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Not your typical health coach....I'm Erin, and I'm a Health and Performance Coach, with a successful career in clinical psychology for the last 18 yrs.

Needless to say your emotional well-being is a big focus in my work with you, as well as the importance of your physical and spiritual well-being - this is what creates lasting health.

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Ditch the diets: Your pathway to Emotional Eating Freedom!

May 07, 20246 min read

“We all have a belly full of emotions. And sometimes, we just want to eat them.” - Lyz Lenz (author)

Remember that bag of cookies you devoured while watching last night's emotional rollercoaster of a reality show? Or maybe it was a pint of ice cream after a stressful day at work. We've all been there. Reaching for food when emotions take hold is surprisingly common, and it's definitely not a character flaw.

For years, we get stuck in a frustrating cycle of trying new diets, only to end up back at square one. The guilt and self-blame are overwhelming. But it doesn't always have to be this way! Here's the thing: restrictive diets might promise quick fixes, but they often ignore the deeper emotional triggers that lead to overeating.

This blog is your guide to understanding why emotional eating happens and how to break free from its grip. We'll explore how our emotions are intricately linked to food choices, and discover actionable strategies to manage your emotional eating once and for all. So, ditch the diet drama and get ready to rewrite your relationship with food!

Below are 3 lesser-known factors in emotional eating that might help you on your way to change your relationship with food and stop the self-sabotage!

1.      Firstly, Emotional Eating is Normal!!!

What if I told you that emotional eating is totally normal? And in fact, food has often been the source of connection for much of history and in different cultures. Bring to mind a mother breastfeeding a baby – this is a beautiful connection between food and emotions. Even thinking about family and friends gathering together– often there is fun, laughter and connection around a table full of food. Food is often involved in religion or cultural experiences, both eating certain foods, as well as abstaining from certain foods (i.e fasting).

So, if food and emotions are connected from when we are born, what messages were you given as a child around food and your emotions? Did you get a specific type of food as a reward? Did a caregiver give your food when you were upset? What is your unique food story?

Emotional eating is common and “normal”, however the problem comes when we use food as the main way of dealing with our difficult emotions. It also becomes more complicated when we consider the addictive nature of the foods that we use to cope. The key takeaway is that the connection between food and our emotions is common and normal.

Why is this important to know? So, you understand that there is nothing wrong with you, and you can stop being so hard on yourself. Instead use the energy to make sense of what is happening and what you need. And the next bit of information might help you understand where to look next!

2.      It’s (mostly) not about the food!

It’s not about the food, but unfortunately this is where people are hyper-focused. There are lots of diets, food plans, and counting calories, which can sometimes work in the short term, but rarely in the long term. We’re missing an important piece of the puzzle by not dealing with our emotions, and we keep circling back to a new food plan! When we try and manage our emotional eating this way, we are actually looking in the wrong place. No wonder it’s been around for so long, and we can’t get free of this.

The repeated failed dieting also fuels the shame and the guilt cycle, where we think that there is something wrong with us, as the diets seem to be working for others. This can lead to more emotional eating, as a response to resultant stress that happens when we feel like we keep failing, and impacts our nervous system, which I talk about next.

Why is this important to know? The good news here, is that we can start looking in a different place for the solution. Whilst it is important to eat nourishing food as a lifestyle choice, it usually doesn’t break the emotional eating cycle. Therefore, the place to look is in how we manage our emotions, what are our triggers, what are our coping strategies, and what is happening in our nervous system. More on this next.

3.      Our nervous system is the key, and I’m not just talking about “stress”

Our nervous system, understanding this, and having strategies to manage our different states is important. And I’m not just talking about “stress”.

But what is our nervous system? Our autonomic nervous system is made up of the nerves that run through our bodies, and regulates our bodies processes, including our heart rate, our breathing, and our digestion. Notice that these systems I mentioned are actually regulated automatically. Our nervous system uses signals from outside and inside our body, operating outside of our conscious awareness. The goal of the nervous system is to protect us by sensing safety and risk and responding accordingly.

According to Polyvagal Theory, there are three pathways in the nervous system. The Ventral Vagal pathway takes in cues of safety and supports feelings of engagement and social connection. This is the state that we want to be in when we’re eating and enjoying our food. The Dorsal Vagal pathway, responds to cues of danger, and takes us out of connection and into shut down, and out of awareness (also known as the ‘freeze system). And then there is the ‘fight-flight’ system, which also responds to cues of danger and triggers the release of adrenaline which makes us ready to fight or flee.

Emotional eating, in part, is trying to regulate the nervous system using food, rather than other strategies to re-engage the feelings of safety and engagement. It also explains why some people’s experience of emotional eating occurs when they are ‘bored’ (not just stressed). This is when the Dorsal Vagal pathway is activated, and they may be using food as a way to self-soothe. In addition, an added complication is that in states of stress, the digestive system is offline, as the body’s resources are placed elsewhere in a bid to ensure safety. Therefore, eating when we are stressed can often lead to difficulties or problems with digestion.

Why is this important to know? By understanding that we are using food to help us “feel safe” and regulate our nervous system, means we need to learn new skills and strategies to help us, not go on a new diet. We all have the capacity to learn new skills!

Summary:

This article busts 3 myths about emotional eating:

  1. It's not your fault! Emotional eating is normal.

  2. Look beyond the food. Your nervous system plays a big role.

  3. Feeling safe is key. Find ways to manage stress that don't involve food.

Ready to ditch the diet cycle? This blog offers valuable insights and guidance to navigate emotional eating and find lasting solutions.

Ready to break free? Check out my Breaking Free from Emotional Eating group program! We'll explore practical strategies to build confidence, energy, and self-worth – not just another diet! Book a free consultation to start your journey: https://findingyourflow.com.au/complimentary-call

Spots are limited! Next program starts 24th June 2024!

Good luck! 2024 can be the year you break free!

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Erin Todd

Erin Todd is a Health and Performance Coach. She has a background in clinical psychology, and she helps women improve their health, so they can thrive.

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