Nourish and Nurture

Managing Emotions and Feelings Without Food

December 12, 2023 Miriam Hatoum
Nourish and Nurture
Managing Emotions and Feelings Without Food
Show Notes Transcript

Episode #: 79.  Managing Emotions and Feelings Without Food 

Whatever eating style or plan you choose, and no matter what work you do with the other principles of Intuitive Eating, Principle 7 is perhaps the most important one that is going to make it or break it for you.

How often are you on plan all day or even all week, and then at night, you are tired and feeling overwhelmed from the day’s or week’s events? How often are you on plan all day or again, even all week, and you have an out-of-the blue disappointment or let-down? How often do you deal with your exhaustion, boredom, disappointment, or anger with food? Does the food soothe you or entertain you? Do you think – erroneously – that eating something will perk you up and give you energy?

 It is hard to keep all your balls in the air. 

This episode will help you juggle them or decide which ones to drop.

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Episode #: 79.  Managing Emotions and Feelings Without Food 

 You’re Listening to the Keto and Low Carb Success podcast, Episode #79, Managing Emotions and Feelings Without Food.


 Did you know that you don't have to spend money on a diet program or weigh, measure and track your food? What if you could learn to have success by following an easy roadmap that takes you on adventures from learning how to change your mindset so that you can believe in yourself, to learning about what foods work best in your body and why? Join me, Miriam Hatoum, health coach, course creator and author of Conquer Cravings with Keto, as I give you actionable coaching advice that is sure to empower you so that you will finally find peace with food and learn to trust your body’s signals. You’ve got this, girl! 

 Be sure to go to to get all the free guides to help you along the way. I am in your shoes, my friends, and I wrote these guides for both of us. The link is in the show notes and transcripts.

 Oh, and before we start, I want to let you know that the primary purpose of this podcast and the course is to educate and does not constitute medical advice or service, and I’m keeping up with the science as fast as I can so I can share with you the latest breaking research in this area to help you achieve your dreams!

 This episode is about Principle 7, Cope with Your Feelings Without Using Food. 

 Whatever eating style or plan you choose, and no matter what work you do with the other principles of Intuitive Eating, Principle 7 is perhaps the most important one that is going to make it or break it for you.

 How often are you on plan all day or even all week, and then at night, you are tired and feeling overwhelmed from the day’s or week’s events? How often are you on plan all day or again, even all week, and you have an out-of-the blue disappointment or let-down? How often do you deal with your exhaustion, boredom, disappointment, or anger with food? Does the food soothe you or entertain you? Do you think – erroneously – that eating something will perk you up and give you energy?

 It is hard to keep all your balls in the air. Let’s first look at this in terms of balance and those balls in the air. Do any of these resonate with you? You are working. You are taking care of children. You are helping with the care of an elderly parent. You are meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. You are commuting. You have social and family obligations. You have hobbies and exercise plans you keep up with. You have a house to clean. You travel a lot either for work or pleasure. These are problems of abundance. You have a lot in your life. You do not have balance. This is where you think using food to cope comes in the form of unwinding, zoning out, soothing, and distraction. 

 A better solution to this is to look at your life and your schedule and see where you can pare things down so that you are not so overwhelmed. If you are a caregiver of any generation, can you find some help? For instance, if you care for an elderly parent, reach out to your local senior center and see if there are programs that will provide activities a few hours a day or see if you qualify for some in-home help. If you care for the younger generation, can you find car pooling options or afterschool programs? If you have hobbies and exercise activities, how can you rearrange your schedule so that you are not too exhausted to enjoy them – you need these things for rejuvenation and self-care. If you have a house to clean, laundry to do, and meals to cook, can other family members pitch in even though you have never asked for help in the past? What can you do to find some balance in your life? Yes, bingeing at night will take your mind off things, but it won’t change them.

 Many aspects of your life will cause stress. Look at some stressors in your own life – in addition to those abundance issues. Do you have school or work deadline? Are you moving or in the midst of a separation or divorce? Do you or someone in your family have a health crisis? Have you lost a job or are in a financial crisis? Even happy things like a marriage or retirement can be stressors in your life. For many of these stressors there is really nothing you can do to change things, but do find help where you can. But, you can change how you manage your stress. Food is the easy thing to go to. It is a great distractor and a great soother. I don’t ask why you find yourself polishing off a container of ice cream or a box of cookies. I ask, why not? Why not do the easiest most mindless thing you can do to relax and occupy your mind. But still, eating does not really reduce the stress. You might feel less stressed in the moment because you are doing something else, but your issues await, once that food is finished off. AND, now you have the added stress of eating off your plan, which will leave you feeling awful either physically or emotionally.

 It takes patience and practice not to turn to food when you are stressed, tired, bored, or angry. What can you do instead of eat? If it is already the evening and you don’t have other obligations, consider getting ready for bed early and then actually getting into bed earlier than you normally would. I am careful not to go to sleep too early because I don’t want to pay for it at the other end by getting up at 5AM. But I will do my evening ablutions a little earlier, and watch TV in bed instead of up in the living room. When it is time for lights out I might put on my CALM app and listen to a story that puts me to sleep every time, although if I am that tired, I might be asleep in just 2 or 3 minutes.

 If you are bored and it is not time for bed, go to the kitchen and wash the cabinets. That will take care of boredom, believe me, and it will tire you out for bed. It is mindless and it is doing something besides eating. I know it’s the kitchen, and I would normally say, stay out of the kitchen, but see what I’ve done there? I have you associate being in the kitchen with doing something other than eating! Plus, you get something done and when you are finished you will be ready to get into bed. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that, but my point is, find something to do that doesn’t involve eating, will make you feel better once it is finished, and you develop a connection between wanting to eat but doing something constructive instead.

 Are you angry about something or angry at someone? First, sit quietly and do some box breathing. Imagine a box. You go up one side with a breath of four counts, go across the top with another count of four while you hold your breath in, exhale down the other side for a count of four, then on the bottom hold for four. Keep going around the box as many times as you can, increasing the count of four, as well. It takes only a few minutes, and if you are in a room with other people, they won’t even know you are doing if your eyes are open. After you have calmed yourself down, then assess the situation and see if food is really the answer to what made you angry.

 These are just a few of the emotions and situations that spur us on to eat. Here are some others:

·       Anxiety, where we use food to calm ourselves

·       Celebration, where food accompanies the event

·       Emptiness and loneliness, where food fills us up and keeps us company

·       Frustration, where food is used as a release

·       Procrastination, where you tell yourself, “I’ll do it after I eat.”

·       Reward, where food is well… the reward

·       And I am going to put something in here that triggers me. When I get on that lying liar that lies… I mean the scale… and it goes up, I am usually triggered to eat as well. I don’t know that it is a “why bother” moment, or a trigger of disappointment. But the point is, I do find it a trigger for me, personally.

 It is important to stop the beat up and realize that you have been taking care of yourself all this time. As I say in my guide, entitled, “The Brilliance of Chocolate Cake” – you are not lazy or broken or stupid. You are not a hopeless case or unworthy of finding your way out of diet prison. What you are is brilliant. You found a way to cope that didn’t include shooting someone! Okay, that’s a little tongue-in-cheek, but you get what I am after here. Sometimes there are pros to using food to cope. Sometimes it is the only thing you can think of. Sometimes it is the only thing that is handy or that you have time for. 

 There is nothing wrong with you that you have used food to cope with your feelings and difficulties. You were smart to do the best that you could at the time. Food was the quickest and easiest coping mechanism. I would consider that smart not stupid. But, in the long run, it is doing you no good, either physically or emotionally. 

 The first step is to become aware of your range of feelings. Sometimes these urges to eat seem to come out of nowhere, but they never do. I am not referring here to the cues I have talked about in other episodes of emotional eating where we respond to cues such as, “smell bread and cookies…want bread and cookies” or “Lunchtime? Time to eat whether or not I’m hungry.” I want to talk about when feelings drive us to eat. In broader terms I already mentioned some like anger, boredom, and frustration. I want to talk about when the urge to eat seems to come out of left field because you don’t recognize that an emotion is driving it.

 Fearful could be edgy, frightened, nervous, scared, wary, or worried. Angry could be exasperated, hostile, irritable, outraged, resentful, or vengeful. Sad could be dejected, gloomy, grieved, hopeless, or lonely. Ashamed could be disgraced, embarrassed, guilty, humiliated, mortified, or remorseful.  These are just a few that demonstrates the range of your emotions. It could be subtle like irritable or gloomy or strong like frightened or mortified. 

 The point is that if you find that emotions tend to drive your eating, then just before you jump up to open the refrigerator, just before you have your hand in the cookie jar, or just before you get up from your desk to go to the vending machine, do that box breathing for a moment and then ask yourself what emotion you are feeling. Reflect upon where you are feeling it in your body. Is it in your throat or your stomach? Is it a tingling feeling? Do you feel a headache coming on? Do you just want to bolt? It might take you a while before you associate an emotion with a physical feeling, but even just taking two minutes to think about it will probably be enough to calm you down and think about what you could do instead of eat. I have a 90-second hour-glass type timer. I got a package of 5 from Amazon for just a few dollars. Place them where you find yourself in urge territory. 
 In the workbook on Page 164, is a chart entitled “Getting to Know Your Body – The Physical Sensations of Emotions.” On the following page, Page 165, is a checklist of statements that will help you see those times when you might be using food to cope. Some of them are:

·       I have trouble saying no when I need to.

·       I feel the need to make others happy.

·       I tend to be a people pleaser.

·       I have trouble dealing with stressful situations.

If you check off a lot of these then Resch and Tribole suggest three main paths to learning how to cope with your feelings without using food: 

1.      Self-Care, Nurturance, and Compassion

2.     Learning to sit with your feelings

3.     Helpful Distraction

 With self-care, nurturance, and compassion, they point out some basic human needs that people often deny themselves but that are essential to our wellbeing. While I read through this list, think of how often you care for others in these ways but don’t look after yourself. 

·       Enough sleep and rest

·       Sensual pleasure

·       Expression of feelings, in order to be heard, understood, and accepted

·       Intellectual and creative stimulation

·       Comfort and warmth

With learning to sit with your feelings, take a time-out and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” It is important to pause – whether it is in the middle of a meal or whether it is just before you are about to enter a binge – and tune in to your feelings. Even if you decide to continue eating or start to eat, giving yourself that pause will turn a distracted – and sometimes destructive – experience, into a mindful one. Take the time to explore your feelings or emotional triggers – or even physical triggers like the smell of bread or the clock on the wall – and see what might be triggering your desire to eat or to continue to eat. 

If you have managed to stop – or not start – eating, then ask yourself what it is that you really need at that moment. Then ask yourself, “How can I fulfill this need and this feeling without turning to food?” Regularly ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I really need?”

Resch and Tribole call it, “Building your emotional muscles.”  They point out that any time you decide to eat anyway, in the absence of hunger, then certainly go ahead and eat and don’t feel any shame or guilt. Like I talked about above, sometimes food is the best coping mechanism for you in the moment. Sometimes it serves no purpose other than you want to eat and you do. But the more you put in this pause to ask yourself these two questions, “What am I feeling?” and “What do I really need?” the stronger your emotional muscles will become to where you no longer – or at least rarely – eat in response to triggers.

Under this discussion of learning to sit with your feelings, is a very interesting topic that Resch and Tribole discuss next, and which is an emotion that I find I faced often as I learned to stop at my satiety signal or not eat in the first place if I wasn’t hungry, and that is the sadness of saying, “Enough”.  They point out that “it is common to feel sad when you have to set a limit to any enjoyable experience. If you allow yourself to experience the sadness, it will pass in just a few moments – especially if you remember that you can eat whatever you wish when your hunger reemerges.” They go on to say, “If you spend time with this feeling of sadness and acknowledge it, it won’t hold power over you.”

When it is a sadness from stopping a meal when there is still food in front of you, they give the following exercise:

1.      For a few moments, sit with the feeling of sadness, as well as with the appreciation you have for the delicious meal.

2.     Take a few deep breaths.

3.     Now remove yourself from the table. Take the plate to the sink, if you’re at home. If you’re in a restaurant, ask for a doggie bag or ask the server to remove your plate.

4.    If you’re at home, go into another room and engage in some other activity.

5.     Note how soon the feeling of sadness begins to dissipate. 

The promise that, “When you do this practice regularly, you will find a deepened level of contentment in your eating and an increase in your self-esteem, knowing that you can tolerate these feelings of sadness while at the same time appreciating your increasing reconnection with your internal Intuitive Eater. 

The third path to healing your emotion eating is Helpful Distraction. After telling you not to use food as distraction you might be thinking that I’m going back on that. Actually, what this means is that you can find ways to distract you from whatever you are going through that is causing the feeling of wanting to eat. Yes, primarily you should identify, and sit with, your feelings. But, sometimes it is helpful to find a non-food distraction. This could be going to a movie or watching one at home, working on a puzzle, reading a book, or playing a computer game. What you are doing here is strengthening those emotional muscles by find new coping strategies. Sitting with your feelings or finding helpful distractions are all in your arsenal along with your self-care, self-nurturance and self-compassion. 


This week’s actionable coaching advice continues with the workbook chapter on Principle 7, Cope with Your Feelings Without Using Food.

The first thing to do this week is to do a little prevention. Choose a few potential stressful situations where there may be a risk of emotional eating. The first thing this will do is keeping you from being caught off guard. The second thing this will do is help you work out some coping strategies before you are caught in the middle.

Will you be out of town at a family event? If possible, stay at a hotel rather than with family. It will help you keep boundaries and will reduce quite a bit of stress. Bring walking shoes so that you can take a break from gatherings. Remember to bring your journal if you keep one. Be sure to take moments for regular deep breathing – remember that box breathing. Put an exit strategy in place just in case things get too stressful or you need some space. 

The next step is to rehearse and visualize. Let’s say you are going to have a very stressful meeting at work and you know, from experience, that you might not get heard and that tempers may fly. Visualize this meeting. 

What emotions might you expect to feel? What challenges will come up that will trigger you to eat? What emotions do you always run into? Would it be anger, frustration, or humiliation? Visualize yourself sitting with the emotions and not turning to food, either immediately following the meeting, or at night when things tend to come out sideways for you? Imagine what you could do to comfort yourself instead of pushing down the emotions with food? Could you see yourself speaking up for yourself? Could you see yourself staying quiet but going for a walk right after the meeting instead of going to the vending machine? Could you see yourself picking up a nice dinner instead of stopping for fast food on the way home and then eating again whatever you have in the house?  

Visualize what possible actions and outcomes you might have for stressful situations. You might have eaten emotionally for years to numb your feelings. Maybe you never even realized that you have feelings that surround these stressful situations! But remember, as you build your emotional muscles, you will be more able to tolerate stressful situations. 

Now, before I go on to next week’s episode, I need to go back to something I said in Episode 72, Finding Peace with Food. One of my listeners said that she didn’t understand the reference to Zebras when I was talking about “forbidden fruit.” Let me give some background here. 

We have a part of our brain called the reticular activating System, or RAS.  It is a bundle of nerves at our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information, so the important stuff gets through. The RAS is the reason you learn a new word and then start hearing it everywhere. It’s why you can tune out a crowd full of talking people, yet immediately snap to attention when someone says your name or something that at least sounds like it. It is why, when you are trying to decide between buying a red Rav4 or a blue Jeep, all of a sudden, you are seeing dozens of red Rav4s and blue Jeeps on the road. 

It is why when you decide you are not going to eat chocolate chip cookies, all you see commercials for and Facebook ads for, are chocolate chip cookies. It is why, when someone tells you not to think of zebras, all you want to think about is zebras!

Next week’s episode

Next week’s episode is on food facts.  I am going to step away from the workbook just this week, to set you up for making some decisions when we come back to the workbook to explore Gentle Nutrition. The concept is to not label foods as good or bad, but to think of them as getting to your goals or moving you away from them. I think next week’s episode will help you shape your own Gentle Nutrition path, as I cover how each macro nutrient helps with satiety and overall nutrition.

If you are enjoying this podcast, I do have a favor to ask of you. Please subscribe to this podcast and leave a review wherever you listen to your podcast. It helps other people find it by bringing it up in the various directories. Also, don’t be a stranger. Like or join my Facebook page, Breaking Free From Diet Prison, and let me know if there is anything you would like to hear on the show, and let me know you are a podcast listener. 

Please share the podcast with your friends, let them know we are going on an Intuitive Eating journey, and invite them to tune in with you and learn how to become free from diet prison.

Until then, go live free from diet worry — I’ll see you back here next time. 

Get all my free guides
Take a look at this great course
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Check out Pinterest
And don't forget my book!