emotional eating | trust yourself completely

This week we finish off the emotional eating series with a look at another topic that is closely linked to emotional/stress eating: self-trust. How do you feel when you have choices: empowered or overwhelmed? How well do you trust yourself to make the best choice?

There seems to be a fine line between having choices and having too many. I think it’s one of the reasons I love shopping at my small locally-owned grocery rather than at the larger regional and national chains: give me choices, yes, and keep them simple—down to three to five options, not 20.

When faced with a large store full of too many options, I can feel my system start to shut down and go into overwhelm: I’m likely to leave without buying anything or to just grab something—anything—so I can get out of there. Given just a few options, I feel much more empowered to make the best one.

If you did the should/could/will exercise last week, it might have looked like this:

  • I should eat an apple instead of a candy bar.
  • I could eat an apple instead of the candy bar; I could also go for a 10-minute walk; or I could spend 10 minutes talking to a friend.
  • The next time I want a candy bar, I will take a 10-minute walk instead.

In other words, you probably came up with some ideas in the “could” column that would be better options than trying to use food to suppress an emotion, fill a void, or feel a sense of control.

A small step would be to make a healthier food choice—you could choose fruit over sweets, a handful of nuts instead of chips, etc.

A larger step would be to consider what you could do to “feed” your emotion in non-food ways.

primary + secondary foods

In Integrative Nutrition®, the style of health coaching I practice, we talk a lot about secondary foods (what we put in our mouths) and primary foods (everything else that nourishes us—or doesn’t).

Primary foods are areas of our lives such as our careers, relationships, spiritual practices, physical activity, time in nature, sleep habits, etc. (The list really does feel endless.)

One of the theories that Integrative Nutrition® is based on is that disharmony in our primary foods causes us to have an unhealthy relationship with secondary foods, and I see this play out in just about every client I work with.

Let’s face it: if you hate your job, your boss is a jerk, and your coworkers make you crazy, you’re much more likely to get home and head straight for the freezer, where you stand eating ice cream from the container. Lack of sweetness in your career area drives you to fill your need for sweetness with food.

If you choose to sit on the couch and binge Netflix rather than move your body, you’re much more likely to satisfy that need for mental stimulation by grabbing a bag of chips or popcorn.

Most clients come to me thinking that they need to “fix” their secondary food (“How can I make better food choices?”) and end up spending much more time finding ways to bring more harmony to their primary food areas. It really comes down to “feeding” yourself better in non-food ways so that you don’t long for the quick fix that food promises and rarely delivers in the long term.

back to self-trust

A major difference between more traditional holistic/integrative health care and the more conventional allopathic model is that the former seeks to discover the cause of our symptoms while the latter seeks to treat the symptoms. There is a place for both (probably all) modalities at the table: we would certainly be a lot healthier if we recognized that relieving our symptoms is important—and that treating the cause of the symptoms is even more important.

Another difference that I have seen between the two models of health care is that many (though not all) conventionally-trained MDs are viewed (and view themselves) as experts in their field. They have undeniably invested a lot of time and money in their education and practices, and most of them are experts on a very specific part of the body. Holistic practitioners tend to view the human body as the expert in healing: give the body what it needs, remove what’s getting in its way, and it will most often heal itself.

In an ideal world, we would flow between getting medical advice from experts we trust, wherever they fall on the health care spectrum, and then deciding which pieces of advice feel right for us based on our intuition. Trusting our inner wisdom empowers us to advocate for ourselves, to ask questions when an intervention/medication/procedure feels inappropriate, to ask what our other options may be.

This all may feel like a detour—and it does relate to our topic of emotional eating.

An allopathic approach to emotional eating would be to treat the symptom—the eating itself. If sweets are your go-to when you’re emotional, you might ban all sweets from the house, replace them with better food choices, or even take an appetite suppressant or other medication to take the edge of your emotions.

A more integrative approach would be to dig deeper and address not just the emotion but what the emotion is asking for. Many (probably most) of the triggers we identified in the second week of this series are not going to magically disappear when we remove sweets from our pantry.

And if you know that an overwhelming day at work (your trigger) makes you feel stressed (your emotion) and sends you running to the freezer for ice cream (what will temporarily relieve your stress and will only lead you down the path of self-judgment and shame), you can start to get curious.

First, get curious about what your emotion is asking for: is it security, safety, love, affection, appreciation…?

Next, get curious about your options for meeting that need: what would make you feel really safe, loved, appreciated?

If you are stressed, look for ways to escape the stress cycle that don’t involve food (or work): you could go for a walk, call a friend, take a shower—all of which help to relieve stress and don’t end in self-judgment. As we talked about last week, choices give us agency—self-empowerment—over our situation.

trust yourself

Trust your intuition to come up with a list of non-food options to give yourself what your emotion is asking for.

The key is to not only have a list of options (one of which may be to go ahead and eat the ice cream): it’s to trust that 50% of the time, you can choose a better option.

That’s it for starters: just 50% of the time, choose a walk, a phone call, or a shower in place of the ice cream.

Need an earworm to remind you? There’s always the great Bob Dylan.

Trust yourself,
Trust yourself to do the things that only you know best
Trust yourself
Trust yourself to do what’s right and not be second-guessed

If you need somebody you can trust, trust yourself.

make the connection

If you’re following along with the series and trying to address what might be emotional/stress eating, here are your action steps/assignments:

If you want to dig deeper into the topic of emotional eating, join me for a free 4-part challenge in May 2021!

[Image from Shutterstock]