Overcome emotional eating to overcome cravings with Tricia Nelson
In this conversation, Laurie and Tricia Nelson discuss how to overcome emotional eating to overcome your cravings. Tricia and Laurie explain how you can recognize emotional eating and what steps you can take to start overcoming it. For more support, be sure to join Tricia’s End Emotional Eating program.
Tricia Nelson lost fifty pounds by identifying and healing the underlying causes of her emotional eating. She spent over thirty years researching the hidden causes of the addictive personality. Tricia is an Emotional Eating Expert and TEDx speaker, and author of the #1 bestselling book, Heal Your Hunger, 7 Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating Now. Tricia is the host of the popular podcast, The Heal Your Hunger Show and is a highly regarded speaker. Tricia has been featured on NBC, CBS, KTLA, FOX and The List.
Okay. This is great. Welcome back, Trisha. I’m excited to dive into this topic today, which is going over how to know if you’re an emotional eater and then what you can do about it. And you’re an expert in this area. I’m so excited to have you here to share all the goodness that you have with us.
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be here. This is such an important topic because it’s often what’s hiding. It’s the thing that people don’t realize they are struggling with or that is part of what the struggle is. When people realize it and get a solution for it, it makes solving all their other health challenges so much easier. It’s sort of the thing nobody’s talking about especially on the weight loss journey. Something that is so seldom talked about and it’s so often the real culprit to why people aren’t able to reach their weight loss goals.
Yes. I like what you said about how a lot of people don’t recognize it, it’s not talked about. I remember when I was going through some hormone issues a while back, the practitioner I was working with, she told me, this will help you unless you have an issue with emotional eating and then that’s something else we have to look into. And at the time I was like, well, do I, I don’t know. I’m not sure. I didn’t think I did. But now I was asking myself that question. I even bought a book about it. I need to dive into this because what if I am an emotional eater? And I just don’t know, because I could imagine that a lot of women can go for years and years and not recognize, not make that connection.
Absolutely. I know for myself, when I first heard the term emotional eater, I thought that’s not me. I just like food. That’s what I thought. Then I started to observe my behaviors around food and I started to clue into it. And of course that was me and I was 50 pounds overweight, so much because I had this emotional dependence on food, on sugar. I had to address it. Otherwise I was going to keep doing the yoyo thing, which was my pattern. I was up 30, down 20 up 10. All over the map because I could do well for a little while on a clean eating plan. But then I just, I missed my food. I missed my ewwy gooey chewy foods.
That was driven a lot by stress and emotions I wasn’t really addressing. So that’s what caused my downfall. That I missed my foods and I couldn’t live without them for very long. And, because I was an emotional eater. So solving that changed everything for me and played a big part in losing the 50 pounds.
And keeping and keeping it off. Of course that’s important. We can all lose weight, but keeping it off is the big trick.
Exactly. Yes. That’s what a lot of women struggle with. Okay. So let’s dive into it a little bit. Like how do you know, like what are the signs and yeah, tell us.
Okay. So, so basically if somebody thinks about food a lot. If you think about food a lot, if it’s on your mind often. If you’re hanging out with your kids, but you can’t wait for them to go to bed so you can eat. If you have nighttime eating problems. You do good during the day. And then later in the evening, you find yourself eating, and eating more than you need to. If you do have weight, that’s not coming off in spite of your best efforts or you’re working out, but you can’t get where you need to go in terms of weight loss. If you have foods that you cannot be in control around, like sugar, like carbs. If you try to eat just one piece of bread at dinner or when you’re out to dinner and you end up eating half the basket, that was me.
I’m totally describing myself, of course. Carbs and sugar, especially those tend to be real weakness, partly because of the physical connection we have with those things, but also because we’re comfort eating, we’re eating to kind of numb emotions and people don’t recognize it and they don’t think, oh, I’m going to eat bread so I don’t feel my feelings. It’s not a conscious thing. But if we have unconscious eating, if we find ourselves getting up and going into the kitchen between meals, like, what can I eat? I was notorious in the evening for going to the refrigerator three or four times. As if something new was going to appear. I’d just look in the refrigerator and think, what can I eat? I had a hunger that was insatiable, it was just hard to feel sated.
These are signs and of course the struggling weight, the yoyo dieting, always breaking your diet and kind of thinking you’re just gonna have a little bit and then you’re like, screw it. And eat more and it’s weeks before you get back on track. These are all signs.
Yeah. A lot of those sounds so common and things that a lot of women experience. Okay. So, so if you, if you’re like, yes, I see myself in some of this. What can we do about it?
Well, it’s really important to realize there’s kind of a spectrum of emotional eating. So I think Laurie, that we’re all prone to this. This is something we all can do. Everybody loses control a little bit. My boyfriend, I would never think of him as an emotional eater, but you get him around potato chips and all bets are off. The whole bag is gone. He knows this about himself. He knows he can’t have a them in the house or he will overeat and eat the whole bag. I think we are hardwired to have some kind of emotional connection with food where certain foods feel comforting. That’s not a bad thing. It keeps us eating. Otherwise we might not be interested. We’d just blow off eating.
So having an emotional connection with food, certain foods that are comforting, there’s nothing wrong with that. Just when we go overboard and when it starts to have negative consequences. I really consider this to be a spectrum of emotional eating. And on the low end of the spectrum is going overboard once in awhile. The high end of the spectrum is being addicted to food. And that was definitely me. Where you are on the spectrum is really determined by two things primarily. The first thing is the level of control that you have. So let’s say you go on vacation, you drink too much wine, you eat too much cheese and bread and you come back and you’re like five pounds overweight. So you’re no longer comfortable in your jeans.
Okay. The jeans are a little tight. And so you’re like, I hate this feeling. I’m going to cut out sweets and I’m going to jog extra or I’m going to go more times a week to the gym. Okay. And boom, those five pounds are off within a couple weeks. That’s somebody with a lot of control. There’s a lot of control and very few consequences.
But somebody on the high end of the spectrum, which is where I lived, doesn’t have a lot of control. So let’s say they gain five pounds on a cruise, but then they come home and they feel so bad that it’s hard for them to snap out of it. They just keep eating. And then before, you know it, it’s 10 pounds or 15 pounds. They kind of fall down a rabbit hole.
Also somebody who’s a binge eater. This was me. I would sit in front of the TV and I’d eat ice cream and cookies. You have to have salty with the sweet, so then I’d have chips. Then I was stuffed. I was absolutely stuffed. I felt sick. I might cancel an appointment with friends the next day, because I was bloated. My face showed anytime I ate sugar and carbs, it would show on my face if I over ate them. I was somebody who didn’t have a lot of control. Okay. Once I started eating chocolate, I eat a lot of chocolate. Once I ate ice cream, I ate a lot of ice cream, so I didn’t have a lot of control and I was starting to have mounting consequences.
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Remember I said, control and consequences are the two factors here, primary factors. So I was starting to have a lot of consequences. The inflammation, which causes other problems in your body, you know, the hormone, obviously the hormones are gonna take a hit when we eat a lot of food and unhealthy foods and processed foods. Right. I mean, I didn’t crave broccoli and salad. Okay. Let’s be clear. I was on really unhealthy food. Processed carbs, processed sugar. So on the high end of food addiction. The consequences are not just physical, but they’re emotional.
It affected self-esteem and how I felt about myself. I had this secret that I lived with. I didn’t want people to know how much I ate. I was good, you know, in public with girlfriends at lunch. But later at night I wasn’t so good. And I didn’t want people to know. I would hide food or I would lie about how much I ate. So these are symptoms of really being addicted. And it does affect your self-esteem. It also creates so many mood swings. I couldn’t be the happy person I wanted to be because I was carrying around this weight of guilt and shame around my behaviors. So the point is, that’s the high end of the spectrum, that’s food addiction. I have a quiz, which I know you’re gonna put a link to because the quiz will tell you exactly where you are on the spectrum.
I have a quiz on my website and it tells you where you are on the spectrum of emotional eating. If you’re an emotional eater, a food addict or somewhere in between, and getting that information is helpful. Because then you can look at it in black and white. And then I, of course, give people steps. Determining where you’re on the spectrum is the first step. The next step is to really identify some of the traits. So in my work, I talk about something called the anatomy of the emotional eater it’s in my book, it’s in my programs and this is a list of personality traits that make up the emotional eaters experience. So people don’t really understand this, but I’ve been researching this for 30 years and I’ve identified the top 24 traits of an emotional eater’s personality.
This has nothing to do with food ostensibly. Emotional eaters have a certain way of being in the world. This way of being, these personality traits that are very common for us, lead to overeating. So we can’t just deal with this on the food level, like eat these foods and you won’t overeat anymore. It doesn’t work that way because we can’t eat those foods. Like we can’t stay on a diet, right. So instead of identifying the eating problem, I go deeper and I help people identify the living problem. So these personality traits cause stress that lead to stress eating. And obviously we don’t have time to go over all 24 traits, but I’ll tell you the top one. And that is, people pleasing. Emotional eaters are consummate people pleasers.
I was a total offender here and there’s reasons for this. Typically emotional eaters have things in their past that cause them to perhaps not feel as good about themselves as they could. I struggled with my self-esteem and I came by honestly from childhood. But because of that, I was looking outside myself for validation. I didn’t have a strong sense of myself. I was looking outside and people pleasing was one of the ways I got validation. You know, I was always saying, yes, if asked for things. I was always chairing the committee, always making the baked goods for whatever the party was or the kids teams or whatever. Extra projects at work. I mean, always saying yes, came with a price.
I was always looking for the atta girls like, oh, you’re so good. You’re so wonderful. We couldn’t have done it without you. Oh, I loved hearing that. The problem is it comes with a price because when I’m always saying yes to everything, it means I’m overworking. I’m burned out. My adrenals are challenged or shot, but not only that, Laurie, we tend to get resentful when we people please, because people aren’t ever as pleased as we plan on them being, you know. We’ll get a thank you and we’re like, thank you? I pulled an all nighter for this. So we end up not only exhausted, but resentful and that leads to over eating. That’s like the perfect storm for the, I deserve a binge. Screw them. They don’t appreciate me. I’ll reward myself.
So do you see how it’s not about the eating, it’s about how we’re showing up in life. That’s leading to our eating and there’s so many more traits. And when people can identify these traits and start making changes in how they live, it’s totally going to inform how they eat. I’m all about getting to the root cause because overweight is a symptom of overeating and overeating is a symptom of what’s eating me. And I’m the only one I can do anything about. So I’m really about having people feel empowered, to make changes in their life and stop focusing on the symptom of what they’re eating. Deal with the root causes, because that’ll change everything and it’ll make somebody so much happier and healthier overall.
“Overweight is a symptom of overeating and overeating is a symptom of what’s eating me.”
Love these characteristics. And so when somebody takes your quiz are you going to dig into that a little bit more or do they find that in your programs?
Both. I start helping people understand that being an emotional eater goes deeper than just eating ice cream when you’re upset. That’s just too surface. Or eating cookies because it reminds you of your grandmother. That’s what most people think of. It goes so much deeper than that. We really do have these personality traits. I’ll give you another one. Overeaters tend to be over doers. We run circles around people. We pack our schedule with things to do, but this causes stress. It causes stress, it causes adrenal and hormonal issues as you know. So we have to address that. But a lot of that is eating to cover up feelings. I didn’t even cover that when we talked about emotional eating, basically emotional eating is eating over your emotions, but it’s not a conscious thing.
It’s unconscious. It’s not like, I’m not just eating this so I don’t feel angry. You don’t think of that. You’re like, no, I won’t really want ice cream. You know? But being over busy leads to overeating. But it also comes from that place of kind of distracting ourselves from our emotional selves. So when we get more integrated, when we start addressing emotional eating, we get more emotionally integrated. We get more self aware. There’s so many benefits to addressing this problem. It’s not just that you won’t have to diet anymore. I mean literally if people stopped emotional eating, they would lose weight without having to diet. So much of our excess eating or eating the wrong foods comes from an emotional place.
So when we address it, it’s like you don’t have to diet. You just will naturally start losing weight when you have self care. When you stop, when you slow down a little bit and stop being so busy, start having self care habits that can bring down your stress level, help you feel calm and centered, food is no longer your go-to for settling down. So much of the time in nighttime eating, we’re just trying to come down from the stress of the day. When we do that with healthy habits, which diets don’t give you healthy tools to replace the food, right? You take away all your favorite foods that you use to cope with stress and you got nothing in its place, of course, you’re going to go back to it. You’re going to go back to what you know. But when you have a whole new set of healthy tools to replace food as your main coping tool, then you’re more balanced. Then you’re happier and you’re healthier because you’re no longer using food for those reasons.
I love this. And you’re talking a lot about food, but I also recognize that a lot of women go to wine or you know, with other drinks of choices about
Oh no question, wine, weed, shopping. There’s all kinds of things we turn to. And that’s really true. So when you start addressing this, again, when you go deeper and go to the root cause, it affects all your habits. No question about it, no question about it. Whenever we’re using things to cover up, that stuff we’re covering up is still there. It doesn’t go anywhere and it wreaks havoc on our lives, on our bodies and our guts. On our sense of happiness and wellbeing. So going deeper is the way to go because it as a ripple effect in all your habits.
Right. You’re getting to the root cause.
And that’s my preferred way. This has been amazing. Everybody go take Trisha’s quiz. I will put a link. Where else can they find you?
I’m on Instagram and TikTok at trishanelson_. And I also have a Facebook group called the Secret Sauce to End Emotional Eating.
And a book and they can learn about that after they take the quiz, I’ll get information about the book, but it’s called my book’s called Heal Your Hunger.
I like it. Okay. Well thank you for joining me, Tricia. Love this. I love these conversations and I hope to have you back for some more.
Thank you. I’d love that.
Still not sure if you’re an emotional eater? Take Tricias’s quiz to find out!
If you would like more support on your journey join Tricia’s End Emotional Eating program, where you will learn to overcome emotional eating with assistance and encouragement.
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This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, manage, or treat disease or serious conditions. Always check with your doctor before making any changes. It’s important to consult a well-informed health practitioner for personal advice about your situation before relying on general information — we’re all wonderfully unique.
Laurie Villarreal, FNLP, CHWC, FNS, LMC, CPT, RYT
Hi, I'm Laurie, a functional nutritionist and board certified health coach, athlete, dog-mom, and biohacking adventure-lover. After having struggled for years to find lasting solutions for my own debilitating hormone-related symptoms, I created my online practice to begin helping other active, driven women get the support they need. I now help women around the world elevate their health, energy, business and life by optimizing their hormones with personalized nutrition and lifestyle tweaks. Together, we discover new tools and strategies that keep you showing up at your best so you can play even bigger in your life and work.
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