#013: How to stop emotional eating

Click to listen on:


Get through challenging emotions without having to eat your feelings

Emotional eating is definitely a thing. And, if we get really honest, it does kinda work. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be tempting to eat when we felt bad.

This episode is about how the way we feel impacts how we eat, AND introduces a really effective strategy to get through emotions—however they show up—without needing to turn to food to cope.

You’ll learn:

  • how to think about challenging emotions in a new way
  • how to approach any emotion you’re feeling without having to eat over it
  • why emotional eating becomes such an entrenched behaviour

What you’ll discover has the power to change how you show up in everyday life, as well as the types and amounts of food you eat.

Click here for your FREE Guide: 8 Unexpected Strategies to Change Your Eating 

View the full episode transcript

So food acts really well to block out emotions. That’s why emotional eating makes so much sense AND can become such an entrenched or ingrained pattern of behaviour. It’s a solution to a problem.

But also, when emotions are blocked they stay stuck—they have no room to move through and move on.

So it’s much less easy to feel better in the longer term.

Welcome to the YoYo Freedom Podcast.

This is the place to learn actionable, step-by-step tools and strategies to help you stop bingeing or overeating and start feeling relaxed and confident around food, 

so that you can show up for your life on your terms.

I’m Gemma Keys and I know first hand what it’s like to feel out-of-control around food and trapped in the pain of binge eating and body-shame.

There is a way out. 

Keep listening to discover your path to food freedom.

Welcome to the podcast—it really is wonderful to have you here.

Today, we’re talking about emotional eating.

I mean, emotional eating. Even that term has a sort of out-of-control feeling around it, doesn’t it? Almost as if it’s an inevitable part of our experience and a sort of core characteristic that makes up who a person is and what they do.

Emotional eating, or eating feelings—it’s definitely a thing, right? And, if we get really honest, it does kinda work! Otherwise, it wouldn’t be tempting to eat when we felt bad … we just wouldn’t want or need to do it!

But, if you’re someone who struggles with bingeing or overeating, I’m guessing emotional eating has come up for you in some way. And if that sounds like a massive understatement—all I can say is, I hear you, me too!

That’s why, in this episode we’re going to talk more about how feelings or emotions effect the way we eat

AND move on to a really effective strategy to get through emotions—however they show up—without needing to turn to food to cope.

So, why does the way we’re feeling impact what we eat? 

Why is it that, when someone’s feeling  bad or anxious or low or lacking in some way, they’re more likely to eat the foods they wish they weren’t eating at all, let alone in the quantities they’re cramming into their mouth. 

Does that resonate with you at all? I know it does for me and also for so many of the women I work with, which is why it’s such a key area to address.

One way to think about emotional eating is that the food takes the edge off feeling bad in that moment. Instead of feeling the feeling, eating can act to distract or to numb or suppress or side-step whatever we don’t wanna be feeling.

Some examples of emotions that I’ve heard about recently that lead right to binge include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities and stuff that needs attention—as if every day is a relentless trudge through never-ending tasks
  • Feeling lost, as if life hasn’t turned out exactly as hoped, and where to go or what to do next is kind’ve confusing and uncertain
  • Feeling worried, worried about how the kids are doing at school or in their friendships, worried about job security or finances, worried about a health issue or what someone’s saying behind your back
  • Or feeling sort’ve resistant—resistant to getting started on a new project or chore or something that needs to be done that’s gonna take energy and focus and there’s a part inside that just wants to avoid it and not have to do it at all. And that could for sure apply to looking more closely at what you’re eating—there’s some extra layering going on there, right? Eating as a way to avoid looking more closely at the eating.

Those are just a few examples of common emotions that lead to using food to feel better—to take the edge off—and, of course, there are so many more. Loneliness, embarrassment, resentment, sadness—any emotion that’s uncomfortable and doesn’t feel good. 

If you recognise that you’re an emotional eater but it still doesn’t really make sense why it happens, the following analogies might be helpful. They’re metaphors to describe how food can help numb out an emotion.

  • The first involves one of those posh crystal wine glasses. Imaging flicking the rim of the glass and the resounding chime it makes. It’s really distinctive, isn’t it? Well, fill that glass with wine, and the chime is muted, it’s shorter in duration and a lower resonance. That metaphor works if emotions are the chime coming from the glass and food is the wine—in other words, the more food, the more muted the emotional experience.
  • Another analogy is of pressing the eject button in an aeroplane. Food is the ejector button—it takes you out of the emotion as quickly as possible—it’s offers and escape route.
  • And this last is one that I really like and certainly felt as if it was true for me, and that’s of being wrapped up in a soft and snuggly blanket—a blanket that’s warm and comforting and almost blocks out the world around you. Food was definitely like that blanket for me and was like a warm, comforting, safe hug whenever I needed it.

So food acts really well to block out emotions. That’s why emotional eating makes so much sense AND can become such an entrenched or ingrained pattern of behaviour. It’s a solution to a problem.

But also, when emotions are blocked they stay stuck—they have no room to move through and move on.

So it’s much less easy to feel better in the longer term.

AND … there’s the extra layer of feeling worse because of the food. The original feeling that wasn’t that great is still there, but now with an extra layer of regret that surrounds a subsequent binge.

And often, it’s the binge eating that becomes the focus point of what needs to be fixed or resolved when actually it’s the underlying emotional experience that would be far more beneficial to understand and get closer to.

Now, there’s no getting around that some emotions don’t feel good. So part of this process of dealing with emotional eating is to begin to normalise those emotions that we don’t honestly want to feel.

One way to do that is to consider this question. What if all emotions are there so that they can be felt—they’re meant to be felt and experienced?

After all, think of all the emotions that aren’t great but you wouldn’t want to be any other way.

For example, when someone you love dies, or a treasured pet, you probably want to feel sad. The thought of feeling happy isn’t where you’d want to go—it’d feel inappropriate and wrong. The sadness still feels … well, so sad … but it also feels necessary and important.

Or, if someone steals from you or scams you—the angry you likely feel can be helpful in that you can use the leverage or energy that come from the anger to rectify the situation, to create boundaries moving forward and to make sure that type of stealing or conning doesn’t happen again.

And emotions always hold a message too.

Loneliness might hold the message that you need more connection. That it’s time to restart a hobby or meet up with a friend or start a book club or something—all of which create those opportunities to connect. 

Or frustration at work might hold the message that it’s time to talk to the boss about a new challenge or problematic team member, or it might even be time to reassess your career path and perhaps look around to see what other job opportunities might be about.

Emotions—even the ones we don’t much like—perhaps especially the ones we don’t much like—carry such valuable information.

What if part of this crazy ride that is life is to feel them all? 

And what if feeling good and happy all the time is actually to be missing out on the full spectrum of experience?

If that idea lands with you at all, it can even lead to an invitation to feel more, to gradually expand the breadth of emotions that you’re willing to feel. When that happens, any emotional eating will naturally begin to ease.

Now, that full-spectrum-of-emotions idea is all very well, but it can also be a bit intimidating.

You probably don’t much want to feel uncomfortable or bad, & even if you’re up for giving the idea a go, you might not know where to start. 

That’s where we’re going to go next.

Perhaps the first thing to consider here is that emotions are a bit like a flow of energy. They move and change and transform. They flow through and are released. An emotion doesn’t stay static and doesn’t last or stay the same forever, no matter how intense it might feel in the moment.

So, if you can help the emotion move—to swell up like a wave and then recede—it’ll stop it staying stuck inside you. In other words, if the feeling isn’t blocked by eating, you’ll be able to fully experience it, understand it, move through it, and move on to something new.

If you’ve been listening to this podcast for a while, you’ll already know I often mention the following two skills as being key to finding a way out of bingeing or overeating, and those skills are awareness & curiosity.

That’s because nurturing both awareness and curiosity is really helpful across the board in so many situations—and emotions are no different.

So here are the steps to feeling emotions without needing to binge or use food to dumb them down or numb them out.

You can experiment with as many of these questions as feel right for you:

First of all take a couple of breaths, slow down & tune in—ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Start by seeing if you can name the emotion. 

Question 2 is to ask yourself, “Why am I feeling like this? What’s happened? What’s on my mind?” See if you can uncover anything specific that’s causing the emotion.

Question 3 is, “Does the way I’m feeling make sense to me? Even if I don’t like it, do I understand why this emotion is here?”

Question 4 is to ask, “Is there anything this feeling might be trying to tell me? Is there anything I need to know or do? If this feeling is here to try to help me, what’s it trying to achieve?”

Question 5 is, ‘How would I describe the way this feeling shows up in my body? How do I sense it?”

Question 6 is, “How do the sensations associated with this emotion change over time? Does it soften or intensify? Does it come in recurring waves? Does it transform into a different emotion?” (for example, a high intensity emotion like anger can often shift to a lower intensity emotion like sadness, and then flip back again later on.)

Question 7 is to ask yourself, “Do I want to keep feeling like this?” Maybe your answer is YES—so it’s worth noticing and honoring that. If it’s a no, then what’s one tiny thing I could do now to feel differently—to help the emotion move through me a little?

That might be to see if there’s a different way to interpret a situation—that’s an area that was covered in detail in episode #12 so you can go back and listen to that if you’d like to.

It might be to move your body—even a stretch or change of position can be helpful. I don’t know about you, but for me, if I was feeling bad and was likely to binge, my body tended to be really tense, and I might have been curled on sofa or hunched in the car, so moving really helped release that tension and was so helpful.

Or it might be to rest or make a plan for the evening or buy a bunch of flowers or move to a different location. The answers that come up to that question are fascinating and so insightful!

So, as you feel whatever you’re feeling and ask those questions, what do you notice? 

I’ve often read that emotions last for 90 seconds. For sure it doesn’t always seem like that, right? My take is that emotions come in waves, and keep coming for as long as they need to or until a shift happens so they can be released.

But you can use these questions in 90 second chunks of time if you like. It makes it a little more manageable, and everything you notice is important and will begin to make a difference.

So, to wrap up, emotional eating makes a heck of a lot of sense. It’s probably helped you get through many challenging times in the past. In fact, it’s really worth taking a moment to recognise some of those times.

But, what if you could begin to feel all the emotions without pushing them away with food? How would your life be different?

My guess is that it’d change so many things about how you are in the world, as well as the types & amounts of food you eat.

Because, what if we’re not here to feel good or happy all the time, but instead we’re here to feel everything?

As I leave that question to percolate in your mind, I wanted to let you know that you can find out about more key techniques to shift away from bingeing and overeating in my FREE Guide: the 8 unexpected strategies to change your eating. To download your copy, just go to the show notes for this episode at yoyofreedom.com/13

That’s it for today’s episode. Thank you for listening.

I hope you’ve found this episode helpful. Subscribe to The YoYo Freedom Podcast for more insight, tools and support as you pull back from bingeing, overeating or yoyo-dieting and step into your most authentic, vibrant life.

And, if you liked what you heard, it would be wonderful if you’d take a moment to rate this podcast on whichever platform you listen on.

Thank you so much! And Bye-bye for now.

Click here to listen!

Links mentioned in the episode

Disclaimer: The content in the podcast and on this webpage is not intended to constitute or be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychological condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have heard on the podcast or on my website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top