In this post, I am talking with my guest Tricia Nelson about emotional eating. I have a feeling that a lot of you reading this are going to relate to what she has to say. How many of you have tried 100 different diets only to regain the weight and feel like you’ve got five different sizes of clothing in your closet because sometimes you’re an eight, sometimes you’re a 10, sometimes you’re a six, etc. That is a really common problem. We tend to focus on the food and the weight, when in fact, there are deeper issues at play.
Ongoing weight issues are a result of something deeper. It’s not that you haven’t found the right diet. Sometimes it is, but if it’s a lifelong issue of constantly losing and gaining weight, then it’s the result of something deeper and we’ve got to figure out what those root causes are. When you come to see me as a patient, we will get into all of the medical reasons that might cause those issues. Much of the time, those medical issues develop because of even deeper rooted issues such as your personality, your childhood, and possibly an unhealthy relationship with food. These could be the real issue that is preventing you from being able to manage your medical conditions or get control of your weight.
I think you’re going to be surprised at how much you relate to this conversation with Tricia today. Please share this post with everyone you know, because I think as women, this is a bigger issue than we want to admit. Want to listen instead? Hear the whole interview here.
Who is Tricia Nelson?
Tricia Nelson lost 50 pounds by identifying and healing the underlying causes of her own emotional eating. She has spent over 30 years researching addiction personality. She’s an emotional eating expert and author of the number one best-selling book “Heal Your Hunger, Seven Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating Now.” Trisha is also the host of the popular podcast. The Heal Your Hunger Show and is a highly regarded speaker. She has been featured on NBC, CBS, KTLA Fox, and Discovery Health.
In this blog post, we are going to talk about…
Simple ways to start to end emotional eating now.
The personality traits of an emotional eater.
How meditation can be a powerful tool for emotional eaters.
How it’s more of a lifestyle thing than an eating thing.
Tricia’s quiz to help you figure out where you are on the spectrum of emotional eating and determine if you need to do some deeper work on your relationship with food.
Welcome to Tricia!
Thanks for having me, Tabatha! It’s so good to be here.
Tabatha: I’m super excited about this conversation. I feel like it’s so important and women need to hear this.
Tell Us Your Story With Emotional Eating
I was an emotional eater way back when when I was a wee little one. Way back as far as I can remember, I was obsessed with food. I love food, I love to eat, I love to cook, I love to serve other people and go out to dinner. I was very food-focused, which wouldn’t have been so bad except that I started gaining weight. By age 20 I was 50 pounds overweight. I hated being fat. I would scrunch up my tummy and imagine cutting it off like a side steak. I thought about contracting a disease that would cause me to automatically lose weight without having to diet. I also thought maybe I’ll join the Army and I’ll be forced to exercise at boot camp because I hated exercise.
It’s just reflective of how desperate I was. I tried dieting, but I was a yo-yo dieter. I would go up 30 down 10 up 20. I had five different sizes of pants in my closet because I never knew what size I’d be. It was really a slog for me. It wasn’t until I learned about emotional eating a long time ago before it was even a known thing that things changed for me.
When my consciousness was raised to that point, it was like a lightbulb went off for me. I observed my behaviors with my friends when we went out. They’d ordered a sandwich and it would come with fries. They’d eat their sandwich and pick at their fries. But I’d eat my fries and pick at my sandwich. I felt like a Martian. I couldn’t understand how anyone could leave a french fry on their plate. That’s the best part. They’d have a hot fudge sundae and stop halfway through. I would think full what’s that got to do with anything? I started to realize my relationship with food was different than other people’s.
Tabatha: I can relate so much because I was addicted to sugar and I lived off of it for so long as an OB-GYN because I was so sleep-deprived and stressed to the max. That was my coping mechanism. Looking back, I can’t imagine living like that again. I remember telling somebody one time that the doughnuts were talking to me from the break room and they looked at me like I was crazy. That’s when it clicked for me. I thought I have an addiction to sugar and it’s got to go.
Can you talk about yo-yo dieting and trying to find the “perfect diet.” What aren’t we doing?
You know, it’s really crazy. There was a study recently in the British Medical Journal. They followed 22,000 adults who are on one of 14 popular diets (the ones we all know.) After one year, all of the weight that the participants lost was gained back. Dozens of studies out there show that diets have a dismal success rate. 95% of people who diet and lose weight will gain it back.
You get psyched at first. You start looking good, feeling good. You feel your pants getting looser. Then after two weeks or so, it starts to get hard. I hear this over and over. I felt the same way. After I was on a program for a certain amount of time, I just couldn’t take it anymore and I’d binge. What I know now is that when I would lose weight or diet, the feelings that I had around with food started to come to the surface and I didn’t have the proper tools to deal with them. Food will bury your stuff, you’ll get numbed out and you won’t feel. As soon as you’re not burying your feelings, you will feel, and if you don’t have coping tools for dealing with life’s problems and stress you’re going to go looking for chocolate or whatever your food of choice is and eat it to make the feelings go away. In my experience, emotional eating is why diets fail. People think oh, easy peasy I’m going to follow this diet, lose weight, and feel great, but it doesn’t work that way. You feel great at first, but then you start feeling like I need my main coping tool. Give it to me now.
Oh my gosh, I couldn’t agree more. I think that we are looking for the solution to a problem that isn’t the root cause. The weight is not the problem. You have to fix the real problem. I do a seven-week challenge where I teach women how to eat healthily and incorporate intermittent fasting. Before we get into that, I talk about this kind of stuff because if you don’t do the work, it doesn’t work.
What are three simple things we can do to start addressing emotional eating?
I have something I call the PEP test. PEP is an acronym. It’s a good way for people to start making the connection between their eating and their emotions.
The First P in PEP Stands for Painkiller
The first P in Pep stands for painkiller. It’s not what foods doing to us. We’re pretty aware of what food does to us. It’s what food is doing for us that we have to start taking a look at. We use food as a painkiller. I was drawn to heavy foods like sugar, fat, and starch. My favorite three food groups actually. I was drawn to those foods because they anesthetized my feelings. If I had a binge, I’d be feeling no pain. I didn’t want to know what was going on inside of me. That’s the problem. The problem is when you binge and you get out of control with food. Then you have a whole other set of problems and pain.
The E Stands for Escape
The E in PEP stands for escape. I just wanted to get away from my problems. I also had financial fear. I used food as a form of checking out and escaping things like fear, anxiety, and stress.
The Last P Stands for Punishment
The last P in PEP is punishment. It seems counterintuitive because we think of our favorite foods as a reward, but I was hardly rewarding myself when I would overindulge and end up feeling sick. In my experience, overeaters are over feelers. We feel guilty about everything. Not only that, but we’re super hard on ourselves. When we make a mistake, we tend to be perfectionists. So we beat ourselves up with food. It’s a vicious cycle because you’re so mad at yourself that you punish yourself again. You’re mad at yourself for eating, and then you eat more. It makes no sense.
You can use this to check in on yourself. When you find going to the kitchen time and time again. Is there something painful that you’re trying to bury? Are you trying to escape something that’s overwhelming, or perhaps you’re trying to punish yourself for something you’ve said or done that you feel bad about. It’s a nice way to start making the connection between your eating and your emotions.
It’s About More Than Food and Our Emotions
We think of emotional eating as just being about food and what we eat, but in my experience, emotional eaters have a different way of reacting to life. It’s very much based on how we grew up. So many emotional eaters have trauma in their past, I had sexual abuse in my past. A lot of people have alcoholism or some kind of dysfunction in their family. When we’re kids, we don’t have a way of dealing with that stuff. We don’t have tools at the ready and food is right there and it works.
The Traits of That Are Common Among Emotional Eaters
We modulate our behavior to get by durring stressful situations. In my book, I talk about the 24 personality traits that make up what I call the anatomy of the emotional eater. Most emotional eaters are different than your average person. We have these ways of coping that work as a kid, but work against us as adults.
The Number One Trait Among Emotional Eaters
The number one trait is people-pleasing. If you have a trauma as a kid or you have alcoholism or if you have a raging parent you learn how to become a chameleon. You always trying to please to get by without some kind of damage. As adults it causes sickness. We bury our feelings and have a smile plastered on our faces all the time. We’re doing too much and we’re stressed out because we want validation and we get it by producing. That’s a big problem.
In my experience helping hundreds of women (who are all people-pleasers) is that we’re saying yes to everything “sure I’ll chair the committee,” “happy to host the party,” “of course I’ll do your job without extra pay, no problem.” The problem is that nobody’s ever as pleased as we plan on them being. We’re like, I’m gonna get a big hit from this, but people barely notice, and then we’re not only burned out from overdoing, we’re kind of pissed off and resentful. That’s the perfect prescription for the I deserve it binge.
I think there are going to be a lot of women listening who are resonating with what you’re saying because that just hits home. You are trying to do it all, be it all, have it all. It’s not giving you what you need deep inside, so you keep trying to fill this void and food is a super-easy way to fill it temporarily. Because you get a chemical reaction that makes you mentally feel better. You get those endorphins from the gluten and the sugar and all that garbage, but then you crash.
So What are Some Other Traits That Emotional Eaters Have?
Another one stemming back to our childhood oftentimes is caretaking. This is akin to people-pleasing as well, but we tend to be in caretaking roles. Not just motherhood, but also maybe being a therapist, a nurse, or something where we’re taking on responsibility for people’s health. It’s stressful, we tend to use food to fuel ourselves as we’re giving. We end up giving and giving and getting exhausted. When our cup, gets empty and we refill it with food.
Having a racing mind. In my experience, emotional eaters are not only overeaters, but they’re overthinkers. We create these stories which gives us a reason to worry when there’s no reason at all. That creates a lot of stress and it’s not even real, it’s just stories we tell ourselves.
That’s why meditation is so powerful for emotional eaters, because not only do we need to stop doing for everybody, but we need to stop thinking too. Practices like meditation, prayer, walking, anything that can help us slow down and chill out, are so important. When we’re all wound up and we’re eating at the same pace we’re spinning, it’s usually not salads that we’re going to town on its snacky foods and chips. That’s why we have to take time out and give ourselves a little time to unwind from the stress of the day.
How We Are Living is What Needs to Be Addressed
It’s how we’re living that needs to be addressed. People aren’t stupid, they know pizzas, probably not as healthy a choice as a salad. It’s not like we’re ignorant about nutrition. It’s our inability to follow through on what we know when we’re stressed, doing too much, and burning the candle at both ends. I always tell people, it’s more of a living problem than an eating problem.
Tabatha: Oh my gosh, that is so good. I couldn’t agree more. I’m running through all of these scenarios from my past. Eating while I’m charting, while I’m on the phone with the nurse, while I’m walking to the OB department to catch a baby. Yes, you can eat salad like that, but you can eat chips too. You’re eating without realizing you’re eating too fast. Your brain can’t even realize that you’re full. You’re not nourishing your body. You’re stressed out, there are so many things going on. I remember when I finally gave up sugar, sitting down uninterrupted, not working, or being on my phone while I ate was a key factor in my success.
Tell Us More About Self Care
You’re saying we have to change how we’re living. I see this in my patients and in the women who follow me. We give to everybody else until there’s nothing left. We don’t even know how to make ourselves a priority. So speak to that.
People think it’s bad to take time for ourselves. As women, we put ourselves on a guilt trip about it. We feel like it’s selfish, but it’s self less to take care of ourselves. Studies show that when we take time for ourselves, we actually increase our capacity to give to others. Not only that, but people end up getting the best version of us.
When we slow down, have time for self-care, and say no, Mommy needs some quiet time. Guess what the kids and the spouse get a better version of us. That’s what we’re giving to them and don’t they deserve that?
They don’t want us to be busy, bitchy stressed out, tired, overworked Mom. We don’t want to be that persona, but it doesn’t just happen. We have to take time for ourselves. We have to restore. It’s not selfish. It’s a gift to everybody, including ourselves.
Exactly. And I would even take it to the next step. What do you want to teach your children? You want to teach them to put themselves first. You don’t want to see your daughter, burnt out when she’s 30 and not able to even take care of her small children. That’s what we’re teaching them.
Another Trait of Emotional Eaters
Then that brings us to another trait of the emotional eater, which is that we tend to stuff down our feelings and what we want to say. We expect our spouses to be mind readers like they should know what we need without telling them, but that’s really not fair. We have to speak up and we have to say, hey, I have a boundary here, I need this amount of time or I need to not start until nine, or I need to take a break. I need the weekend off or for you to take the kids out for an hour or two. We have to communicate that. As emotional eaters and people-pleasers, we’re afraid of what people will think if we set a boundary. People have to know where we stand. They’re not mindreaders, and they shouldn’t be expected to do that. We need to speak up.
Actually, that’s a big part of my program. Teaching people how to speak up for themselves. I don’t teach nutrition because I leave that to people like you and other people who, who are better qualified, but I do teach them how to speak up for themselves. How to start identifying their needs because people don’t know how to do it. They need to be taught. I also support people in doing that, because it’s so scary for emotional eaters.
That is such an important part. I see that all the time with my patients. People who need to give up gluten for medical reasons and they still eat it because they don’t want to make their mother-in-law feel bad because they won’t eat her lasagna or they don’t want to disrupt the party and things like that.
How Can My Readers Work With You?
Tell my readers what it looks like to work with you. Because I know that there are women who are like, Oh my gosh, I need her help.
Take My Emotional Eating Quiz
A great place to start is to take the emotional eating quiz on my website. The quiz is going to tell you if you’re an emotional eater or a food addict or somewhere in between. It’s really a spectrum. I think we all have the tendency to emotionally eat. We’re hardwired that way. That’s why breastfeeding is such a, powerful experience for the mother and the child.
We all have a bit of it in us, but it’s a spectrum. When you take the quiz, you get a personalized score. It’s a free quiz that takes a couple of minutes. After that, you can sign up for a breakthrough session.
After That Get a Free Breakthrough Session
My team does breakthrough sessions that are complimentary. During that session, we’ll help you determine the level of help that you’re looking for.
I have a 90-day program that’s really popular. It’s done in a group because I find that emotional eaters are so much alike. When they realize they’re not the only ones who have done the strange things they’ve done with food, it brings so much healing. There are modules that they go through. They learn about emotional eating and my seven-step process for overcoming it. We have group calls together, which are really fun and powerful. That would be a great way to start, but if somebody talks to my team, they can describe what they’re going through, what their situation is. Then we can determine what the best option for them would be.
Listen to My Podcast
I also have a podcast called The Heal Your Hunger Show. They can just check that out. I’m very personal on my show. I talk a lot about my own journey and story because I’m still an emotional eater. I don’t generally overeat anymore, but it’s the emotions about the experiences of life that I really dig into on my show.
Emotional Eating is Tough, Because You Can’t Just Give Up Eating
I heard you on another podcast talking about this. You were saying how it’s hard because you always have to eat it’s not like you can give it up.
Yes. People are shamed, that they can’t control what they put in their mouths. They think I should be able to overcome this myself, but we’re talking about the hardest of all habits to overcome because you have to eat. You can’t just put the plug in the jug like you can with alcohol. I often say what we’re up against is akin to taking a growing, growling Tiger out of the cage three times a day, trying to pet the nice Kitty, and somehow get it back in the cage and shut the door without getting our asses torn off. That’s not easy. It’s going to take a lot of support and coaching because it’s not as obvious as you think it is. It’s not because your grandmother made really good cookies. It goes much deeper than that. We have to unpack it. We don’t think twice about hiring a trainer to get fit at the gym, or a tennis coach if we want to compete, but somehow eating has all this shame around it. This is a lifelong habit usually. We’re going to need support.
I encourage people to stop shoulding on themselves by saying I should be able to do it. Reach out for support because it’s time to stop struggling and doing the yo-yo thing over and over again. You don’t have to do that. We can figure it out.
Yes. Oh my gosh, I think so many women are going to relate to this. Thank you so much for being on here. You are just a wealth of knowledge.
To Wrap It Up
I hope you took something away from this interview. I know I did. I was reminded of how I was addicted to food and I used it as a coping mechanism to get me through my sleep-deprived, overstressed life. How it really was affecting my health and leading to medical issues. Once I figured out why I was using food the way that I was, I was able to get control and really change how and what I was eating. I changed my life behaviors to do that.
I just love all of the tools that Trisha teaches and the way she has set up her program. I just think she’s doing awesome work so if you want to check her out, go to her website. I want you to give yourself some grace. Be patient with yourself. We’re all on this journey together to be the amazing woman that God created us to be. We all have pitfalls and obstacles in our way. We just have to navigate it and support each other. When you come together as women you can accomplish so much more because you are supported and loved.
If you want to take more action to improve your health and balance your hormones, check out my free ebook. The Functional Gynecologist’s Guide to Balancing Hormones Naturally