I hope you’re well today and finding ways to thrive.
Welcome, if you are new here. Wow, what a privilege to have you here and to grow in
relationship together. If you have been reading these blogs for a while, I so appreciate
I was thinking about the ingredients that supported me in being able to make food just
food, even in the stressors of life. And it made me want to write out some beginning
strategies to help with something that almost all of us have struggled with – emotional
over or under eating.
Rest assured; all humans eat emotionally sometimes. This post isn’t about us getting rid
of emotional eating. It’s a normal part of life to enjoy food and have as a buffer in
hard times. But what we do want is to be able to have agency (I know why and when I
am doing what I am doing and agree with this option) about our eating.
That aside, today I want to share with you my ingredients for healing emotional eating.
Some of these will be obvious, some will be what you don’t find in most lists because
they don’t understand the root of all eating issues is what has happened to us in
relationship. Before we get to that, let’s start with the obvious.
1) I had to accept that emotional under or overeating all have a root in deprivation.
Deprivation of allowing choices with food, deprivation some days with calories to try to
“fix” the binging with dieting or “healthy eating”, deprivation of connection, rest, fun,
speaking the truth, vulnerability, etc. A quick way to find out if you are in a deprivation
in any way is to look at how you feed yourself and also look at if your activities during a
given week match your values. If not, you will have subtle or obvious emotions that will
arise because something feels out of balance.
2) It was not a coincidence that when I was lonely, overwhelmed, fearful, suppressing
rage, sad, I would binge on sweets. Rarely do people binge on lettuce (I do see it
occasionally but it’s rare). I can’t speak for you, but for me, cookie dough — the whole
process — buying it, the time to either bake or unwrap and cut into slices, the
creaminess, the graininess, the crunch, the sweet, the smoothness all brought different
sensations and emotions of care and memories of not being alone. When you compare
that level of need for support and the lack of experience I had at identifying and riding
the waves of emotions, of course I ate because I didn’t think I had other options.
How did this over-coupled eating cookie dough experience change you might ask? I
recognized that my life wasn’t getting better and my body was not feeling well slowly
over time and decided to say to myself “You can eat cookie dough. I won’t take it
away. But we need to be with what is happening”. As I learned to ‘stay” and not
abandon myself, I realized that I was seeking connection and relief through the
sensations the cookie dough provided, but it was a substitute for getting my needs met and I wanted to believe that I could learn to be competent at responding to feelings and life.
Which leads me the next point…
3) Neglect, emotional mis-attunements (our emotions
being minimized, not acknowledged, manipulated or punished because of our feelings
or needs) and real or perceived rejection of any kind can lead us to develop strategies
that are faux or counterfeit forms of relief, comfort or safety. They are self-reliant ways
of not feeling the feelings or sensations from past experiences not processed but
triggered by current events or here and now stressors that we have not yet built the
resiliency to navigate.
To learn more about our philosophy about why we emotionally eat, these two resources
do a more in-depth education around developmental trauma Relational Trauma: Mental
Health Effects, Examples, and Healing (psychcentral.com)
All the little fragments: Understanding complex relational trauma (anniewright.com)
What does this mean for emotional eating recovery? It means I, and you too, had to
learn to feel feelings and try new things that would help me (and you) do so.
We have talked more in-depth in past videos here and will continue to in the future
about the specifics about how being in a threat response triggers internal overwhelm
and food behaviors, but for now, let’s continue with the in-depth list of strategies to ease
Here are some of my tools that I used:
1) Check in often, even hourly, to how I was doing. Like, what do I really think and
feel about what just happened? Do I really want to say yes to xyz? What do I
want to eat if I was a person that didn’t worry about calories or believe that my
body was my worth? How hungry am I? Could I eat or wait a bit?
2) I decided to stop dieting. Even thoughts of dieting activated trauma around not
getting needs met (fight, flight, freeze and people pleasing) so I had to talk with
myself daily that “I don’t do that; I am not perpetuating being a part of the cultural
standards that were a part of hurting me”. It’s not like I never had FOMO
thoughts of everyone else is dieting why can’t I, but I captured them and said no,
those are not my values anymore.
So very practically, I started eating regular meals and snacks. Very simple at first (like 3
food groups) then slowly exploring more varied and complex meals depending on
energy level. But the hard simplicity of eating regular meals was an ACT of CARE that
healed lots of absence of triggered old wounds of “not good enough”. The more we
care for how we are and what we need, the less trigger we will have.
3) Also, I committed to let go of incidences of emotional eating. No more self-
hatred or flagellation or fixing with more exercise, “healthy eating”, potions,
lotions, etc. Eat again when hungry or makes sense so emotional eating did not
become a thing to fixate on was deeply moving experience and helped me build
Another note on emotional or binge eating. The need to dissociate is not a disease. It
is something the brain does if it perceives a threat. The aim of emotional eating is to be
“not-embodied” or not in the body if the sensations, emotions or memories inside the
body feel like a threat. Part of building our capacity to feel without dissociating with
emotional eating is build safety around our eating experiences and to practice with safe
people. For more tools for meal safety, see www.tracybrownrd.com/free-gifts
4) Literally, I had to sometimes look at a feelings and sensations list to get to know
my experiences. How does it feel for this chair to support me? The feeling of the
sheets on my legs? What if felt like to be comfortably full. When my friend really
shared her opinion with me in truth and love. Really naming things helped me
build a vocabulary outside of “I am good or bad based on my food or weight”.
5) Stop that motor. When my mind would race with obsession, I might say, “oh I’m
doing that thing/there’s that motor. I am not doing that right now and would do
something else. Sit in the car and listen to music. Push some furniture around
or pull some weeds, Move from inside to outside. Lay on the floor for as long as I
needed to to be out of my head and really feel my body supported by the floor. I
couldn’t always stop the thoughts, but I could use my body to get out of my head.
Exercise was not a good idea for me because I was also healing exercise
compulsion at the same time.
6) Stop isolating. Isolation was one of biggest enablers of emotional eating. It
makes sense. We get hurt in relationship, but we also heal in relationship, and I
didn’t start healing my relationship with people until I started being with people
more that were relatively safe enough. Even when I didn’t feel like it, it took the
place of the times I typically ate to not feel feelings.
7) Finally, I really wanted a future. I really wanted to be eating disorder free. I was
willing to learn to feel feelings, face rejections, traumas, be not part of the crowd
or norm and even trust that though hard, there were people that could be found
that could “get me” to be in relationship with eventually. What this means is that I
had to honor my needs for food, rest, play, connection, purpose, etc.
What is hard about emotional eating recovery is that we often do need others to mirror
us and validate what we are struggling with, so I am not suggesting that I was a lone
wolf or in denial that I could do this by myself. With all the ideas above, sometimes I
had professional support, sometimes not. When I did, I moved forward faster and with more consistency because it just felt good to be seen and heard. If you thrive with connection, I highly recommend you reach out to us so we can hear your story too at www.tracybrownrd.com/get-started
We (myself and the team) would love to hear from you. What tools can you see
yourself trying today? Have you tried some, but consistency got lost somewhere and
not sure where to start?
Don’t let beliefs that you can’t feel feelings without food stop you from giving yourself a
Much care and peaceful eating,
Tracy and team