Eating Psychology

Advice and information about emotional eating and eating psychology associated with crash dieting, weight loss and a dysfunctional relationship with eating and food.

Have You Been ‘Supply and Demand’ Dieting?

If you’ve ever taken a basic economics class, you’ve no doub heard of supply and demand, right?

The Law of Supply and Demand is the theory explaining the interaction between the supply of a resource and the demand for that resource, or the effect the availability of a particular product and the desire (or need) for that product has on price.

I’ve always thought that this law also sounds a bit like the act of restrictive eating and crash dieting.

SUPPLY AND DEMAND DIETING?

Now, think about supply and demand regarding your struggles with food and eating.

When you supply yourself with food (aka feed yourself), demand for it goes down.  And when you restrict food, the need for it goes way up.

In other words, when you limit the amount of food (crash diets) and your physical demand for it will increase. While if you give yourself the amount of food it needs then your physical demand for it will decrease.

With a success rate of less than 5%, crash diets do not work.

Supply and demand dieting is just another way to support the belief that crash dieting, especially extremely restrictive eating, doesn’t work long term.

I would know. Believe me. I’ve starved, cleansed, no carbed, low carbed, all carbed — and the only thing that got me on the road to real recovery was to change my relationship (and behaviours) with food.

And through the recovery and education process I discovered what truly does work is eating and moving in ways that make you healthy and happy.

So, the next time you want to embark on ‘just one more’ crash diet, think about the law of supply and demand.

And don’t do it.

I talk about this topic and more when you work with me to build your confidence with food.  Get in touch with me at erin@erinslifebites.com and be sure to sign up for my coaching emails, today!

And through the recovery and education process I discovered what truly does work is eating and moving in ways that make you healthy and happy. Click To Tweet

Why Am I Really Eating This?

I used to have a thing for Skittles.

It was more like a compulsion for Skittles.

At one of my former jobs, there was a vending machine.  If you work in an office, chances are there are one (or five) convenience portals to grab food.

The first six months of working in this particular office, I didn’t know anything about that vending machine.  Not a thing.  I couldn’t have told you one item that was in that machine.  You get it.

One day I was informed that I had to take on a new, challenging and time-consuming task that would take up approximately three days at the end of each month.   And then that one task turned into multiple responsibilities also expected of me each month.  And needless to say, some of these tasks did not come easily to me and often frustrated me to tears.

When I couldn’t balance out reports or my workload started to become completely overwhelming, I began to feel the stress.  At first, I tried to incorporate stress relief tactics like mindful breathing and going for a walk out to get some fresh air.  However, one of those days on my ‘time out,’ I decided to walk into the office kitchen and look into the abyss of the vending machine.

I bought a package of Skittles and brought them back to my desk and ate them all as I continued to work my way through stressful tasks.  I did the same thing the next day and the next day and every month-end after that.  In fact, I kept a bowl of change for the vending machine in my desk drawer to be sure that I could get my ‘Skittles on’ during the end of month duties.

After five months of my vending machine habit, I put on six pounds and spent about 400%  above the wholesale cost of Skittles in the process.  I also noticed the days I would eat sweets while trying to work through reports and reconciliations, I would go home feeling depressed and would eat more when I got home or drink one too many glasses of wine.  Stress begets stress begets stress, am I right?

Why am I eating this?

I have this saying that emotional eating is a lot like Dumbo’s feather.  I’m assuming most people have seen or read the story of Dumbo, but in case you haven’t, Dumbo had unique, oversized ears that enabled him to fly.   When Dumbo first discovered his talent, his friend and confidant, Timothy Q. Mouse, gave Dumbo a ‘magic’ feather which would enable him to fly.  In the end, Dumbo loses his feather but still manages to fly without a hitch.  The feather gave Dumbo a false sense of confidence, support and security.  My Skittles compulsion (and every other food I used in times of stress, pain, and sadness) were not so different than Dumbo’s feather; they provided me with a false sense of confidence, support, and security.

We emotional eaters all have a bit of that Dumbo’s feather element when it comes down to it.  

When we are feeling discomfort, pain, insecurity or shame, we turn to food to give us much-needed self-care that we need at that moment.

I’ve had people tell me over the years that they struggle with food (and subsequently their weight) because they were having a bad day.  They didn’t get that job, their friend got angry at them, nothing in their closet fit them, or something traumatic is lingering in their subconscious, and they need to “quiet the noise.”

I want to be clear, in my opinion, there is nothing inherently wrong with emotional eating.  It is an attempt at self-care — to soothe and manage our emotional discomfort.  Many people feel additional shame and discomfort when they emotionally eat because they feel like they are helpless or powerless to food.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.

Emotional eating is not about being helpless or powerless it is about feeling helpless and powerless over emotions.  Emotional eating is a behavioural response, and therefore it can be managed with the right support system, knowledge and tools.… Click To Tweet

One of the first steps that can be taken to manage an emotional eating trigger is to stop, look at the food and ask yourself, “Why am I  really eating this?” – and here are some questions to provide you with an honest answer:

1. Am I truly hungry?  True hunger is physical.  When we are truly hungry, there are physical cues supplied by our bodies such as weakness, depleted energy, lightheadedness, and shakiness.  If you are feeling physical symptoms of hunger, your body is telling you that, yes, you do in fact need to eat something.

2.  What is happening right now?  Stress and anxiety are two big triggers for emotional eaters.  In the situations when you have the urge to eat something, take an inventory of what is happening at that moment.  Are you at work?  Are you under the pressure of a deadline?  Did you see or hear something upsetting and you’re unsure what you can do to process your anxiety?  Did something or someone remind you of a painful memory?  At that moment take a minimum of two minutes to breathe and ask yourself, “What is happening right now?”  Write down your feelings and give yourself 15-20 minutes to take a break or grab a drink of water.  Giving yourself time to assess the situation and the feelings you are experiencing can help you become better aware of ‘why’ you are eating when you are eating.

3.  What can I do instead of eating?  Okay, so you have assessed the situation, and you know you’re not truly hungry, and you’ve taken your time to ask yourself what is happening at the moment – so now what?  What can you do instead of eating when you are feeling anxious or stressed?  You should not ignore your feelings because they are valid.  If you are feeling anxious, stressed or triggered in any way, you should work on strategies that will help you tackle those emotions.  For example, in my situation with stress eating Skittles while feeling under pressure at work – in hindsight, instead of turning to junk food during those times, I should have talked to my boss and told her I was struggling.  I am not blaming myself for not asking for help, but part of my emotional need to eat was based on feelings of insecurity about my work but led me to ignore the fact that all of us have to ask for help from time to time.  There is no shame in asking for help or admitting that we feel overwhelmed.  As you work on building confidence with food, you will become more in touch with what triggers your emotional eating, and that awareness will help to better equip you with strategies and solutions for the times you need to exercise self-compassion without using food to cope.

It is important to remember (and yes, I am a bit repetitive – sorry!) that emotional eating is an attempt to self-care.  It is also important to remember that emotional eating often leads to feelings of shame and that sense of guilt can lead to emotional eating.  While I do not believe there is anything shameful about wanting to care for ourselves and show ourselves compassion, I do think that it does negatively impact our ability to have confidence with food.  The ability to trust that we can make the distinction between needing food for physical survival and relying on it for emotional survival and learn the way to give ourselves the best chance of repairing the relationship between food mind, body, and soul.

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If you are interested in working on repairing your relationship with food by working with me one-on-one, please email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and don’t forget to subscribe to post updates!

What I learned When I  Quit Crash Dieting

Crash dieting used to feel like my full-time job.

Every time I tried to give notice, the insecurity over not trusting myself enough around food stopped me.

It felt familiar.  Crash dieting was second nature.

And so was my self-doubt and dissatisfaction with my body.

I tried every crash diet, pill, potion, cleanse whathaveyou over the nearly two decades of my toxic relationship with food and my body.

So, I tried something radical (for me):  I simply quit crash dieting.

And this is what happened in the aftermath of my decision.

What I learned when I finally quit crash dieting

I got to eat what I wanted without feeling any guilt.

When you don’t have restrictions placed on your diet left, right and centre it gets a lot less stressful when you decide to let yourself eat!

I spent so many years worrying about whether the food had the right amount of carbs, sugar, fats, macros that it took all of the joy out of eating.

Seriously, just making a decision to eat was like solving a puzzle when half the pieces were missing.

Frustrating AND boring.

When I stopped restricting myself, I also stopped shaming and depriving myself.  Deprivation is fuel to the diet and food-obsessed person’s inner motivation fire.

Without all the ‘self-policing,’ I was able to focus on listening to my body and becoming more in touch with what I wanted to eat rather than what I ‘shouldn’t.’

When you take restriction out of the equation, you no longer punish yourself for food choices.

I saved money even though I was eating more.  

I was a total sucker for energy drinks, diet snacks, and protein bars; not to mention diet pills, caffeine, and fitness-enhancing supplements.

All of these “health” products were slimming down my bank account and doing nothing for my well-being.

I soon discovered that eating whole foods was not only more satisfying but much more beneficial to my overall fitness level.  And because I was eating healthy, flavourful foods like healthy fats, complex carbohydrates, and real protein sources, I found that when I did try to eat an odd “energy” bar, I was paying £2 to eat something that tasted like plastic and probably contained it too!

In the same respect, a piece of pie or cake for dessert tasted so much better.  Without eating processed foods, I appreciated the richness and flavour of the items I was eating.

Delicious food without a giant helping of guilt afterwards hit the spot as well!

I realised that I was never “addicted” to anything I ate.  

One of the most rewarding things about breaking up with food restriction is that you understand that the propaganda about being addicted to sugar and salt is not real.

I also started to recognise my true hunger cues and my body was able to lead me to a better understanding of my appetite and how to feed it.

I stopped being at war with my body

Arbitrary crash diet eating is an anchor for shaming ourselves.  When I ceased to shame myself for the foods I was eating, I also stopped the cycle of body negativity.

A new cycle of rational and healthy give and take begins when you quit crash dieting.

Eating what my body needs when it needs it, stopped the mental battle I was living through while I was engaging in restrictive crash dieting.

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I stopped continually being in a bad mood which I attributed to two things 1) Arbitrary food guides were no longer screwing with my digestion and bodily functions and 2) I stopped shaming the hell out of myself for not being compliant with a whackadoodle diet plan.

It is incredible how much better you will see your body when you stop punishing yourself for not putting it through unnecessary hell.

Self-compassion is something with which most of us struggle.  You’re only human, and there are enough causes in life to get passionate and fight against, your body doesn’t need to be one of them!

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I lost some weight (and it has stayed off)

Emotional and physical weight can be present in our lives in equal measure.  When I quit my crash diet cycle and began embracing self-compassion, it enabled me to shift weight without conscious effort.

As an eating psychology and behaviour change coach who utilises neurolinguistic programming, I can tell you that when you spend life thinking negative statements, you will also spend your life fighting against those thoughts, and 9 out of 10 times get the very thing you don’t want.

Your mind cannot process negative statements.  When you say to yourself “I can’t eat sugar,” your mind will only hear, “eat sugar.”  While you think you are commanding yourself into not to doing something, you are essentially talking yourself into the very action.

What I learned when I (finally) quit crash dieting. #health #eatingpsychology #coach #motivation Click To Tweet

Enjoy and appreciate your body every single day that you have it.  Feed it with love and compassion and skip the side order of hate!

If you would like to gain more confidence with food, contact me for a free 30-minute eating psychology coaching consultation at erin@erinslifebites.com!

Why a Revenge Body is Bad Motivation

As a wellness professional, I encounter various forms of personal motivation when it comes to fitness.

Some people want to be fit enough to run a half-marathon because it is something they have always wanted to do.

Some people have specific health concerns and are advised to start a fitness regimen.

And then some people come to me looking to “make their ex-significant another regret the day they broke up with them” by getting a “revenge body.”

Any tabloid magazine, on any given week, will post a story about the “revenge body” of a celebrity who is going through relationship woes or bad times.

Khloe Kardashian was paid a bunch of money on her E! show aptly titled, Revenge Body with Khloe Kardashian to assist people in obtaining a ‘revenge worthy’ physique, and I’m not the only person who thinks this show is bad news.

I have a policy that I won’t work with individuals with body revenge goals.

Instead, I ask clients to focus on the power of a growth mindset; to have them take their desire for revenge and turn it into an exercise in self-compassion and forgiveness.

Why having a revenge body is a lousy motivator

Simply put, working towards a revenge body infringes upon your innate ability to embrace healing.

Kevin Carlsmith, in a 2008 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, discussed that by seeking revenge we inflate the event or issue to a level of obsession, where it’s no longer something that can be “laughed about later.”

You’re willing to sacrifice your well-being to seek punishment towards somebody else.

When a client comes to me with a goal not based on self-care, my concern is that the individual runs the risk of possible long-term consequences.

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I am not making this claim based on speculation. I once sought out to change my physical appearance after being called fat. Before it was a buzzword (I’m ageing myself here), when I was fifteen years old, I started a revenge body diet and exercise regimen, and it turned into a fifteen year battle with bulimia, anorexia, and binge eating disorder.

We see this scenario all of the time in the movies.  An individual gets rejected and, soon after, their mission is to rise from the ashes and make this person regret their decision to abandon or hurt them.  So, they falsely believe the best way to go about this is to become more physically desirable.

But what tends to happen in the end to our protagonists? They realise that they do not need nor desire to change for that person, and in sacrificing so much to ‘improve’ themselves, they understand that the individual wasn’t worthy of their affection and, ultimately, they are the better off without them.

Why do these characters finally realise, within a 90-minute time frame, that they need to accept who they are and be okay with it?

Because revenge inevitably brings us down to the level of the very thing we are fighting and compromises our integrity.

As humans, one of our most compelling traits is our ability to forgive ourselves and others.

So, when we apply our actions with the intentions of proving our worth or getting one over on others, we keep the pain associated with it alive and well.

We cannot heal and grow to our full potential if we are doing things for the benefit of needing to prove our worth to others.

For this reason, when I meet a new client now, and it is clear that they are in a vulnerable and transitional point in their life, I ask them to reassess what is upsetting them and the areas of their life they should focus on strengthening.

There are not many things that we as humans have control over in our lives.

Revenge dieting and bodies, as well as the entire concept of improvement based on outside justification and approval, limits what control you do have over your present and future well-being.

It’s not the events of our lives that shape us, but our beliefs as to what those events mean.

-Tony Robbins

We cannot control how people treat us or the decisions they make about who we are.

That’s on them.

However, we can control how we respond to things and grow from the experience.

Breakups, for the most part, tend to be multi-dimensional events and, upon reflection, there is much more to their demise than how our partners feel about our bodies.

Why a 'revenge body' is bad motivation. @beetsperminute Click To Tweet

So my advice is this:   Focus on living the best life possible on your terms because you’ll be living well and if it still matters enough, living well truly is the best “revenge”.

This post first appeared on Huffington Post.

4 SIGNS YOU MAY BE IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Ah, toxic relationships.  Chances are you’ve had a few of those or maybe your suspect you might be in the grips of one right now.

One relationship that many people struggle with is a toxic relationship with food, and it is easy to see why this happens.  Everybody has to eat to survive.

Most people, particularly women discuss food and weight at multiple points in any given conversation.  Talking about weight, diet and bodies is a part of our culture.

So, what makes a relationship with food toxic?

Have you ever wondered if the way you think, view and discuss food is affecting how much and what you eat?

Truthfully, many traits can help you determine if your relationship with food is toxic, but for this post, we will focus on four specific characteristics:

  • Blaming 
  • Lack of autonomy
  • Self-judgment
  • Bad feelings

four signs you may be in a toxic relationship with food _ erin's life bites

4 SIGNS YOU MAY BE IN A TOXIC RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD

Blaming

When we are young, it’s understandable that we would blame ourselves for the traumatic things that happen around us.  Self-blame is a way to make sense of things that quite frankly are not for us to explain or figure out.

You may be thinking; of course, you are going to blame yourself when you emotionally eat or feel out of control with your eating habits – you can’t blame the slice of pizza.

But we do blame the food, and by blaming the food, we give it an incredible amount of power (or “say”) in our ability to cope with stress and trauma.

“But if the food weren’t so delicious or comforting, I wouldn’t turn to it.  I mean, I’m hardly going to cram entire stems of broccoli florets into my mouth when I feel bad!”  Well, you might if you found broccoli comforting.   It’s not the food being too delicious or comforting that causes you to eat it when you’re upset.  It’s the need to shut off discomfort or to cope with a stressful situation.   The food isn’t going to fix anything, but if continuously turn to food in times of distress it sure might seem like you depend on it to do something it isn’t equipped to do.

Listen, there are way worse things, in my opinion, that a person can do when they are stressed or upset than eat something.  However, when eating something leads to eating something else and then another thing and turns into a manic cycle of feeling powerless and shameful while hitting up multiple drive-thrus, then your relationship with food is toxic.

Lack of autonomy 

Autonomy is a basic human need.  We need independence to feel that we can make the best choices for ourselves and our lives based on what we need without the influence or approval of others.

“I can’t eat that because I’m on a low carb diet.”

“I can’t have dairy because I’m paleo.”

If you choose not to eat carbs, that’s fine.  If you decide not to eat dairy, cool, but the thing is you can have carbs, dairy and sugar — unless you have an allergy or medical condition that prohibits you from consuming them safely.  If Sally, from accounting, lost 15 pounds and cured her irregular period by cutting sugar out of her diet, that means it is a suitable choice for Sally, but that doesn’t mean that you should try an elimination diet yourself.

Pursuing dietary “lifestyles” that restrict you or limit you because you believe that it will “fix your body” to eat a certain way or that you have to abstain from entire food groups to “eat right,” you could have a toxic relationship with food.

Judgment

A judgment is an opinion.   We live in a judgmental world.  People judge a book by its cover all of the time.  Is it right?  No.  Nine out of ten times the judgments we make are based on a very skewed and limited amount of information and are inconclusive at best.

We don’t reserve judgments for other people – we also judge things.  Food is always under scrutiny.  Some foods are bad.  Some foods are good.  Some foods are even labelled “super.”  The bottom line is they. Are. All. Just. Food.  

True, some foods are more nutritionally dense than others, but to believe that one food is terrible and another food is good is an arbitrary judgment that creates dysfunctional relationships with how we eat.  There are many reasons we consciously and subconsciously choose the foods that we eat when we decide to eat them and how we judge food has a significant impact on those choices.

Having a healthy and objective attitude towards food is #goals when it comes to your relationship with food.

Bad feelings

Counting celery sticks and not participating in events because you can’t be around the temptation of food is something many people do every damn day.  If the very prospect of being around food or being in an environment you can’t “control” causes you distress, you’re not alone.  So many people spend their days feeling wrong about the foods they choose to eat or not eat.  It is what happens to our thoughts and feelings after we eat that can show our actual relationship with food and our bodies.

“I’m a failure because I ate a cheeseburger,” this is a sentiment most people will think – if not say – to themselves when they decide to eat a particular food item.

Having bad feelings such as guilt, shame or anger after eating specific foods or quantities of food could mean that you have a toxic relationship with food.

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So, how do I manage my toxic relationship with food when I have to eat to survive?

Well, the first thing to establish is that it is not the food that is causing the toxic relationship, it is the associations and attitudes you have created surrounding eating as behaviour and the stigma you have assigned to particular foods.  Let me add, any shame attached to a specific food could have been designated by a parent, a friend, or just from society in general and is not necessarily an original association created by you.

The four signs you may have a toxic relationship with food – blaming, lack of autonomy, judgment and bad feelings – all come from how you have been conditioned to view food; as a coping mechanism.

Let me be clear:  I believe there are far worse things a person can do than eat a cupcake when they are sad, angry or stressed.  In those cases it is usually only in small quantities and when the individual has an established healthy attitude towards food.

However, eating as a coping mechanism – or as a response to an emotional trigger – is what leads the behaviour to have negative associations which over time can become harmful not only concerning physical health but mental health as well.

When food becomes an automated self-care method, or a mechanism to soothe stressors or trauma or is used as a reward system is when toxic emotional associations with food and how we eat start.

It is important to know that you are not alone.

Many people I have worked with over the years both as a personal trainer and nutritional therapist have communicated the same frustration when it comes to food and stress; they feel as though they have no control over their lives and the food is a way to distract themselves from the moment.

Some clients express feeling as though they had an ‘out of body’ experience where they feel in the moment that they are no longer in the driver’s seat of their life.

Other clients say that they know that what they are doing is “wrong”, but they feel like crap, so what’s the point in doing anything positive – it’s not like it matters at the moment.

Regardless of a client’s specific account of what they experience, the message is the same:  they are using the food to escape a discomfort.

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As a result of this association, the foods they consume while feeling upset, angry or out of control are branded as ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ and exist as a response to an emotional or an environmental trigger.  At that moment, they need to pull the ‘escape hatch’ on reality and escape even if it is just until they reach the bottom of the chip packet.

Nobody deserves to be in discomfort or to experience crippling stress.  Every person deserves the opportunity to heal from trauma, and that is why recognising not only how we react to stressful situations but whether or not the way we cope with these situations is healthy and not causing secondary physical or mental health issues.

People are feeling much more comfortable these days discussing their struggles, and breaking through the stigma and shame that emotional eating and toxic relationships with food while giving you the tools to successfully manage stressors, anxiety, and emotions in a healthy and healing way.

Is your relationship with food healthy or toxic? Read my post on the four signs you could be in a toxic relationship with food. Click To Tweet

I offer clients one-on-one coaching programs to work through rebuilding their relationships with food, stress and help them find their way to the healthiest lifestyle specific to their needs and struggles.  Everybody is unique and has their history, and while signing up for my coaching emails and blog posts is a great start to rebuilding your confidence with food, some targeted work could help you better reach your goals.

If you are interested in working with me one-on-one, please email me at erin@erinslifebites.com and follow me on social media.

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