic about this journey. It can be challenging, for sure! Sometimes I feel like something is the total truth, the bible, and I want to share – “I have the answer folks!!!” But really, that answer is usually only the right answer for right then – for that period of my life. I try to remind my clients that same thing, that it’s ok to change it up. If you’ve been eating oatmeal every morning for 5 years and find yourself wanting to binge at the end of the day, maybe the oatmeal gets to take a vacation.

We are ever-changing, growing and evolving beings. And it’s important to honor that in our daily choices as we work our way to healthier and happier bodies, minds and souls.

Please don’t be too rigid about what’s working for you or “what you’ve always done”.

It’s ok to change it. In fact, it may be revolutionary for your body to change it!

It’s ok to let it go.

It’s ok to try something you previously thought was silly or too hard or wrong.

It’s ok to change your mind.

It’s ok to readjust.

Lastly, in case it’s helpful, I want to share a couple of examples of my most recent inventory changes. I am always trying to break my own rigidity and habits and staying open to changing to what works for right now.

Example 1. For years I drank black coffee during the week and had cream & sugar on the weekends as a treat. Well somewhere along the last year or so of working from home, I had started to do cream and sugar all week long in my coffee. I noticed my allergies were creeping up on me and the daily dairy was probably the culprit (it kills my asthma!). I went back to drinking black during the week just last week and my lungs already feel better. I adjusted even though cream and sugar sure tastes good – it wasn’t giving me the results I’m after!

Example 2. For the last 4 months I’ve been getting plenty of exercise each week – probably 6 days a week of barre, weight lifting, walking, HIIT, biking etc. I’m getting plenty of heart pumping exercise and feeling great! But what I realized during my last inventory was that by working from home, I’m way way more sedentary that I want to be. I don’t have a huge building to walk through like I used to when I worked for another company. Other than trips to the bathroom or kitchen, I’m sitting on my bum in my office most of the day. In some ways, it makes me more tired! Because of that, I’ve been adding just 20-30 minutes of a casual walk outside a few days a week and it’s really helping my energy throughout the day. Plus it’s great to get a little sunlight and get off the computer. Yes I’m getting plenty of conditioning exercise but my daily movement was limited otherwise and it’s important to change that. Human bodies were made to move!

Example 3. I usually don’t eat wheat which works for me most of the time . . . but Sunday I had brunch with family and some old family friends and John ordered a donut with a caramel bourbon sauce. It smelled amazing and caramel is one of my favorite things. I ate some of that donut. And it was delicious. And it’s ok.

I’m not a bad person for eating something I normally don’t eat and my world isn’t going to explode for having it. There’s no morality in food.

I am fluid. I am malleable. I am pliant. I shift. I fluctuate. And you can too.

One of the largest benefits I see to taking regular inventory of your habits around food and body stuff is that it becomes much easier to let go of the rigid thinking that keeps us trapped in unhealthy habits. It forces us to question why we’re doing that stuff in the first place and when you see it on paper, it’s a lot harder to ignore. When we can’t bear to let go of a habit, when doing something differently brings up a lot of resistance or stress, it’s sometimes a sign that it’s no longer a healthy thing for us to do. Only you can really determine what is right for you! Try this exercise and let me know if you find it helpful!