Do You Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Egozi, with “Cookie Dough” 

What is your relationship with food? 

Do you crave sugar when you’re feeling stressed out? Do you eat differently when you’re alone than you do with other people? Do you draw lines around foods that are “off-limits” to you? Do you feel badly about yourself when you cross those lines? 

Eating is a part of being alive. Food fuels everything we do, and connects us with every other creature on the planet. It’s also a reliable source of everyday pleasure. Whatever your circumstances, I’m betting you can experience at least a little bit of joy while you’re eating a strawberry popsicle. 

So why do we have such complex feelings about something so basic and so nice? Why do so many of my therapy and coaching clients experience guilt, shame, and self-recriminations around food, a thing we all need to survive?

I have come to believe that, in a culture that normalizes restriction and judgment, building a better relationship with food (and with your body) is a radical act of self-love. On today’s episode of the podcast, we’re talking about how you can do that. 

My guest is Kathleen C., M.Ed., LPC, NCC, a therapist, life coach, and intuitive eating counselor here at Growing Self. Kathleen has helped many people develop healthier relationships with food and with themselves, and now she’s sharing her wisdom with you. If you’re ready to say “no thanks” to diet culture, and “yes please” to authentic self-care, this episode is for you! 

You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Do You Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Music Credits: Egozi, with “Cookie Dough” 

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Do You Have an Unhealthy Relationship with Food?: Episode Highlights

Your relationship with food is just like any other relationship. It can be positive, supportive, nurturing and enjoyable…. or it can be toxic, stressful and disempowering. The latter is very common, especially if you’ve been exposed to judgmental ideas about food (and who hasn’t?) that have disconnected you from your own inner wisdom, and led you to get caught up in a cycle of emotional eating. 

What Is Emotional Eating?

We eat for so many reasons, and hunger is only one of them. Sometimes we eat to improve our mood, to mark a special occasion, or even to please someone else (thanks for the liver and onions, Ma). 

Any time we eat in order to feel (or to not feel) a certain way, we’re practicing emotional eating. Emotional eating is not a bad thing in and of itself. Food is simply one tool in our toolbox of emotional regulation, but it can become a problem when we over-rely on food as a coping strategy, to the exclusion of other strategies. 

This is how eating can begin to function as an addiction, or a process we need to engage in in order to feel alright, despite any negative consequences it creates for us. On the other far end of the emotional eating spectrum, we may try to manage our feelings (including shameful feelings about ourselves and our bodies) through restriction, a habit that, in the worst cases, can graduate to a deadly eating disorder. 

But even in the absence of serious problems that are observable from the outside, emotional eating can be a way of blotting out our feelings rather than dealing with them, leaving us less connected to ourselves and stunting our personal growth process. 

Emotional Eating and the Diet Mentality

People who have a problem with emotional eating often think they have a problem with carbs, or takeout, or with eating after 5pm. It’s simply easier to focus on the behaviors you’d like to change than to dig into the deeper feelings that those behaviors are trying to address — especially if you don’t have a good connection with your feelings in the first place.

Diet culture only adds to the confusion. We’re bombarded every day with messages about what, when, and how much we should eat, and the size and shape that our bodies should take. If we fail to follow these (infinite, ever-changing, contradictory) guidelines, diet culture tells us we’re not just eating badly, but we are bad (or lazy, or weak-willed, or self-indulgent). The super hot Instagram model earned her body by doing all the right things, as evidenced by her feed of gym selfies and green goop bowls. The rest of us are doing something wrong. 

None of these messages make it any easier to love yourself or care for yourself in an authentic way, which starts with becoming conscious of your real needs, and then making an empowered choice about how you’d like to meet them. The black-and-white, good-or-bad value judgments that we make around food only lead to guilt and shame — feelings we often try to soothe through emotional eating. 

This creates a cycle of restricting, binging, beating yourself up, and then back to restricting again. Clearly, diet culture is not helping us feel good about ourselves or our bodies (in fact, it’s not even helping us lose weight). So what’s the alternative? How do we opt out?

From Emotional Eating to Intuitive Eating

The key to overcoming emotional eating is to end the feelings of shame around food, by developing a self-compassionate, tolerant and positive relationship with food, with your body, and with yourself. It’s tuning out the messages about how you should look or what you should eat, and tuning back into your inner wisdom about what you really need. 

“Intuitive eating” is all about reconnecting with that inner wisdom, learning to listen to your body’s signals and to trust your own judgment when it comes to food. This sounds easy enough, but it can be tricky when you’re used to disregarding or judging what your body is trying to tell you, in the service of changing the way your body looks. Unfortunately, most of us have gone to battle with our bodies at some point. And for many people, dieting is a way of life. 

10 Principles of Intuitive Eating

Kathleen shared the ten principles of intuitive eating, which are designed to help you gain the self-awareness and self-compassion you need to change your relationship with food. 

  1. Reject the diet mentality — It’s making you unhappy, draining your energy, and selling you false hope about long-term weight loss. 
  2. Honor your hunger — Practice noticing the hunger signals that your body sends you, and honoring them. Ignoring these signals is a surefire way to trigger overeating (and the shame that comes with it). 
  3. Make your peace with food — Give yourself unconditional permission to eat, without apology. What, when, and how much you eat is always your choice. 
  4. Challenge the food police — Stop placing foods (and yourself) into “good” or “bad” categories. 
  5. Discover the satisfaction factor — You deserve to have pleasure and satisfaction every day. Take your personal pleasure seriously by using mindfulness techniques to truly savor your food. 
  6. Feel your fullness — Your body sends out signals when you’re no longer hungry. What do they feel like? Whether you listen to them is your choice, but practice noticing them. 
  7. Cope with your emotions with kindness — Pay attention to the emotional needs you might be trying to meet with food. Do you eat to avoid feeling lonely? Bored? Stressed? Are there other ways to take care of those feelings?
  8. Respect your body — You deserve to love your body, just the way it is. It’s the engine of your entire existence. Don’t waste your life wishing it was something different. 
  9. Focus on how it feels to move your body — Movement should not be a punishment. Focus on how you feel during and after a stretch, or a walk, or a workout, rather than the physical outcome you’re hoping to achieve. 
  10. Embrace gentle nutrition — Make food choices out of self-love, not out of self-deprivation or self-punishment. 

How to Have a Healthy Relationship with Food

You don’t have to spend your life trying diet after diet, searching for the one that will finally transform the way you look and feel, only to be disappointed again and again. You can instead join the movement of people who are shifting their focus away from dieting and toward healing their relationship with food by honoring their own inner wisdom, feelings, and needs. 

I hope you will!

Episode Show Notes

[03:53] What is Emotional Eating?

  • Eating for emotional reasons rather than hunger or appetite.
  • Emotional eating can turn into an unhealthy coping mechanism.

[07:32] An Unhealthy Relationship with Food

  • Placing rigid rules around what we eat creates an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Dieting or the dieting mentality leads to emotional eating.
  • Many of us struggle with connecting to our bodies mindfully.

[17:06] Changing Your Relationship with Food

  • Build your trust in yourself around food by changing your relationship with it.
  • Slow down and get mindful. Listen to your physical and emotional cues.

[23:29] Healthier Coping Mechanisms

  • Eating can be a healthy coping mechanism when it is internally driven and value-driven.
  • Your food choices should emanate from genuine self-care.

[35:21] Seeking Help and Growth

  • Seek treatment or a therapist if you observe negative health changes around eating.
  • An intuitive eating counselor can help you adopt the principles of intuitive eating. 

Music in this episode is by Egozi with their song “Cookie Dough”. You can support them and their work by visiting: https://artlist.io/artist/600/egozi. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby. And you’re listening to The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast.

[Song: Cookie Dough by Egozi]

Dr. Lisa: That song is called Cookie Dough. The artist is Egozi and I thought her message of enjoying life was so appropriate today because today we are tackling a big subject together. We’re going to be talking about emotional eating with my dear friend and colleague, Kathleen Stutts. Kathleen is a counselor and coach here on our team at Growing Self. Kathleen has the most, just positive affirming message when it comes to understanding why and how we can eat emotionally, where it comes from. But also how we can begin to shift our relationship with food to one of empowerment that really emphasizes health, nourishment, enjoyment, and releasing the judgment and shame and kind of negative messages we can get wrapped up in when it comes to what we’re eating, why we’re eating, what our bodies look like, versus what they should look like. And we’re going to be going there today on this episode of the podcast because I’ve been hearing from you guys that there can be a lot of anxiety around health and bodies and fitness, especially as we are cruising into the holiday season where everything is all in front of us waiting to be eaten. It’s a stressful time of year too, particularly when we throw in some emotionally intense family gatherings in the mix. And so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to get Kathleen in here to give you some advice on how to keep yourself in a good place and shift into a compassionate, judgment-free, positive, accepting, and nurturing relationship with yourself, with your food, so that you can handle this season with confidence, with clarity, and feel good about what you’re doing. Kathleen. Kathleen, thank you so much for your willingness to join me today on the show. I know you’ve, you’ve – and I have been working together for years and we’ve done this a couple of times – but it’s always such a treat when you join us on the podcast because you have so much wisdom to share. Thank you for being here.

Kathleen: Fantastic. I’m really excited to be here talking about emotional eating today. Love this topic.

Dr. Lisa: Well, it’s an interesting one. And it’s also so timely, I think, because I mean, ‘tis the season, right? We are rolling right into Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and cookies and stuff and holidays. And I mean, I think everybody gets past that. What is it? Like we all have to eat like 10 cookies a day or something? To participate? So…

Kathleen: Absolutely right.

Dr. Lisa: The time is right. So, but I was hoping that maybe we could talk just kind of generally about emotional eating because as you know, I mean, this isn’t something that just happens around the holidays. I mean, for many people, it’s something that they live with all the time. And while we have maybe more food in our faces, currently more stressful situations that might be triggering some of this. This is a relevant topic anytime, anywhere. 

Kathleen: Yeah, absolutely. All year, I think because whether it’s the holidays or not, there’s really a negative bias around emotional eating. We were talking about it like it’s a negative thing, actually, but I think that emotional eating is okay.

Dr. Lisa: What, okay, well, we have so much– because you’re right! There’s this idea that emotional eating is not a good thing. But alright, so I definitely want to ask you more about that. But if it were to back up just for a minute, let’s just start this party by defining our terms. And why don’t you tell me and our listeners here what the phrase emotional eating even means? So start right there.

Kathleen: Eating for emotional reasons rather than for say hunger or even appetite. There are a few reasons we eat, right? We might also eat for social obligations, as you kind of mentioned earlier. But whenever we’re eating in order to regulate or manage our feelings or create certain feelings where we’re practicing emotional eating. So if I’m stressed, and I want to wind down, or if you’re bored, and you feel like you want to enjoy something that puts a smile on your face, if you’re sad and you eat something to comfort and soothe yourself. Anytime that you’re eating in order to feel a certain way, or not feel a certain way. You know, you’re practicing emotional eating.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, I get that. And so there’s almost, I’m thinking right now of, I mean, I hate to use the word but like, when, when any of us indulge in, like, an addictive process? That’s at the core, you know? It’s “I’m going to use this substance or engage in this behavior to change the way I feel”, you know?

Kathleen: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: And, and that people do that with food. But then I also heard you say at the beginning that that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Listening To Your Body

Kathleen: Right. So I think intrinsically, food is good. Maybe minimal, minimally, it might be neutral, right? And then how we use food or interact with food can change that relationship that we have with it, but, but food in itself is good. And I think that using coping tools and strategies, of which emotional eating is one, is good. I think the issue pops up for some of us when we start to over-rely on that one particular coping strategy. We’re emotionally eating and it becomes insatiable. And it starts to sort of take up all the room to the, you know, exclusion of other healthy coping strategies. When you find yourself really unable to stop using emotional eating as a coping tool or use something else in its place, then we have this cycle that we’re stuck in where it can feel addictive and that we feel powerless out of control.

Dr. Lisa: Got it. So, so you’re saying that if, if that’s, like, your, the thing that you always do, that that is when it begins to become problematic. But the– and I love the reminder, I mean like food is not bad. Food is good, right? Or, or at least neutral. But it’s like the way that you engage with it is what we need to pay attention to.

Kathleen: Yes, because it’s not the food itself, or even emotional eating that creates this insatiable dependence on this one coping strategy. In fact, it may be the idea that food is bad, or emotional eating is bad that leads us to abuse food if you will. I can talk a little bit about that.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Okay.

Kathleen: Yeah. So, um, dieting, or what, you know, what we can call the diet mentality, the idea that food is good or bad, that we have to or should eat a certain way that we have to or should look a certain way, or weigh a certain amount, have our body be a certain size. These ideas are actually what lead to that all-or-nothing eating, that insatiable binge eating, that binge emotional eating that we’re talking about. Not the emotional eating itself. Does that make sense?

Dr. Lisa: Yes. Yeah, no, it does.

Kathleen: Okay, yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Right. And I could see how that could kind of become a pattern and sort of almost like a repetitive cycle of either negativity or positivity potentially.

Kathleen: Absolutely. So if I, so if I’m on a diet, first of all, let’s just put it out there, that dieting doesn’t work for anybody. Diets don’t work. They’re not realistic, right? So if I’m trying to control and be rigid around, you know, with rules and shoulds around my relationship with food, then I’m already going into an unhealthy place with food that’s not sustainable. And so diets aren’t really sustainable in the long-term. And therefore, we would kind of end up in this yo-yo pattern. I diet, I lose some weight, I gain some weight. Usually more, right, than what I lost. In fact, we know that people who diet tend to be of a higher BMI over the course of their lifespan, than people who don’t diet. So then I get into this yo-yo dieting pattern. And since it’s not sustainable, I’m gonna, if I control it, restrict, eventually I’m going to damage or golf swing into the opposite, you know, to the opposite extreme.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: I heard somewhere actually that that that restriction period where we’re really trying to control food is actually just foreplay. But later binge to come, right? It can be an addictive cycle that we can become attached to have that high, having whatever we want with no rules and no restrictions, and then the withdrawal and now I feel shame and I have to control and I have to restrict.

Dr. Lisa: Like to punish myself almost. Yeah, yeah. How interesting.

Kathleen: And this can create a shame spiral, right? Now where, where our weight is up and down, all over the place, we have this really conflicted relationship with food. So it’s actually the diet mentality that leads to insatiable emotional eating. Not the food.

Dr. Lisa: Okay, hold on, let’s unpack this. The diet mentality is what leads to insatiable emotional eating. And so that really was one of my, my big questions for you, as you know, because, like, I think it’s always useful to talk about, like, tips and what to do if you struggle with this. But what I really want our listeners to come away with is, is, like, more self-awareness of, around, like, what are some of the underlying causes because what I hate and what I see so much of out there, and like, you know, like, five tips for healthy eating or five, for any part of, like, the personal growth process is, like, it talks about the like, “Okay, try this instead” but without that being really linked to some meaningful self-awareness or, like, “What is going on inside of me?” It’s– All the advice is never helpful.

Kathleen: It’s crazy-making.

Dr. Lisa: It is, it is!

Kathleen: Like now, I mean, if I really followed every piece of advice that lands on, you know, my, my desktop or my phone from social media for that day, I would literally have nothing left to eat. That starts to take.

Dr. Lisa: Seriously. So, that was a little– I sidetracked there, but you’re about to unpack this, this idea a little bit more about how really at its core, emotional eating is caused by a dieting mentality around? Is it that restrictive piece that makes?

Kathleen: Yeah, I think once… So, so, I think we need food to eat. And we need to, we need to eat to survive, right?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: It’s there, too, as a great social connector, as a great emotional coping tool. It can be a vehicle for a spiritual process. It is a beautiful thing that we’re connected to as human beings- as organic creatures, right? So, once I say to myself, I can only eat X amount of calories a day, once you say to yourself, I am not allowed to have this entire food group over here, I can only eat at this certain time of the day, right? I mean, there’s almost an endless amount of rules we can come up with that are out there. And automatically, we’ve given so much power to the food. And we’ve sort of entered into, we’ve sort of, what’s the word I’m looking for? We’ve given permission, we’ve sort of embraced this story that food is good or bad, and then I am good or bad based on how I interact with it. Right?

Dr. Lisa: I am good or bad based on how I interact with good or bad food.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Holy mackerel. That’s very profound.

Kathleen: Right, yeah. And this can create a lot of shame.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Stress, anxiety, and throw our relationship with food and with our bodies into a very imbalanced, disconnected place. You know? It’s very disconnected to try and follow the next rule, the next should be around food.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Rather than listening to our bodies.

Dr. Lisa: Right. So, so fraught. Wow.

Kathleen: Manufactured and, you know, weighed down with heavy meaning around your worth, you know, and are you attractive enough? Do you eat the way that you should? Are you self-disciplined enough? All of these interpretations when really we’re not connecting with ourselves and sitting with ourselves through true self-care whenever we’re following somebody else’s prescription for how we’re supposed to eat if that makes sense.

Dr. Lisa: Kathleen, everything that’s dropping out of your mouth, I want to, I want to cross stitch on a pillow. Disconnected when, when we’re following someone else’s rules about what we should eat. Isn’t that true? There are the books and the programs and the shows and the exactly like motivational gurus telling us, it’s like, the bane of all existence is some chemical in beans. Everybody has such a strong opinion, and almost like this cult-like following. You’re saying all of that is a distraction between like, and not just a distraction, but it honestly turns into this abusive relationship between like, like something so basic, which is our need as people to feed off the earth, you know, in order to like, sustain life. And what happens to us mentally and emotionally is it becomes very, very toxic in a lot of ways. 

Kathleen: Yeah. I understand that we have food sensitivities, food allergies, that there are unhealthy, you know, that food has become so manufactured these days that there are things in our food that could be bad for us. That can be very personal too, right? But again, that’s why it’s so important to cultivate a connection, a mindful connection with your body and with this food that you’re eating. That is just not possible when we have a printout on our refrigerator about how we need to weigh and count, measure, and what we’re not allowed to have. And that’s what we’re supposed to follow. Right? So I’m not suggesting you eat whatever you want. I’m saying, listen to your body, not someone else’s rules that haven’t been personalized to you. Does that make sense? Just kind of check-in with you?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, it does. But, but let me ask you a question that I’m imagining is probably coming up on the behalf of some listeners, and just full disclosure, like, I have had many issues in my life. But this particular issue is not one that I have had to deal with. What I have had to deal with, like I’m thinking, and I think I’ve told you this before, but like when I was younger, I managed to get myself addicted to cigarettes, right? But what I’m thinking is, which is totally different from food, because clearly nobody needs to smoke cigarettes in order to exist the way that you have food. But if I put myself back in that state, if I were to listen to my body, my body would be saying, like, “Yeah, I would really like to have a cigarette now, please”. You know? 

I’m imagining that there are some people that maybe even in the early stages of this, like, they really do actually have strong cravings for things like sweets, or high-fat foods, or some of the overly processed foods that give us that sugar zing. I could imagine some people feeling deeply suspicious of the advice to “Well, pay attention what it is that you really want” when it’s like, “I really feel like going to the Krispy Kreme drive thru right now.” You know what I mean? Because that is really what they are craving and wanting. So I would imagine them feeling some anxiety, because it’s like, well when I actually listened to what I’m feeling, it is to eat all of not just the food, but the food that makes me feel good in the moment. So I’m going to ensure that what Kathleen is telling me right now isn’t going to send me into some kind of diabetic oblivion.

Kathleen: Absolutely. This is especially the case, it’s been really if emotional eating has already turned for us into something insatiable and out of balance. Disordered, if you will. Right? Then it’s that much harder to tell anymore.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: What do I really need right now? What does my body really need in terms of what’s actually best for it right now?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, and I wonder if it’s almost like that confusion around like these impulses and cravings that I’m having versus not being able to trust myself makes me want to run into the arms of the skinny, kale girl—

Kathleen: Oh, absolutely.

Dr. Lisa: Who’s juicing people, right?

Kathleen: Yeah, trust me, because you can’t trust yourself with.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Changing Your Relationship With Food

Kathleen: What we’re talking about is actually building trust in yourself around food by changing your relationship with it. So let’s say I really am craving those Krispy Kreme doughnuts or whatever. I think the first step is to just slow down and get mindful. That will be the key to changing your relationship with food if you have started to find yourself in and out of control, if you will, a pattern with emotional eating. 

First, I’m going to slow down and get mindful and ask myself, “Why do I want this doughnut right now? Am I eating for hunger? Am I eating for appetite, it just sounds good? Or am I eating for emotional reasons?” First, so first, sort of slowing down and checking in. “How does my body feel? Am I having hunger cues? Am I having a sugar crash? Is that what that is? Or am I just feeling empty inside and I want a distraction?” So kind of really slowing down to listen to your physical and emotional cues.

Dr. Lisa: Got it. Well, that makes perfect sense. Yeah, and I mean that when I think back to one of the most pivotal things that finally did help me break my addiction to cigarettes, it was this realization which I had not had before that my you know, “I feel like having a cigarette” feeling was actually feeling anxious. But I did not realize that in the moment. But when I was able to put that together, oh, I feel anxious right now. Then I was able to disconnect it and do something different. You’re saying that, like, with food, like, to slow down and be like, “Are you having a feel.” So then, because eating food is a biologically necessary process.

Kathleen: Right.

Dr. Lisa: What were some things that you think about that would help one differentiate between “Am I hungry right now? Or am I anxious or lonely or feeling empty?” Or, um, having like a, you know, craving need that I shouldn’t indulge?

Kathleen: Or could indulge. We can go into that. But, um, yeah, I think, yes, so slowing down and taking some deep breaths. First checking in with your body, like, hey, open the door to have a conversation with your body. What does it want to tell you? Do you notice those hunger cues, like, maybe an annoying feeling in your tummy? Or weakness in your limbs, which means, you know, you’re actually probably pretty darn hungry at that point? Are you having trouble focusing because you have so little energy, right? These are hunger cues, and we can be mildly hungry, we can start to sense that approaching or we can be anywhere on that continuum to just “I’m so hungry, I just want to eat whatever’s in front of me”. You know? But if those aren’t there, or even if they are, I suppose we can also then check in on those emotional cues, right? What am I, what was I just thinking about right now? What was my inner dialogue? Did anything just happen? Or has happened earlier that I was thinking about? And what emotions were those thoughts creating?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Was I feeling that flutter of anxiety in my upper chest? Or sometimes we feel that in our bellies, too, you know? Was I clenching my hands because I’m stressed out or angry or that driver just cut me off? What was happening? Am I feeling listless and apathetic? and I need distraction and stimulation. Does that answer your question?

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, no, it’s wonderful. And really, these are a lot of important skills. I’m actually thinking back at it over the last, probably, month or two, I’ve been doing some podcasts around things like emotional awareness, but also, like, unconscious things that might be contributing to the way that you feel and what you do. You’re talking about really, like, going in deeply into these internal processes in order to get that like, self-awareness of what’s happening inside of you in the moment so that you can then be empowered and make a conscious decision as opposed to a reflection of reactive–Yeah. No, but you said it better that I was going to, um, and I, and I also, every time we start to talk about these things in the podcast, I always also feel an obligation to say to people that these are skills that take time and practice and support in being able to cultivate, and so I just want everybody listening that if you hear Kathleen and I talking about things that, it’s easy to talk about what it is in, it’s like, once you master it and get the hang of it, but don’t feel bad if you can’t do these things easily and immediately because nobody can. It takes practice, and I don’t want anybody hearing this to feel worse about themselves because they can’t immediately do these things. I mean, yeah.

Kathleen: Right. The truth is most of us that do, I think so many of us do struggle with getting it into food, and to our bodies, and being mindful in this outcome-focused society in which we’re constantly bombarded with messages around how I should eat. I think it should be expected that one would struggle with making these transitions and using these tools around food because it’s not how we’ve been taught.

Dr. Lisa: No.

Kathleen: It does take practice. It doesn’t happen right away.

Knowing What Is Good For You

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, definitely. Um, and can I ask you about something else? Well, I have so many questions for you. But I have also met people, especially here, I mean, I live within a stone’s throw of Boulder, Colorado, which is like the epicenter of health and fitness. And I have met people both, you know, personally and socially, but also in our counseling practice who are very committed to the idea of clean eating, and they have sometimes more restrictive diets, you know, friends with vegans and whatever, paleo people and all of this. Are, in your experience, can that also become a different, like, an incarnation of an emotional eating process? Or if people are doing that mindfully and intentionally, have you seen that being overall helpful to people? I’m just curious about your, your thoughts around that, because I mean, like orthorexia is a thing, right?

Kathleen: Yeah, definitely. Um, to answer your question, yes. Yes, on both counts. So I think I’ve seen that when it is done mindfully, to be a healthy self, version of self-care, that can be very self-nurturing, and be good not only for your physical body but for your mental health, right when it’s done, from the right, from the right place, from a place that is internally driven and value-driven. When we start to make our decisions around what we put on our body, from an externally driven place, that’s, that’s driven by rules and shoulds, then we start to see I’m disconnected with myself. I am caught in a shame spiral because I’m human and cannot, I cannot adhere to a strict, rigid rule and should program. So now I’m caught in a shame spiral. Now I have more anxiety and stress that causes health problems and makes it hard to eat in a way that’s good for me. So I think it’s both the place that we come from, why we’re eating the way that we’re eating, right? Is it out of “I’m not good enough the way that I am”? Or is it out of “I love my body and I want to take care of it”? Right? That and then the consequences of how we’re eating, I think, determine whether or not it’s a healthy coping strategy.

Dr. Lisa: That makes perfect sense. And so you’re saying that it is fundamentally neutral, but, but to be taking a look at what’s causing it. And so is it coming from a place of fear and anxiety and shame and going into that weird spiral? Or is it coming from a place of self-awareness? Like if I eat these kinds of very processed or fatty foods, I do not feel well, so I choose to.

Kathleen: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: Just sort of because it makes me feel good, and is it coming from a place of like, I’m moving towards something good. It’s coming from my personal values, like the impact on the planet, like who I am, almost like moving towards something positive and warm and good. Like, I feel like I’m taking care of myself and nourishing myself as opposed to that anxiety, like a dark place, and also you said, what is the outcome? Are these food choices contributing to your health and making you feel better and more positive? Or are they contributing to making you feel like an anxious wreck?

Kathleen: And further than anything, we can see other consequences, too. So if I have an unhealthy coping strategy, whether that’s with food or anything else, I’m going to start to see my world shrink. So I’m going to start to not use other coping strategies, gonna feel shame and stress, and isolate myself. Yeah, I’m gonna start trusting myself less and less so that I’m more and more dependent on this coping strategy in a way very much like an addiction. Right? But if it’s a healthy coping strategy that’s coming from a place of genuine self-care and not self-rejection. This is where I want to be not because I’m not good enough the way that I am, but because I love myself and so I’m going to reach for this thing that I value.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Very different. Then you’ll start to see your world expand. Right? Even if I’m eating less types of foods, right, I’m still going to see expansion in my ability to connect with people to feel compassion and love for myself, and to turn to other coping tools. I’m going to trust myself more, not less. Does that make sense?

Dr. Lisa: Yes, it makes perfect sense. And what a nice way because I love it that you’re giving people something to think about in order to determine, like, almost what’s, the words are escaping me right now. But a way of being able to kind of monitor themselves to make sure that they are staying in a, in a healthy place. Because I think that one of the biggest risks here is that with all of the, you know, prescribed diets and ways to live, it is very easy to trick yourself into believing that you are doing the “right thing,” and what you’re saying is that it really goes much deeper than that.

Kathleen: Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Lisa: Monitor yourself and make sure that you know, that tossing the idea of right and wrong out the window, but really, is this healthy for you, individually?

Deciding For Yourself

Kathleen: Yeah, I would look at some keywords that come up for me to our balance and choice, you know, so I know plenty of people also living you know, since I live in Colorado, too, they do the paleo diet or a plant-based diet for themselves, that sort of thing. You know, but it’s when they choose to do that from a place of self-love and that’s internally driven, they naturally find their own balance. Their body knows what it means and helps them find a balance. So maybe sometimes they will eat some processed food or that birthday cake or whatever.

Dr. Lisa: Yes.

Kathleen: Because they are looking at what do I choose right now? Not what is right or wrong? What should I do? Am I good or bad? They’re saying, literally actually, had someone say to me once, and she will hold that piece of food, that piece of cheese in her hand, and just see what her body says about it. How does this feel to me right now, when I think about eating this cheese when I smell it? How am I gonna feel while I eat it? And afterward? And I mean, from a body place, right? Is her body already telling her, “That’s going to upset my stomach.” And then, and this is the beautiful part, we are empowered to make a choice. 

Even if I know that’s going to upset my stomach, I can still choose to have that size of birthday cake because it’s my birthday. And I’ve decided to have, and we can talk about that too, as, as far as how to, what choices do we have and how to find personal power? When we do check in with ourselves and realize you know what, I am having a sugar craving. This is emotional. Or this is about feeling like I need sugar to be happy today. What do I want? What are we going to do with that information is something we can talk about.

Dr. Lisa: Yes, please. Yeah. Let’s talk about it. I mean, what about those moments when you’re like, no, I really actually do want the Taco Bell? Or the sugar?

Kathleen: So, it starts with mindfulness, right? Like we said, checking in and answering that question, why am I wanting to eat this? Is it, am I eating, these are the reasons that we eat: for hunger for appetite or emotional reasons, sometimes social reasons too. And then, based on how we answer that question, what do I truly need right now? What is authentic self-care for me in this moment, meaning, not the band-aid that avoids the real need, but what is genuinely best for me in this moment? So once we can answer that question, we can decide how we’re going to handle it. 

So let’s say I want that Krispy Kreme donut, I’m eating for emotional reasons, and it’s because I’m stressed out. Okay, and I tune in, and I realized that what I really need right now is to slow down and do some deep breathing, say no to that person that just asked me to put something else on my plate, you know, that kind of thing, right? Set some boundaries. That is genuine self-care. The Krispy Kreme donut is not going to do that for me. It’s just going to distract me for a few minutes. Now I have a choice. I can turn to a different healthy coping strategy that addresses that real need instead of the donut, which is fine and great. Or I can also choose to eat the donut. Right? Again, this is about, you know what, I’m not going to line myself up with shame and guilt and stress, I’m going to choose to enjoy this donut. And then when I do, I’m gonna eat it mindfully. 

I’m really going to get out of it when I’m turning toward it for and I’m going to use all five senses to sit here without distraction and enjoy this donut without shame or guilt. And then I’m going to let it go and move on, not think about it. And the third option is this is sort of a middle ground option that I like that we have because, you know, it might be hard sometimes to pick one of those other two that I just mentioned, and that is I’m going to go eat some sugar right now because it will help me destress. I’m going to do it mindfully. But I’m not going to eat the doughnut. I’m going to eat something else that I’m less likely to binge on.

Dr. Lisa: That whole wheat fig bar.

Kathleen: Maybe.

Dr. Lisa: You’re like, no, not that.

Kathleen: But whatever works for you. Whatever you like. Exactly.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Okay, good. So it’s like, that substituting.

Kathleen: Right now, as long as it’s internally driven, and not based on a rule or should from somebody else, I’m not going to go replace that Krispy Kreme donut with a rice cake because I don’t like rice cakes.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: I am going to actually eat something I can eat mindfully and enjoy. But that feels less risky for me around getting insatiable with it. So maybe I’ll have a piece of dark chocolate instead or something like that.

Dr. Lisa: Got it? No, that’s wonderful. But I love that in all of these moments, you have choices. And I also love just how empowering and mindfully based it is, you know, I’m thinking about, have you, you caught the interview that I did with pre Saatchi a while back.

Kathleen: Yes, yeah, definitely.

Dr. Lisa: She was telling a story about you know, the two Buddhist monks, and one of them, like, did something that he shouldn’t have, which was pick up a woman and carry her across the river. But then, the other monk was thinking about that for a long time after it happened. And sort of the lesson being, that we can make an intentional choice to do things in the moment, and then be done. It doesn’t have to have, like, these echoes of guilt and shame and meaning and judgment and all of this. It’s just—

Kathleen: Yeah, we can, when we make the choice, rather than have, letting something be imposed upon us, we can really own that choice. That makes it a lot easier to just let it go afterward. Yeah,

Dr. Lisa: Yeah. Well, okay. Now also, again, it would, it would probably be irresponsible of me if I didn’t ask this question. Because, obviously, and here at Growing Self, I mean, we’re really focused on helping people, you know, feel better and make positive changes and have more of a personal growth component. I think that what we’ve been talking about so far, very much is in that dimension of what do we all need to do to be more mindful and healthier and kind of more congruent with the people that we’re growing into, that we want to be. 

There is such a thing as eating disorders, you know, and those can take a few different variants. But for people who are listening and just kind of thinking about maybe what they’ve been experiencing, what would you look for as being the difference between a diagnosable, like, Eating Disorder, capital E, capital D, that really somebody does need to seek out treatment for versus the kind of general personal growth self-awareness of improvement things that we are talking about right now. Like, when is it a problem?

Kathleen: Okay. Well, so I think it’s a little less cut and dry than that. But I mean, to be diagnosable, to be honest, I believe it has to do with your, your BMI to be completely honest. Okay, but it’s not, but in my opinion, it’s really not that black and white. So—

Dr. Lisa: It’s a spectrum, you’re saying?

Kathleen: Yes, yes, a continuum, right.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: So if you’re seeing, you know, negative consequences in your life or in your health, and continuing to not be able to make healthy changes for yourself, then reach out for support. You deserve to have that help.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: But also, I think I would say that if you feel high anxiety, or even anger, fear and anger around ideas, like gaining weight, giving up dieting, maybe even just choosing to not emotionally eat and use a different coping strategy instead, in a moment in time, if that creates anxiety and anger, why not reach out for support? Why go, why do this alone? 

Because we’re all bombarded constantly with these messages around food and our bodies, it’s almost impossible to escape the impact of that. So why not reach out for help and support? If you find that you’ve either tried to do those things, so maybe tried to give up dieting, or tried to replace emotional eating, and not been able to do that, or it’s caused lots of fear and anger and anxiety and stress, I would say that a coach or therapist would be really helpful in unpacking what’s going on there, and really helping you build a healthy relationship with food.

Dr. Lisa: Got it. Okay. And so that’s like when it’s time to get help. And I think I also thought, heard you say that an eating disorder is also diagnosed with symptoms, I mean, like certainly anorexia, part of that is being below a certain BMI and like having a pattern of like, extremely restrictive—

Kathleen: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: —behaviors. But also that emotional component that people are fighting against changing it. And then on the other side, there’s also the bulimia, kind of bingeing, purging cycle, which, I mean, I love what you talked about how it is on a continuum, and how lots of people will binge and then purge in the sense of swinging back into a more restrictive diet. But if you are actually making yourself vomit on a regular basis, that is—

Kathleen: Yes.

Dr. Lisa: —like a different animal.

Kathleen: Right, we’re sort of, the terms I think we’re talking about here are eating disorder, that’s a diagnosable term, right versus disordered eating, which is an unhealthy relationship with food.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Most of us could have work on a healthier relationship with food.

Dr. Lisa: Amen. Seriously. Now I know–

Kathleen: And our bodies for sure.

Dr. Lisa: Thank you for talking just a little bit about that. Because some eating disorders, they can be very consequential—

Kathleen: Absolutely, absolutely. Okay.

Dr. Lisa: So and I know, we just have a few more minutes of time left today. So you’ve already given so many amazing tips for people who are wanting to begin the process of changing their relationship with food, which I took really centering on getting very intentional, self-aware, mindfulness, listening to themselves, and beginning to just, like, break and disrupt some of those old like reflexive patterns that, like mindless eating.

Kathleen: Exactly. Those disconnected reactions. 

Dr. Lisa: So, we have people listening to this or like, yeah, you know what, I want to start doing that. Two things for you, what are some of just the simplest things they can begin doing to start breaking those patterns? And also, what have you found to be some of the most common obstacles that will trip people up when they first start doing this just so that people can have those in mind, they begin experimenting with some of these ideas?

Kathleen: Okay. I think first, we sort of alluded to this earlier that these ideas, there’s negative bias around food and weight. It’s so deeply entrenched that one of the biggest obstacles is that it takes time to start to reframe that in our minds and to build a different perspective on food, on emotional eating, and on weight. And so it, this, takes time and practice and patience. So I think at first, people might become frustrated with that, right? The fear of gaining weight, to be completely honest, the fear of losing control, when they, when we already might feel out of control with food, it seems so counterintuitive and scary to say, “If you want it, eat it,” and you know, you might gain weight. That’s really scary. I also think it’s scary to sort of give up the security blanket of distracting ourselves from really feeling our feelings. So mindfulness can be, sometimes, scary.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Those are some of the biggest challenges, I think.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, well, and those, my goodness, we can talk for a long time about both of those. But, but first of all, I mean, like, what we’re really talking about is a paradigm shift, where this growth process really involves disconnecting yourself from these standards of virtue and goodness that our society has cramming down our throat, and that it can be anxiety-provoking to say, I’m not going to participate that, in that anymore.

Kathleen: And expect to push back on that expense.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah, totally, totally. But you know what, this is great because I really think that this is where our society is going in other ways. I mean, even, you know, ideas that are as fundamental to Americanism as capitalism. The sole purpose of having a business or doing anything for a living is to make money. I mean, I think that there are other forces that are saying no, maybe there are actually values that are more important and that we’re not going to judge everything by standards of how much money you earn. What you’re talking about is really like going deep into the fabric of “who am I” and how, what are the standards by which I judge myself and other people. So that’s big stuff.

Kathleen: Yeah, yeah. I would like to, I’d like to just give a couple of first steps as far as how does begin approaching what might seem like this overwhelming process, right? Beginning with, beginning with starting to practice mindfulness, even if it’s not around food, just pick up a mindfulness app, start doing some deep breathing, right? And also another step: start exposing yourself to different beauty ideals. There are a lot of resources out there sort of promoting health at every size and positive body image, intuitive eating. So start to notice different kinds of bodies, different beauty ideals, and, and appreciate them. I think this is sort of like the beginning of deprogramming ourselves if you will.

Dr. Lisa: Yeah.

Kathleen: Or reprogramming ourselves.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. Thank you for sharing those resources, too. But I think that’s exactly what it is. I’m also so pleased that you mentioned too, a couple minutes ago, that whenever we begin to move away from old coping mechanisms that even though they’re not ideal, have actually worked pretty well, you are probably going to feel worse for a little while before you feel better and to be figuring out, like, what are different things that I can do. When there are lots of resources, I’m actually just thinking of that beach series that I put on Instagram with some of the deep breathing exercises and mindfulness things. 

You know what, I’m just thinking that I had another one prepared that I don’t think I ever posted around, just a very easy little mindfulness technique that can really help calm down. I think I’m feeling inspired to put that one up there just in case, four months later, nobody’s thinking about the beach anymore, but… So that will be available at Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby on Instagram, and you dropped a bunch of other wonderful resources, any other resources or closing thoughts that you want to share that people can cruise on over to?

Kathleen: I just think, as far as resources go, I mean, you know, I think Caroline Dooner at The Fuck-It Diet.

Dr. Lisa: The Fuck-It Diet. I might start following her.

Kathleen: She has a fantastic way of boiling down these confusing, complex ideas, simplifying them, and making them relatable. But I would say start following some hashtags, right? Intuitive eating, positive body image, body acceptance, health at every size, or HAES. We definitely have, I mean here in Colorado, there are some meetup groups around intuitive eating, and then positive body image. So that’s also an option to check in your area. But there are a lot of great, great influencers. 

I personally love to follow rootedandflowing on Instagram. She’s a yogi with really just a great body-positive message. And I think it’s the Birds Papaya on Instagram, I follow her as well. She’s a mom, and she has recovered from an eating disorder and talks a lot about not only talks about having a healthy relationship with food in your body, but she shows us beautiful, how do I put this? She shows us a different body ideal that we can really appreciate after motherhood. So I think just take a look out there. And also just remember, be patient with yourself. And practice compassion.

Dr. Lisa: Wonderful. I love that. I love that. So be patient, but also getting connected to people who can support this emerging not just self but value system, that true health inspires in some ways. I love it. Kathleen, this was so interesting and helpful. And I really appreciate you taking the time to do this with me.

Kathleen: Thank you so much. I was really grateful to be here and enjoyed talking with you about it.

Dr. Lisa: If you’d like to learn more about Kathleen and her compassionate affirming approach to counseling and coaching, you can cruise over to our website growingself.com. And while you’re there, be sure to check out our blog. Kathleen has actually written a number of really helpful articles over the years. She has some great advice on self-esteem, communication, how to set boundaries, so much helpful advice. If you’d like to find any of that go to growingself.com. and there’s a search bar at the bottom of every page. Just type in Kathleen and you can see all the good stuff that she’s contributed to the blog over the years. 

And hey, thank you for being here, for listening to this. If this has been helpful for you, I have a request. It would be amazing if you could share this with other people in your life who you think could benefit from it. Or talk about The Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Rate it on iTunes, review it because you’re making this podcast known is absolutely the only thing that we do to increase its footprint and put this kind of helpful advice in the path of other people who might also benefit from it. We don’t do advertising. It is entirely a labor of love, and thank you so much for being part of our community and helping spread positivity and love, happiness, and success in your circle too. I’ll be back in touch next week with another episode but in the meantime, here’s some more Egozi singing about cookie dough.


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