How to deal with emotional eating
Hey there, Coach Stephen Arnold here.
I’ve got my hair cut especially for this one, a fresh shave so I’m feeling pretty slick today.
I’ve got this material prepared for you, I’m going to try and explain a little bit about emotional eating. I’m certainly not a mindset coach, that isn’t my field of expertise but I do do a little bit of studying and have a little bit of experience with it.
I think what I have to say today will help a lot of you out, if not today at some point in the future.
If you’re not an emotional eater or personally have issues with emotional eating, I’m sure you all know somebody that does.
I myself emotionally eat, it doesn’t cause me to move away from my body composition goals or my health goals, emotional eating is relevant to the majority of us, me included.
So what did I do last night? I went to the beach and what did I do? I bought some ice cream.
Let’s add a extra scoop, yum.
When I think about what my favorite foods are, I will say pizza, jelly snakes and ice cream. They probably don’t taste any better than any other foods, people talk about chocolate and all that stuff like burgers but I’m like, whatever they just don’t bother me at all.
It’s just those three foods for me, jelly snakes, pizza and ice cream and as far as chocolate goes, I’ve got no love or care and no interest in chocolate or anything else at all other than those three foods mentioned above.
I don’t necessarily think the taste of them is better than anything else I just get more enjoyment from them.
But when I think about it, the more I study, the more I think about it……
We use to go for ice cream with my Dad every Sunday in the summer, and being from England, we don’t get much of a summer so to have an ice cream with my dad on a Sunday was like a massive treat and that’s probably some of my fondest memories, going down Minehead beach for an ice cream with my Dad.
There’s two ice cream shops and we’d try to find one that was open. There was one shop that had raspberry and vanilla whip, aka Mr. wimpy and then they’d roll it in this box of crushed almonds.
It’s such a treat. And I remember holding the cone and my Dad would come over and lick the melting ice cream off my hand.
Just fantastic memories
Then pizza was always Friday night, that was one guaranteed treat of the week, we’d have a pizza takeaway with my family at home.
Then jelly snakes, I remember the only time I’d ever get sweets was when we went to visit my great grandparents and my great granddad Reggie, a legend of a man he was in the second world war, massive, six foot three inches tall, hands the size of my head and we’d go around there every Saturday after football, we’d spend some time with them, we’d have cheese and crackers and a cup of tea and some pickled onions. Just really traditional stuff with the family and then every Saturday before we left, he’d give 20 pence to my sister and I, we’d then sit in the car as mum drove up to a sweet shop where we’d go in and get 20 pence worth of jelly sweets, at a penny each.
So they’re the three foods that I like the best. And it’s not because they taste better than chocolate.
I’ve got no interest in chocolate at all but thinking back it’s probably because I relate those memories to the food selections and it gives me that sense of warmth and loving.
So whether you have an issue with emotionally eating or not, we are all subjects who are open to it.
It does play a role in everything that we do, whether you think so or not. Just think back to some of the foods that you like, and possibly how you come about to like them.
Anyway, right that’s a little story about me.
What we’ll do now is get into a little bit of structured content, which might help you to break through the issue or the barrier of emotional eating, if that’s something that you really struggle with.
So if you haven’t quite achieved your physique goals, it may be because there’s something in your way, it may just be a case of time, maybe there’s something that’s in your way like a hurdle or barrier, something that’s holding you back and emotional eating is something that we see very often, and it’s actually one of the biggest problems that we come across.
So we’re going to go through some of the issues now. And we’re also going to go through some of the things that you can do to fix it.
Okay, so emotional eating, it’s like a vicious cycle. And it tends to start at the bottom.
The first negative cycle we find people in is about self worth.
And the second cycle we find people in is about addiction.
First, we’re going to look at the self worth cycle. So you’ll get to the absolute bottom, you feel like absolute shit about yourself.
You just had a big weekend of drinking, eating pies, whatever.
Maybe we’ve come to an end of a festive period where you’ve completely over eaten and you really overindulge and you feel really bad about yourself,
You get to the bottom, ‘this can’t get any worse’ and then you go I’m gonna do something about this. I do this myself, it’s almost like I wait until I get to the bottom because I know the motivation will be there to make a change.
I can’t stop myself halfway down, you’ll probably be able to relate to this as well.
‘I hate being overweight, feeling like shit, no energy’.
‘I’m going to take action’.
So you take action. You start sorting your diet out, you go to get a coach, you follow a diet plan, you start going to the gym, you start getting results.
And what happens when you follow that plan and go to the gym, you get results. You start seeing changes, you start looking better. And then what happens is, we get to a point where you’re like, holy shit, I look better. Wow. This is working.
We see this a lot, then the thought process goes a bit like this…..
I don’t deserve to be under 100 kilos. I’m not good enough to have a six pack. I’m not good enough to not have any cellulite. I don’t think that I’m worthy of that. I don’t think it’s possible. I’m not comfortable looking like this, I’m use to struggling. I’m used to seeing and I’m used to feeling like crap.
I’m used to being overweight. This is new ground for me. It’s a new territory. I’m unsafe. I’m not sure how to act or feel. Take me back to safety.
Then self sabotage kicks in as a self defense mechanism, this is something that is hard wired in us to keep us safe and alive. Its been there since the caveman days, we had to stay in our tribes within our social standing so we could support and be supported by our social group.
Then we end up at the bottom of the cycle again.
I’m gonna start the cycle over again. Stop overeating, stop missing the gym, round and round, back down to the bottom. Once you’re at the bottom, I’ve just about had enough of this, I feel like shit. I look like shit.
A vicious, negative cycle.
That’s a possible cycle that you could be in, the second cycle is addiction.
Now, people think they’re addicted to the food. I love over eating and I love the taste of pizza, or if I get a chance I could live on chocolate all day. I just love it. I love pizza in my mouth.
But that’s not the actual reality.
The reality is, people get addicted to the negative feeling that comes after they’ve over eaten or overindulged. The brain has more receptors to negative thoughts, negative processes, negative pathways than it does positive
So we do get a good feeling from eating more food, but we don’t become addicted to that we actually get addicted to the negativity that happens after.
We miss the feeling that it gives us, we miss that self guilt. We’re not comfortable being on a winning formation or a winning cycle.
That’s the second cycle that we get caught up in.
Now before we talk about the solution, I also want to talk about the other emotion that eating gives us.
As babies we were fed by our mothers and it’s a very intimate time. We’re close to the bosom or close to the heart, close to the breast. Whether we’re getting breast fed or bottle fed it’s intimate.
That whole moment is filled with love, there couldn’t be any more love than between a mother and a newborn baby.
That’s what we associate with food.
We’re getting fed, we have that feeling and as we grow up, we sit at the dinner table with our parents. Our parents have worked hard all week, mother’s worked hard in the kitchen, they prepared this lovely roast dinner. They prepare this nice food for us. We sit down as a family and we talk about our experiences. We talk about our day we talk about our week. Everything is great and we love the safety that we get from our home.
Then as we get older, we go out, have social occasions with our friends or with loved ones, or going on dates or going to restaurants but eating nice food and we’re in a safe environment that we enjoy, we thrive off that. We love that and we get the connection. We get that feeling we get, that warmth, that safety.
But we get a little mixed up here, that warmth and safety comes with food, you don’t get it from food. This is where the mistake comes in because then when we get sad, we feel like we want some love. We want some warmth or happiness in our life so we turn to the area that we know provides that.
What we’ll do is we’ll turn to food.
It’s not from the food that we get that feeling though, those emotions are created with food. So we can still create those feelings, but we need to understand that it’s with food that we get them not from food, I hope this is become a lot clearer now.
And this is where traditional strict diet plans fall down, because we’re removing the client from these emotions. We’re asking them to become robots.
So when people ask me, I haven’t got a non training day food plan. No, I want you to eat intuitively on Saturday and Sunday, on your non training days. One of those reasons that I encourage intuitive eating is because you get a mental release.
There’s also physiological benefits to it as well. You can eat what your body’s telling you to eat, you body will guide you to the nutrients that you need better than any meal plan can, but we’ll get into that another day.
It will also give you that mental rest, following a strict plan all the time is stressful, the way you measure all your food all the time is a stress as well.
Also, following a strict plan all the time is withdrawing yourself from this loving, safe, warm environment that we have with food, we’re withdrawing ourselves from that. And all of a sudden, we’ve replaced the loving, warm, safe feelings that we get with food and we’re replacing them with the stress and anxiety of missing out we’re not with the pack anymore we’re not with our crowd, we are not with our herd, our tribe and we we’re isolated. This is a stress, this situation is what our sub-conscious mind perceives as life threatening, because it goes back to caveman days. If we weren’t part of that tribe, we were isolated and we would have died.
Understanding human behaviour is to truly understand nutrition. Anyone that talks about macros and calories solely and thinks they know nutrition…. Please, we learnt about that in year 1.
Traditional rigid diet plans are replicating those happy, warm, safe emotions with stress and anxiety.
We need to understand that we need to take time away from a rigid plan or modify them slightly, we still need to put those foods in, still have that ice cream and the crisps and and the pizza, account for it and do it in a balanced way. I’m not saying go out and go ‘no holds barred’ on the fast food restaurants but eat with balance and control.
Now I always go back to this and I’m really passionate about this because when I was aspiring to be the world’s shittest natural bodybuilder, I just didn’t have the genetics for this but I gave it a really good shot, I actually came first at state titles, and second in the world and that was on pure effort, not from genetics. I was the smallest guy on stage but no one was as lean as me, no one had the symmetry and the dimensions that I had. Even though i was the smallest I still got first at states and second at worlds.
I was never going to be a great bodybuilder but anyway, I tried to be a bodybuilder for a whole year. I stopped everything, I was 100% compliant to the plan. I looked great, ripped, my glutes were shredded and I had veins in my head. I was shredded. I was a shredded machine. I looked great.
But I felt like shit.
I looked great but I felt like shit and I look like shit on the inside and my life was shit.
My girlfriend had had enough for me. She actually walked out between states and worlds. She left me, she’d had enough, I’d sacrificed so much that my life is miserable because I withdrew from everything other than training.
I’d sacrificed everything chasing body composition, I’d followed a rigid diet plan to the tee for a whole year. And it was a very sad place for me it wasn’t good. It wasn’t a healthy place. And what happens? Where am I now, fucking beat up I have injuries in my knee, my head, my back, my shoulder, my elbow, my bicep. I go to the gym four times a week and do 30 minutes of rehab. Not only in a physical state but I’ve got no motivation to be a bodybuilder anymore. I don’t want to do that, that ruined my life. So the love for training and bodybuilding is gone now.
Because I’d overdone it. I hadn’t respected the emotional connection and the emotional value of following a healthy diet plan and a healthy well balance life.
And that’s why traditional diets don’t work, people go ‘I’m going to stick to this diet for six weeks, 100% compliant, I’m going to lose three kilos’
then all of a sudden, ‘F**k it, I can’t stick to it, this is miserable’ and they give up and then we see binge/starvation cycles.
So it’s about understanding that human physiology isn’t just about numbers, 100 million % we want to have an idea of what we’re eating, what’s going in and what’s going out so we can reach our body composition goals. But we want to do it with good health and balance.
So how do we overcome emotional eating and and how do we work around it?
It’s about having balance with your nutrition, eating foods that you enjoy still.
We don’t need to be all the way over there withdrawing, sticking to a rigid plan that someone’s wrote for you, how the f*** does someone know what you should be eating, they don’t know you, they can give you calories and macros, but they don’t know how that affects you on a psychological level.
We need to teach ourselves how to eat, how to interact, how to be in touch with our emotional connection, our psychological needs for food as well as the physiological needs for food.
The first thing is having self awareness.
So having self awareness around the fact that you may be in one of these negative loops is the first point.
The second point is identify when you’re on top, when you’re on the way down when you’re at the bottom of these cycles.
We want to be able to say ‘I’m at the peak, I know what’s coming, stop’.
Don’t allow yourself to do what you normally do.
I know about the self sabotage, stay on track. Don’t look at the scales. don’t check the mirror. Don’t do anything. Just keep doing what I’m doing. Focus on result based habits. Don’t focus on moving forward. Don’t focus on what you’re actually achieving if you know that you’re going to self sabotage.
Just keep practicing the results based habits, keep going to the gym, keep preparing your food, keep planning the relaxing time etc etc.
Change what you know is going to happen.
Know what’s coming and re-map the thought process.
I don’t want to eat that, i know that it makes me feel good when I eat it, but it’s the negative feeling I get afterwards. I know what’s coming. Do I need to eat that much? Can I just have enjoyment with friends without overindulging? I don’t need to do that. And this is something I probably had to do as a young fella. My pals would go out on a Wednesday and drink 8 pints, I wanted to be there with them but I didn’t want to ruin all the hard work from my training efforts, so I just started going out and not drinking. I’m from England so yeah I got a bit of hassle from them but it met my needs. I’d turned a negative situation into a positive situation. I still got the enjoyment, safety and memories, I just didn’t get the negative consequences of drinking 8 pints on a Wednesday night. (yep, I did mean to type Wednesday lol)
Have that awareness.
I don’t need to overindulge. I can still go out with my friends and have fun. I don’t need to have eight pints. I don’t need to go out and eat a whole cheese wheel or whatever you do.
Have that self worth that’s the first step.
Now having self awareness And trying to stop yourself is easier said than done.
It’s very hard when you’re there, very hard when you’re in the moment. So what I suggest is pre-frame it, plan to control those thoughts before they happen. So going back to what we worked on previously and if you haven’t already, ask me for a copy of my morning routine.
As part of that morning routine, I suggest doing some positive affirmations. ‘I can stick to this goal’
‘I can do these habits’
‘I can achieve my goal’
Create these routines in your day, know that these decisions are coming and make the decision first thing in the morning before they happen.
I sit down and I visualise every day and I know the difficult conversations that I’m going to have and I visualize myself having these conversations before they occur and then when someone gets on the phone and they’re trying to negotiate on price or something like that I’ve already handled it I’ve already dealt with it and given the answer. When it actually comes to having that conversation, it’s already been done in my head, I don’t have to worry about it on the spot.
Think about it.
I’ve already done it when I’m in clear thought, I’m in control there’s no emotion involved at the start when I’m there visualizing it. I’ve already done the hard work.
Anything that’s uncomfortable for me to do i do it first thing in the morning and this is what you can do with these negative cycles as well.
I know when I get home from work I’m going to want to eat those biscuits, just make that decision, just visualise yourself walking in the door.
Hey babe I’m home, yeah had a great day, I know those biscuits are in the cupboard but I’ve already made the decision that I’m going to eat your fish and peas instead and then when I go to bed, I’m going to feel very happy about myself, I didn’t need them.
You’ve already made that decision before you get there. Because when you get there, you might have emotional fatigue, you might be caught up in the moment and the pathways might not be clear.
These negative pathways are embedded in your neuro transmitter pathways inside your brain. They’ve been embedded for years, they’re hardwired in. So don’t think that reading this, and going away and making a few changes is going to change everything because it will be a case of continued small efforts that over time give you the result that you want.
Think of it like an old country dirt road that tractors have been driving up and down for years, they’ve built deep rutts that you get caught in and it’s hard to get your wheels out of.
That’s what’s going on your brain. What we want you to do, through these positive affirmations and visualisation work, through forward thinking, through this early morning decision making, we’re going to grind new pathways out.
Over time, we’re going to get you out of the old tractor rutts and slowly build up these new pathways that will eventually over take the old rutts, just like driving a your car through a field, out of the old tractor rutts and slowly building new pathways through the field in a different direction, practice and repetition.
This is something that I do in my life, not with my emotional eating, but with other areas of my life. I do it every single morning, something that I work on, and even now, I’m still a million miles away from being perfect, but there’s definitely progression there for me. I’m definitely making improvements in my weak areas. I just work on them every single day, every single day and today, I was put in a position where I had to negotiate a difficult situation but I was strong where previously I wouldn’t have been.
That was because I had ground new pathways, and I handled that situation in the way I wanted to, I was very proud of myself.
Years ago, I would have crumbled. I’ve been building these pathways and visualising these conversations for about four or five years now, building these new pathways, and that’s what we have to do. We have to get out of these negative loops and build new pathways. Out of the old tractor rutts and start forging a new pathway through the field.
Difficult but possible.
Think, if you drove your car through the field once, that pathway isn’t going to stick over the old tractor rutts, but….. if you kept driving that new pathway for years and years, bingo.
Eventually the old rutts will overgrow and fill in, leaving you these lovely new pathways that you’ve been patiently forging.
And as I said, self awareness is the first thing, practice and repetition is the second part. So that is pretty much it. That’s a wrap. That’s pretty much all I’ve got, there’s some good stuff there to work on.
As an experienced coach, someone that’s been working with people for decades. This is stuff that we know is true, and we know it works. It’s just not very easy.
I hope that helps and if you need further support with emotional eating make a comment, get in touch with me and I’ll be more than happy to help you out.