The mindset that stops you from healing emotional eating
If you’re stuck in a pattern of going “all in” on a new diet plan, and then “backsliding” to emotional eating, you are suffering from all or nothing thinking.
All or nothing thinking is the belief that you either have to do something perfectly and completely (all) or there is no point to doing the thing at all.
- You either completely avoid sugar, or you eat all the sugar. (“If I have any sugar, I’ll lose control and eat all of the sugar”)
- You either say under your calorie/point/carb target or you may as well go way over. (“I’ll restart again next week”)
- You either have no donuts or all the donuts (“I already blew it, I may as well just finish the rest”)
If you’re stuck in this pattern (as many of my clients have been for decades) you never make any progress or get to a place where you trust yourself to consistently make choices that support your health. (Even if you hit your “goal”, you might live under the fear and anxiety of backsliding).
All or nothing thinking gets even more entrenched when you have experiences that prove it’s true.
For example, many post-menopausal women I work with who have been dieting their whole lives have sluggish metabolisms. If this is you, you may find you can’t see the scale move unless you really do follow the diet perfectly, or keep calories below 1000, etc.
Furthermore, you may have trigger foods, like sugar or bread, that end up resulting in binging if you eat them.
You might believe abstinence from those foods is the only way to heal. And yet, with the proper support, there is hope to develop a healthy relationship even with trigger foods.
The sad truth here is that if you’re nodding your head as you read, dieting has messed up your metabolism and disconnected you from your body so you don’t trust yourself to stop eating when you’re full or make choices that honor your body.
This lack of self-trust (which, again, is borne by experience and messages you receive from diet culture) is why all or nothing thinking can flourish and become so entrenched.
How all or nothing thinking stops you from healing emotional eating
- All or nothing thinking places a lot of pressure to get results quickly because you are looking to “arrive” at your goal or destination. Anything short of the goal is a failure.
- You are forced into a false dichotomy – that you are either struggling with emotional eating or you never do it again.
- With all or nothing thinking you could be making progress towards a peaceful relationship with food, and if you have an instance where you eat emotionally, you believe you are a failure.
- This pressure to be perfect and feeling like a failure stop you from making progress (because what’s even the point?), which is a self-fulfilling prophecy of it’s own as many women are too afraid to heal emotional eating because they are afraid to fail.
Where are these unhelpful mindsets come from
If you are interested in healing emotional eating and changing your all or nothing thinking it’s helpful to understand that you come by these problems honestly. Understanding where these mindsets come from allows you to realize it’s not your fault you’re struggling, you’re a product of a broken system and yet there is still hope.
- Diet Culture – Diet culture is the name for the billion-dollar industry that exists to help people lose weight. It is founded on the belief that smaller, white, western-european featured people are more worthy of love and connection than others.
Diet culture often masquerades as worried about your health, but there is a lot of great research to suggest you can be healthy without having a normal BMI, and that focusing intently on losing weight may be harmful for some people. Diet culture often moralizes foods as “bad” or “good” (and therefore you are bad or good if you eat them) and creates a sense of dissatisfaction with self if you’re less than the ideal (both examples of all or nothing thinking).
- Protestant Work Ethic – The idea that hard work and self-control are worthy of adoration. This leads you to believe that you have absolute control over the size and shape of your body (umm… what about genetics?), and anyone who lives in a larger body is likely not working hard enough. This creates weight stigma which harms those of us living in larger bodies by leading to anxiety and depression (among other harms). The push to work harder, and the belief that anything can be solved by hard work is a form of all or nothing thinking.
- Trauma and Perfectionism – It is not unusual for past trauma to manifest as perfectionism and a disordered eating. Perfectionism is, at its very core, all or nothing thinking, the belief that you can and should do something perfectly.
Psst… if you know emotional eating is a problem for you and you are ready to solve it, download my free guide, “You’re Done Dieting, But Still Want to Heal Emotional Eating: A Roadmap to Achieve Peace and Freedom with Food and to Feel Comfortable In Your Own Skin, for Women over 45 Who Have Tried it All”
The #1 Mindset Shift you Need to Make to Heal
OK, so we know all or nothing thinking is stopping you from healing emotional eating, and understand where it comes from.
The alternative to all or nothing thinking is to understand that healing emotional eating is a journey. Healing is not an endpoint or destination to arrive at, but rather an ongoing process, where you get to continually deepen your understanding of who you are and what you need.
If emotional eating is using food to numb or avoid your feelings, emotional eating can become, not a source of shame or embarrassment, but rather a “check engine light”.
The urge to eat or behavior itself gets your attention, causing you to tune into what self-care you need. It allows you to reflect, practice self-compassion, and care for your emotions without food.
The beauty of seeing your healing process as a journey is that it lets you off the hook. You don’t have to be perfect or have it all figured out. You get to be a human in-process.
- Let go of needing to eat perfectly or look like someone else’s definition of beauty
- Reconnect to your hunger and fullness cues
- Discover what you want and need
- Learn to safely feel your emotions
- Make supportive eating and lifestyle choices with ease
Psst… if you want a step-by-step guide that shows you what the journey to healing emotional eating includes, download my free guide, “You’re Done Dieting, But Still Want to Heal Emotional Eating: A Roadmap to Achieve Peace and Freedom with Food and to Feel Comfortable In Your Own Skin, for Women over 45 Who Have Tried it All”
Here’s what the journey looks like for me after healing emotional eating:
Now, emotional eating isn’t a problem for me very often. I can easily make healthy choices without feeling deprived and indulge moderately in things I love without guilt (I see you cinnamon rolls). I focus on self-care and healthy behaviors rather than the number on the scale and that makes me feel good in body.
And occasionally, I’ll get that urge to eat.
You know the one, where you feel like a caged animal looking to devour anything with sugar. And instead of getting frustrated because I’m not supposed to feel that way anymore (all or nothing thinking), I get curious.
I’m able to figure out why I’m feeling the way I am, take care of myself, and move on to making supportive choices again.
The journey towards healing emotional eating is a lot like a good hike
Being on a journey towards healing emotional eating is a lot like hiking in the Pacific Northwest. You start out on an incline in the trees (no flat routes here!) and all you notice at first is how hard the hike is.
Eventually, your effort gets you out of the parking lot and you notice some benefits: the fresh air, the wildflowers, chipmunks. But you’re still working hard and fearful that all this work won’t ever be worth it.
And then all of a sudden, you come to the summit.
The trees open up and you can see how high you’ve climbed. You get gorgeous views of other mountains, the ocean, sparkling cities in the distance. You take your selfie to commemorate your progress. You can’t believe how far you’ve come.
And this summit isn’t the last hike you’ll ever do, because it’s a journey. You know there may be some hard hikes in your future and yet you’re inspired to continue seeking out just how good life can be.
What’s possible for you
Just so you know that the journey towards healing emotional eating isn’t an abstract metaphor, but rather something you can achieve in your own life, here are a few examples of summits in the journey of some of my clients:
Camille is flabbergasted over her satisfaction with one cookie
A client can’t believe she made supportive choices at a restaurant without feeling deprived
A client is able to recognize her true need and cares for herself without emotional eating
Another woman is experimenting with self-acceptance and unlearning what she’s been told about her body so she can treat herself with compassion
Still another client is able to face the difficulties of life without binging
Ready to start the journey? If you want help to overcome all or nothing thinking so you can heal your emotional eating, download my free guide, “You’re Done Dieting, But Still Want to Heal Emotional Eating: A Roadmap to Achieve Peace and Freedom with Food and to Feel Comfortable In Your Own Skin, for Women over 45 Who Have Tried it All”