Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Jan

Weight Loss: The Emotional Element

EmotionsIn a recent survey, psychologists named emotions as their clients’ “top obstacle” to weight loss. The 1300+ licensed psychologists, to fill in the picture, also cited emotional eating as well as food selection and exercise commitment among the common challenges their clients faced. Sure, it’s maybe little surprise that psychologists would emphasize the role emotional issues play in weight loss. It’s their profession after all, and their clients comprise a self-selected group of people who are interested in delving into the emotional dimensions of their weight management struggles. That said, I know plenty of trainers (myself included), doctors, and dietitians (Primally focused or otherwise) who would suggest psychology has figured prominently into many of their clients’ situations as well.

From my own perspective, I’ve worked with many people who honestly felt they didn’t deserve to be healthy, to be beautiful, to be happy. Every effort they’d made in the past to lose weight and improve their wellbeing had been sabotaged by psychological ghosts. Negative self-talk got the better of them even after they’d experienced substantial success in losing weight and/or achieving other health and fitness goals. When a number of these folks combined emotional work with their lifestyle changes, it was like the air cleared. Not overnight, but over time.

As much as I believe giving people accurate information (about diet, fitness, and other key lifestyle areas) can empower them to live healthier lives, there’s that more complex dimension. The body, after all, is pretty simple. Our metabolic functioning, for example, is fairly straightforward once you understand the basics of hormonal responses.

For many people, however, the physical side isn’t the issue. They get it – and they do it. It’s the psychological baggage that acts as the obstacle at some point (or points) along the way toward a healthier life. Maybe it’s a background of abuse, neglect, bullying, or depression. For some, food dulled some pretty harsh emotions in their histories, and the associations are hard to break. For others, there was something to the image of themselves itself that was protective: being overweight or sick was part of how they had defined their lives. For many, it could even be negative self-talk related to current stresses and circumstances.

By all means, if you feel emotional issues significantly affect your daily functioning or progress toward reasonable health goals, the expertise of a professional counselor is advisable. For anyone who’s interested in fostering the emotional side of their health journey or break past what might be a mental as opposed to a physical block, let me throw out a few suggestions. I hope you’ll add yours as well.

Cultivate Self-Awareness

The journey toward better health – under any circumstances – offers plenty of fodder for great journaling. Use a journal or other tool to explore or record realizations, stumbling blocks, self-doubt, accomplishments, and motivational ideas. Reflect on the history you bring to your current health endeavor (previous weight loss attempts, disordered eating, etc.) as well as your day-to-day journey in the here and now.

Try to identify the roots of emotional issues at play and the current triggers that send you down the road of negative self-talk. Use your developing awareness to continually “catch” yourself earlier in the self-talk cycle and redirect your thoughts and activities before it even starts. Record what works in that redirecting.

Seek Support

Use whatever works for you: inspirational books, affirmations, close and supportive relationships, online forums, formal support groups, life coaching, and/or personal counseling. Social support is key to any life change, and it can be incredibly motivating whether or not you feel emotional issues figure into your health journey.

Differentiate Between Self-Soothing and Self-Care

Even if you indulged in your share of self-soothing at the refrigerator, you may have denied yourself any meaningful self-care. Commit to self-care and consider what activities and choices have the power to really nourish your physical and mental health. Make a list of healthy indulgences that can take the place overeating or other unhealthy habits once held in your life. What other practices or activities can offer comfort? Research, for example, suggests relaxation training helps people avoid emotional eating and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety.

Revise Your Life Script

After a major weight loss or health change, some people continue to live with a distorted view of themselves. Even if you’re loving the transformation, it can be worth the effort to envision the future. Certain routines or even social connections might not play as big a part as they once did. Certain opportunities you never considered might seem worth pursuing.

The road to health and weight loss obliges a degree of striving. (Although a Primal life of bacon and leisurely bike rides isn’t such a hard existence really…) However, the process sometimes calls us to shed other things along the way – the self-talk as well as habits, the self-image as well as diet that just don’t work for us anymore (and in truth never did). In this sense, it’s about surrender as well as striving. We strive for a better, healthier life, but it’s important to ask ourselves what we need to let go of in the journey.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. I hope you’ll share your thoughts, perspectives, and experiences related to weight loss and health changes. Have a great weekend, everyone!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I find every time I get an unexpected stress (daughter calls from school 5 hours away with a broken pipe, fight with spouse, etc.) I go for sweet things as soon as I can. Always admonish myself afterwards, but MAN is it hard to control.

    Mark Cruden wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • have you ever tried popping a B-complex vitamin when stressors do this to you? i’ve found them helpful.

      tess wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • I’ll try that. Thanks. (Do they come extra sweet? :) )

        Mark Cruden wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • “but MAN is it hard to control.”


      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • +1. Chocolate for an instant hit of comfort and calm. Stress re-set.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Here’s something you might try. It’s worked wonders for me. Go completely sugar free, as in no sugar or sweets of any kind, not even Stevia. The idea is to get sugar out of your system and lose the taste for sweets, to get the whole dimension out of your life.

      I did this for 7 days straight, and by then, I’d adapted. That was a long time ago, and I’ve stuck with it, because I like the feeling it gives me: a sense of equilibrium and no cravings. When I feel hungry, it’s for the right reason, namely that my body needs nourishment. What I want to eat are the foods I’ve learned are most beneficial to me.

      Here’s the problem. Sweets make you want more sweets (unless you’re one of those rare outliers for whom this isn’t the case). As I once heard on NPR, “You can never get enough of what you don’t need.” It’s very true.

      I’m suppose the day will come when I have something sweet again. But I’m in no hurry. I really like not wanting them.

      Hope this helps.

      Susan Alexander wrote on January 25th, 2013
      • Thanks :)

        Mark Cruden wrote on January 25th, 2013
        • I have the same problem. Emergency bacon in the freezer helps. Also, tea with lots of heavy cream. I do find that completely eliminating all sweet things, including stevia, helps after a few days.

          Louise wrote on January 27th, 2013
      • Getting rid of sweets (and grains) for me made a huge difference. For 9 months I had little craving for sweets. Then I had one roll with butter for my birthday, and little by little it came back. The cravings are so hard! Working on it, though!

        Suzanne Frank wrote on January 31st, 2013
    • I read this and pictured your daughter smoking an old school corn cob pipe. I enjoyed this image.

      Mike wrote on January 27th, 2013
    • Listen to your body. If you want a hit of dark chocolate every night I highly doubt that’s going to cause an issue. Everyone should be concerned about sustainability rather than adhering to a dogmatic set of principles that may be at odds with the current state of your body or your personal genetic variation. I think Mark has done a good job of pressing that point with the 80/20 rule. If your body wants to you to feed it peaches all day one day then do it. Even in the bad old days when people lived on the plains I’m sure they ran across a treasure trove of fruit now and then and gorged themselves all day. I fail to see why we can’t do the same when it feels right.

      flaunttnualf wrote on January 29th, 2013
    • use pre-cooked microwaveable bacon instead! It can be eaten “raw”

      mm wrote on February 4th, 2013
  2. Having coached people on this, I recon being aware that certain emotions can trigger food related responses is half the battle… anchoring a different response is the other half. NLP can help regain control of yourself at a deeper level.

    Patrice wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • +1 just been reading up on NLP you mentioned and wow that resonates man

      Cool Paleo App by the way, will download now

      Joey wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I also downloaded your excellent app.

      Ezestreets wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • What NLP resources do you guys recommend?

      Patrick wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I am a hypnotist, I have had success using EFT to deal with cravings. But it’s also the case that I have found for me that binging is a result of dietary macro imbalance.

      If I don’t eat enough protein, I crave protein madly. But the protein source I craved during much of my overweight life was cheese, which was too low in protein to bring me up where I needed to be. I ate enormous amounts of cheese, yet was never satisfied.

      Now I know if I crave cheese I eat meat and the craving goes away.

      The same way with fat: if I tried to eat a low fat diet I would go crazy, crave fatty foods, and binge madly. I have heard others say the exact same thing about low fat and/or low protein diets, although they were not realizing what it was they were describing. They were thinking they had set a reasonable goal of eating a very low fat diet, and blaming themselves for losing control.

      I see too many money-making sites trying to convince women that these exact symptoms I was having are proof they are emotional eaters who need to pay psychologists, psychiatrists or other mental health professionals to start to understand their mental health issues.

      I won’t deny that there are people who have such issues. But I think for the most part counterproductive emotional attachments to food are caused by dieting itself. Most overweight is a result of low nutrition high carbohydrate diet in combination with bad habits that were learned during our formative years and can be unlearned.

      I simply can’t accept that the majority of Americans have mental health issues keeping them from losing weight, given all the other factors that are clearly involved.

      Katherine wrote on January 25th, 2013
      • Katherine, I think you are 100% right! Low fat diet leads to cravings and “emotional eating” leads to diagnosis of mental health problems. And finally, fat people are crazy/lack self-discipline. It’s a nasty set of associations. I am so glad I found a way out.

        Louise wrote on January 27th, 2013
        • I too think you’re right Katherine. I am in a Masters program for Clinical Mental Health Counseling and please believe me when I say I want to incorporate what people are fueling their bodies with into my practice. You can’t expect to get to great mental health without fueling your body with great food!

          Stephanie wrote on January 28th, 2013
      • Gary Taubes in G.C.B.C. & his blog or articles (?) talks about the kind of calories-in/calories-out starvation model of obesity treatment leading to “experts” assuming obesity is a psychological willpower/emotional eating problem.
        Due to overspecialization most psychologists will not think to treat obesity using the low-carb/hormone-control model (why would they? even most medical doctors don’t).
        So, these psychologists can only treat obesity as if it were a moral failing on your part because that’s the only tools they have

        mm wrote on February 4th, 2013
        • to add to my comment… even in cases of emotional eating it’s hard to ignore the effects of reactive hypoglycaemia – even at subclinical/sub-diabetic levels – and the negative effects of carb withdrawal which are physiological in nature and which will often have an effect on people’s choice to eat emotionally – kind of like how a cokehead might use cocaine to have fun/party and to forget their troubles, but also because of the withdrawal symptoms

          mm wrote on February 4th, 2013
      • +1
        Well said!
        The emotional-eating theory is very woman-based and falls in line with a long history of pathologizing female behaviors that actually have normal, physiological explanations. It may be that what is often described as “emotional eating” really has more to do with an insulin-response “addiction” to carbs/grains/sugars than it has to do with an out-of-control emotional response to life. (Not saying that emotions don’t have anything to do with our eating choices, just that there may be a large physiological component being ignored here!)

        JungleQueen wrote on January 20th, 2014
  3. This is exactly the challenge I’m facing right now. Emotion-based eating habits have been the hardest thing for me to address so far on my primal journey.

    inquisitiveone wrote on January 24th, 2013
  4. I used food to numb out most of my life, and probably do a little. It is a vicious cycle. Being numbed out led to many poor decisions and poor relationships. Following Primal has dramatically changed my emotional state for the better, leading to better health and relationships. The opposite of a vicious cycle, whatever that’s called.

    Harry Mossman wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I think it’s called a ‘broken cycle’

      Great to see a change your nutrition and health lead to positive effects everywhere else in your life!

      bjjcaveman wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • A kind cycle.

      Vanessa wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • A ‘virtuous circle’ is the opposite of a vicious one.

        Violet wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • That would be a “virtuous cycle”. Gotta love it!

      I was already in a better head-space (compared to my 20s and 30s) before going primal, but I am definitely riding that primal virtuous cycle for all it’s worth!

      Chica wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • +1

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Thanks, i needed to “positive” injection after just getting a bunch of “Paleo is crap” talk from people on a blog (mostly pushing vegan/vegetarianism as more evolved/evidence of a kinder, better human, etc). I was starting to have doubts that I’d “fallen” for something, but then I thought about how much weight I’d lost and how much better I feel – the evidence is in each of us; ignore the doubters.

          KitC wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • KitC-I was a vegetarian for 2 years. I’m over it now. 😉 More seriously, new vegetarians who are still running off of the nutrition gathered in their meat eating days and those who are up to their eyeballs in the dogma are the vocal ones. Us ex-vegetarians are much quieter about their experiences. There are more “recovering vegetarians” out there than you might think.

          The science – biochemical, anthropological, and biological is behind Paleo/low carb. The only thing you’ve “fallen” for is good sense backed up by good science. 😉

          Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Another recovering vegetarian here. 15 years being near Vegan brought me all the health benefits of obesity, insulin resistance, PCOS, mood disorders, and B12 deficiency. Yay!

          em wrote on January 25th, 2013
  5. I am a HUGE emotional eater – for pretty much any emotion. Also, if I am really on-track with my eating and being strict, it’s so hard for me to see progress in my body. So then I get into the whole “F it. I’m not getting any skinnier anyway, I might as well eat the whole pie”. A couple things I’ve found that really help with this is to 1) TRY TRY TRY to remove my attachment to body image, and instead focus on health. and 2) Limit sugar intake. My uncontrolled, emotional binges are so much worse when I’m eating sugar regularly. Even fruit. When I started eating very low carb (30g/day) with a focus on protein and fat, my tendency to binge and emotionally eat decreased IMMENSELY. I know this very low level of carbs might not be the right thing for everyone, but for me it has provided a huge level of freedom.

    Susie wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I’m the same with sugar – I only get cravings if I’ve been eating sweet stuff(I gave in to Christmas pudding a few weeks back).

      Thankfully I can eat baked apples and cream without getting the cravings though! (my go-to sweet treat)

      Primal V wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Ummm… YUM! I’ll have to try that. Yes! And it’s not just normal cravings, it’s the “I’m stressed out/sad/tired so I need to eat something to make me feel better”. When I went low-carb my life didn’t get less stressful, but my response to stress changed and no longer includes over-eating. I think we set ourselves up for failure with emotional eating by eating the foods that perpetuate it.

        Susie wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • I agree, for me it’s the mindset when low carbing that I can avoid binging on sugary foods, but when I am not low carbing, binging is easy to do because its just a few extra pounds of sugar to shove into my face. Its certainly easier to keep on the straight and narrow when low carbing.

          Ken UK wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • I think I know what your talking about. For my wife, it happens about once a month.

          gduke wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • I don’t think eating those foods “perpetuate” emotional eating. I think they cause the emotions through biochemical actions in your brain, as directly as if you were taking a medication that had that effect.

          Katherine wrote on January 25th, 2013
      • Funny you mention apples and cream. I use non baked granny apples, cut into pieces, and dip them into fresh whipped lard. The fresh lard is sweet. Mmmm, sweet and fatty. And good luck trying to eat too much as this combo is extremely filling.

        Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • I’ll have to try that. This place is the best for suggestions like this.

          Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Such a hidden fan of you and your comments!! I am always gleeful when you provide your savvy insights and wry-dry wit. Also..simply MUST try your granny idea with whipped canard/duck lard here in France!

          Donna wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Thank you for the kind words. Whipped duck fat sounds tasty!

          I do not use grocery store lard. I prefer to use fresh leaf lard from a non industrial raised pig. A good butcher will know what leaf lard.

          Leaf lard traditionally was used in baked goods. Whipped lard is extremely versatile. Be sure to always taste it first before adding anything to it. The animal’s diet affects the taste.

          When whipped, the texture should be that of a soft cream cheese.

          Want icing for treats? Add some honey, almond extract, citrus zest, or vanilla bean. Same flavoring fundamentals apply.

          Want to add fresh herbs for a delicious spread or dip? Try shallots and garlic.

          The whipped lard can also be used on a less fatty meat like a pork tenderloin. Follow the techniques to make a rolled, stuffed pork tenderloin and smear a flavored whipped lard on in the side.

          Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Double thanks for the extra info on leaf lard. I’ve suddenly realized (thanks to this blog) that I can stretch our food budget a bit by increasing the amount of fat we eat. Our lipiphobic society tends to make the pure animal fats cheap.

          Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • I had never thought of using leaf lard that way. Awesome! Thanks for the idea and useful info. Gonna try duck fat too. Mmm…

          Terrell wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • One of the best ways to see progress even when it’s not visible in the mirror is to take measurements, especially waist circumference measurements. If you stay on-track with your diet, these WILL go down every week even when the pictures or mirror don’t tell the full story.

      It’s a quick thing you can do with a tape measure but it really helps to reinforce that you stay on track so that you don’t go into the “F this” mindset that you mentioned.

      Frank Fuller wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Excellent suggestion.. this is something I’m considering doing also

        bjjcaveman wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Ah, Frank, it’s clear you inhabit a male body! While I agree that a tape measure definitely beats the scale, monthly fluctuations can affect women’s measurements too, often at the most emotionally vulnerable times. (That’s why I sometimes call my hormones horrible-moans!)

        The only thing that helps me when everything seems to be going backwards is to practice deep breathing, maybe some gentle yoga, & remember, this too shall pass!

        Paleo-curious wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Very true. Fluctuations can happen for both men and women. As you mentioned the hormones is one reason, or even eating a meal high in salt can lead to bloating. That’s why it’s important not to get overly fixated on the day-to-day numbers and look at trends over time.

          Personally, I don’t think anyone should take any measurements, whether it be scale weight, waistline measurements, or body fat reading more than ONCE PER WEEK. It’s just counter-productive and will mess with your head.

          Frank Fuller wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • My approach is to weigh/measure more often, but average the stats over a week & that’s what I compare over time. That seems to give me the clearest picture of where things really stand. But if one is too fixated on the weight-of-the-day this system definitely might backfire.

          Paleo-curious wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I used to fall into the whole “F” it thing… and what broke me out of it was doing something like the 4 hour body diet where programmed destruction was part of the diet. You get 1 cheat day per week and go nuts on that cheat day! No guilt no blame no shame.

      1 cheat day can’t offset 6 days of bad eating so at the end of the week you’re still good. The programmed destruction can be a powerful mental tool… instead of eating your ‘treat’ immediately… just put it in the list of things you want to eat on your cheat day and knock yourself out!

      Doing this helped me a lot and I’ve had a lot of success with it… but I’m now at the point where I don’t crave a lot of the things I wanted on cheat days (and I’m trying to stay in ketosis) so I’ve been cutting them out.

      bjjcaveman wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • I have always shied away from using cheat days, as doing so seems to perpetuate the notion that some outside authority is telling me what I can and cannot do. That privation is a punishment and cheating is a reward. Or that depriving myself is being good and indulging is being good.

        For me, the freeing aspect of PB is that nobody, not even Mark, is telling me what I can and cannot do. It is my genes, inside me, that dictate what works and what doesn’t. I can do whatever the heck I want, but, but, but… my body screams at me when I do something it does not like. If I eat sweets or grain-based anything, my body lets me know pretty darn quick that it was not a good idea. Who am I cheating if I do that? I’m not getting away with anything — I am very directly hurting myself.

        Chica wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • +1

          Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • +1

          Juli wrote on January 25th, 2013
        • You said this so beautifully, Chica! I have always had issues with “outside authority”; just because “everyone” is being told to do it, doesn’t mean it is good for me. When I started listening to and respecting the messages my body gives me, I feel fantastic (e.g. – eating Primally). When I don’t listen to the signals, and eat that wheat/grain/glutenized, sugary, addictive pile of ick, I pay for it dearly! I trust the messages now; my health is the proof!

          AndoverAmazon wrote on January 26th, 2013
      • Put the behavior on cue…then gradually reduce giving yourself the cue. Cheat every 7 then 14 then 30 then birthdays then never cheat with toxins again.. “Don’t shoot the dog” by Karen Pryor. Best behavior book ever.

        Olympic wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • I’m with bjjcaveman on this. I enjoy a cheat day here and there so I guess it’s all in one’s perspective of the thing. It helps that I am not gluten intolerant. I could eat wheat all day and not have migraines, brain fog, unhappy tummy, etc. If I had to pay for my sins that way, I’d avoid cheat days, too, or at least cheating on the instigator foods. Primal works for me because it removes most of the cravings and I’m not hungry all the time. That said, it’s nice to go gonzo on dessert occasionally and just not worry about it knowing that I’ll get right back up the next day and juice my organic veggies, exercise, and eat clean.

        Tina wrote on February 1st, 2013
    • Cocoa Beans, Ice Cubes, 1 frozen banana. Boom no more sweet tooth.

      D wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • But make sure you peel the banana BEFORE you freeze it! Those things are almost impossible to peel frozen – a mistake I made once.

        b2curious wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • true, and all these ingredients are blended together it makes like a shake/slurry of goodness. When you don’t eat sugar a frozen banana is sweet.

          D wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • D do you mean cocoa nibs? Must try this.

        Tina wrote on February 1st, 2013
    • +1

      Chantal wrote on January 24th, 2013
  6. Good article. The trick is to stop letting your emotions control your eating habits and put your brain back in charge. Your brain will tell you that the comfort you derive from that slice of chocolate cake is going to be a lot shorter lived than the layer of fat it puts on your hips.

    One of the really beautiful features of a paleo diet is that it effectively eliminates the cravings created by a diet full of sugars, sweets, and grain products. I differentiate between sugars and sweets here because, for some of us, simply switching from refined sugar to a healthier sweetener doesn’t eliminate the cravings for more sweets. Total elimination works much better.

    Shary wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I would disagree … or at least say that it depends. Primal/paleo did not eliminate my cravings in the least. If anything, it intensified them because, to my emotional way of thinking, I was “depriving” myself of the food I really wanted, mainly sugar.

      Until I unpacked my emotional baggage and learned that the cravings kicked into highest gear whenever I found myself in a situation I couldn’t control or didn’t know what to do, it didn’t matter what eating plan I was following.

      Rationally, my brain didn’t want to eat junk, but it was no match for my completely illogical emotions.

      HillyRu wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • +1 to this. I find it so hard to not eat something if I tell myself I’m not allowed it. Almost a form of rebellion against myself!

        I find that if I tell myself I have no limitations I automatically make better choices. I am not fixating on the bad things and therefore don’t think about them as much. The idea of telling myself I can have it “later” is a good one as the craving passes fairly quickly and I haven’t felt that I have restricted myself

        Blackberrypie wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • I have to agree that feeling powerless drives pretty poor decision-making. Happily for me, PB gave me the greatest sense of control that I have ever had — in this case, control over my own well-being. I feel as if, no matter what the world throws at me, I have a blueprint for how to maintain my own well-being. It is almost as if I can now hear a voice in my head saying, “You can’t make me eat that _____ (donut, ice cream, candy, etc.)!! I’m the one who gets to decide what and when I eat!”

        Chica wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • “….the cravings kicked into highest gear whenever I found myself in a situation I couldn’t control or didn’t know what to do….”

        You just nailed it for me. The entire psychology of my eating disorders completely brought to light by one sentence. Serious Ah-ha moment. I do exactly this. Now I can be aware of it! Thank you!

        Lara wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I have to completely disagree as well. What are our brains if not a big puddle of cells and…chemicals? The things that cause emotions? Neurotransmitters, gut bacteria, food, and the brain are intimately intertwined. Yes, elimination can go a long way, but deep feedback loops work both ways; an emotional drain can wreak havoc on our logic and judgment regarding food.

      SayMoi wrote on January 24th, 2013
  7. There seems to be no end to the balancing act between diet, emotions, sleep, stress, exercise. I would think that most who start to have success would build momentum and greater positive self-image. That’s mostly the case for me, though as Mark C said above, buildup of stresses can lead to some amount of self sabotage. Trying to learn to recognize the early stages of imminent stress and react with self-care (sleep, soup, hugs), not harmful soothing.

    Tom B-D wrote on January 24th, 2013
  8. +1 sometimes if I’m upset over something I find my self looking for a ‘treat’ food to make myself feel better.

    Since going Primal I’m much more aware that it’s an emotional reaction rather than hunger.

    Better awareness of my food needs (and probably balancing my hunger hormones too) has helped me to identify and stop this emotional eating.

    Thank you Mark!

    Primal V wrote on January 24th, 2013
  9. Mark,

    What a great post, Yesterday I had a discussion with a client and touched on a few very similar points.

    I find people are hesitant or scared not only of change but of growth and moving forward. Really agree with the “surrender as well as striving.”

    Really enjoyed this post Mark!

    Luke DePron wrote on January 24th, 2013
  10. Mark, are you saying that stress leads to emotional eating which affects heath, or that that the stress itself affects health?

    What if a stressed person is still able to keep up strict primal and DOESN’T eat emotionally? Does his physical body “not know” that he is stressed and move toward weight loss and health despite the stessors?

    oxide wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Mark has often emphasized the importance of reducing stress for weight loss and general health and well being, regardless of how strict you are on your diet. Your body releases lots of cortisol when you are stressed, which is a good thing when you are fighting a saber-tooth tiger to the death, but really unhealthy when it happens all day, every day (see a list of Cushing’s syndrome symptoms for what it can cause). I would personally go so far as to say that it is healthier to eat a lot of crap and be stress-free (including gut-stress) than it is to eat perfectly and be stressed-out constantly.

      Charles wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • that is the dumbest generic pseudoscientific advice I’ve heard all month

        mm wrote on February 5th, 2013
  11. Don’t forget the all day long messaging from the producers of sweets that it’s OK to treat yourself and that ‘treat’ means their product. If you don’t treat yourself with their patented sweets you’re uptight or a masochist and there must be something wrong with you. A society of well adjusted people who run or lift heavy things or scream (perfectly fine) in order to manage/cope with their built up emotions instead of downing a gallon of ice-cream doesn’t result in very good annual bonuses for food inc. execs. Some food for thought.


    Tim wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • In the words of Lisa Simpson’s advertising guy; “Just don’t look”.

      Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
  12. I think an important thing to keep in mind is that even if you conquer the emotional eating, you may still be left with the stress that was causing you to emotionally eat, and that in and of itself can be just as harmful. Be aware of those things in your life, and take care of the stress as well as the eating, otherwise you’re not solving the complete problem.

    Audrey wrote on January 24th, 2013
  13. The emotional element is so important, especially the support from others. My mother has problems with her back and had started in the local gym. Then my father said she could doo some more heavy lifting at home. My mother quit the gym after that comment.

    Tanja Tr. wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • that kind of passive-aggressive sabotage just makes my blood boil — i trust you gave her BETTER support! :-)

      tess wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Suggest Esther Gokhale!

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Ironically, given the general competence of most personal trainers (especially when it comes to dealing with women) + the time/$cost of going to the gym vs having your own gym, in some circumstances that could have been construed as good advice.
        I’m not sure if it’s passive-aggressive but it sounds possibly like a bad idea – why would your mother quit just from one comment?

        mm wrote on February 5th, 2013
  14. Mark, you spoke about cultivating self-awareness and becoming aware of your own triggers. In working with different people, I have found that one of the biggest hurdles is that people don’t have an accurate awareness of the difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. That’s why often “listening to your body” doesn’t work – people misinterpret the signal.

    Basically emotional hunger is an urge to eat the develops rapidly and demands immediate consumption. It is also geared towards specific foods (cravings) and is often associated with guilt. Emotional eating doesn’t really satisfy your hunger (i.e. you’re still hungry after you finish eating even after a huge meal);

    True physical hunger, on the other hand, builds up gradually from a small level of discomfort to full throttle hunger pangs. With true hunger, you have a greater ability to delay food consumption (i.e. it doesn’t demand immediate attention and consumption). True hunger tends to come on several hours after your last meal and it is often non-specific for any type of food. It will leave you feeling satisfied after eating and the feeling of hunger should go away.

    Understanding this difference is the first step in fighting emotional eating patterns and achieving successful weight loss.

    Frank Fuller wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Frank – I used to think that I was eating emotionally, because I had those intense cravings that had to be satisfied NOW. But my current thinking is that I was suffering from a sugar cycle and had low blood sugar, hence the urgency.

      This is not to say that emotional eating does not exist – it certainly does! Primal helps a lot with the low-blood-sugar-urgent cravings, and therefore, with a good proportion of overeating.

      Violet wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Violet,

        I absolutely agree that intense cravings are definitely linked to the physical world and what we eat.

        In particular, a food that combines sugar, fat, and salt in the right quantities is usually extremely addictive and intensifies cravings.

        Think fast food…a big mac has a ton of salt and fat from the meat and processed cheese and sauce, with 3 layers of buns that are essentially fast digesting sugars.

        This is the precise reason why I find myself and many others hungry soon after consuming 2-3 slices of pizza (a substantial amount of calories but so high in sugar, fat, and salt that it leads to additional cravings).

        Frank Fuller wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Just a warning about giving in to your cravings.
          We have been Primal for about a year and have been losing weight gradually.
          We normally never have chocolate biscuits (cookies) or toffees in the house but because it was Xmas I bought some for the visitors and we were given some as presents.
          BIG MISTAKE!
          The temptation was too much, you know what it’s like, you’ll just have one or two but it does not stop at that and my husband and myself ended up eating most of them between Xmas and New Year.
          My husband is type 2 Diabetic and has been doing great on the Primal eating plan but after the massive sugar shock he had a suspected Transient Ischaemic Attack (a mini stroke). Luckily he is okay although shaken up somewhat and is having lots of medical tests over the next few weeks. I got off lighter with a Migraine.
          That was a wake-up call I can tell you. There will be no more processed carbohydrates in this house; they are pure poison as far as we are concerned.

          Annakay wrote on January 24th, 2013
        • Frank I believe Violet was referring more specifically to reactive hypoglycaemia which causes an energy crisis every time you eat carbs, giving you a strong urge and preoccupation with eating more carbs.

          Also based on your comment & website you kind of sound like one of those weird people that believes in what I call the “trashcan theory” of obesity… read Gary Taubes’ GCBC to see how idiotic this way of thinking is. Also, wiki or find the study for the Dunning-Krueger Effect.

          mm wrote on February 5th, 2013
        • …when I say “reactive hypoglycaemia causes an energy crisis” of course the severity of this varies from people to people.

          Also I’m serious about the Dunning-Krueger effect – not just putting it out there as an insult – since you seem to have only half of the picture – the inferior half. Then again I suspect you’re being willfully ignorant to see your book.

          Your over-eating theory sounds great but makes no sense. See pages 246-248 of Gary Taubes’ GCBC in paperback. Even the old joke about the ranger/wildlife tour guide who says not to worry about bears as you only have to run faster than the slowest person destroys that whole thrifty gene hypothesis

          mm wrote on February 5th, 2013
    • In It Starts With Food, the authors write “If you don’t want to eat eggs, you’re not really hungry. That’s just a craving.”

      I’ve actually found this a great barometer for whether or not I’m really hungry. If I think “Yeah, I could totally eat some eggs right now,” I do. (Or meat, macadamias, etc.) If I think about eggs and don’t want them, herbal tea it is.

      Violette wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • That’s a good one Violette. I don’t do cravings anymore, but that’s a great comment IMHO.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Yes

        Danielle Thalman wrote on January 26th, 2013
    • I have read this, and I know in my case it is untrue.

      Cravings for protein or fat result from not eating enough protein or fat and come on strongly and quickly. Sudden binging is not in itself evidence of emotional eating!

      Katherine wrote on January 25th, 2013
  15. Excellent post! It still amazes me how powerful the mind body connection can be and how dysfunction in one can so profoundly affect the other… but it also works the other way in that taking positive steps and making good choices in one can spill over into the other.

    It also touches on the psychological effects the scale has on someone… if they make big efforts to change but don’t see the numbers of the scale move it can be extremely discouraging despite the fact that their body is simply transitioning and recomposing.

    bjjcaveman wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I so agree– after two very stressful years when I succumbed all too often to self-comfort in the form of goodies, I’m regaining my self-confidence & self-respect as I lose the physical baggage & the bad habits.

      I think the term is “virtuous cycle!”

      Paleo-curious wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Yes, “a virtuous cycle” is better.

        Vanessa wrote on January 24th, 2013
  16. Great article Mark. I really noticed a difference when I stopped using Splenda… my “cravings” ceased and I am in much better control of my choices :-)

    Dianne wrote on January 24th, 2013
  17. I just ate 3 mini peppermint patty hearts. Let the self-loathing begin!

    Mary wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • LOL! I just ate 3 tbsps of dark chocolate chips. However, it’s less emotional today then “I’m tired hungry after a workout.” I need to work on having better foods around for workout days.

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
  18. I had to go to Overeaters Anonymous meetings to loose weight and keep it off. I ate anytime I was angry, depressed or afraid and had no control over food. OA has kept me out of emotional eating. I have been at a normal weight now for over 20 years. Going primal has helped the blood sugar swings but without OA I’d still be in a diet mentality, waiting to reward myself with “bad” food.

    For normal people just going primal is enough, some of us need more and I am one of those people.


    Dale wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I, too, needed Overeaters Anonymous. I started 6 years ago and lost 55 pounds the first year. I have kept that weight off and still attend meetings regularly.

      If I didn’t have OA, I don’t think there’s anyway I would be able to eat primal/paleo. My compulsive overeating would have sabotaged it. Because of OA, I can eat in a way that I believe is best for my health!

      Andrea wrote on January 24th, 2013
  19. i started a ‘booze-free january’ in solidarity with a friend of mine. also because i was drinking a little too much than what i was comfortable with…not a lot of volume, but consistently, almost every night, 2 glasses of red wine. it was shockingly easy to stop…now i notice how i definitely ate unconsciously a lot after a drink or 2. now after dinner, i make a decaf coffee or tea and find the evening a lot more peaceful and restful. it’s almost like the booze (then the ‘treats’) distracted me from my circumstance or something (middle age, single, live with my awesome cat…yes, i’m a cat lady!). i find i read more, look up stuff that interests me online, relax and watch a few episodes of something good, have REALLY good sleeps.
    i will drink again, but i think i’ll make a conscious choice to really limit drinking home, when i’m alone. and also, just being generally more aware and present of what i’m putting in my body.

    lastly, i do find that i have to cut back on dried fruit cause that is my new crack. it used to be sour licorice and any other candy so it’s an obvious substitue. if i stick to a whole fruit, i get more water, feel more full. i also realized that primal worked better for me because the honey/maple syrup allowance in paleo was too easy a ‘go to’. i remember in December making an amazing “paleo” toffee…WTF!?! what is the difference? for me, i am all about the candy factor, so it’s something for me to be aware.

    melissa wrote on January 24th, 2013
  20. I’m so glad to read all these posts. Sometimes I think paleo/primal types are super-human, totally balanced and craving-free. It’s reassuring to know that I am not alone when I commit Neolithy, i.e. eating something that is in no way primal.

    Ruth wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • “commit Neolithy”….

      BRILLIANT! :-) i’ll be borrowing that.

      tess wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • I commit Neolithy quite often. :)

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Ruth I think after a while as primal they/we *do* become craving free. But it does take a little while. Maybe six months to a year. Unless the memory of a fresh soft chewy sourdough bap with lashings of butter sneaks in.. (gurgling..)

      Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
  21. I belong to Overeaters Anonymous, a 12 step group (like AA, but replace the booze with the food). Using this program, I have found that I am able to deal with life on life’s terms, and not go to food. I have been abstinant from overeating for 23 months, and have lost 253 lbs. Try the program, it’s free.

    OAer wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Heartfelt bravo….I am going to join OA asap…I’ve been considering it for quite a time, but have never made “the jump”. I have heard wonderful things about it, and believe at the very least it encourages social interaction, and those who would use food as a “balm” for isolation and loneliness can certainly obtain benefits.

      Donna wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • 253 Pounds? Congratulations!
      That’s one absolutely fantastic feat!

      Lara wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Wow! Congrats!

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
  22. I went Primal in July, and have since gone from 250+ lbs and a 40″ waist to 169 lbs and a 30″ waist. But quite honestly, more times than not I still think of myself as the out-of-shape fat guy.

    I guess you can lose weight, but you can’t lose crazy.

    Peacewalker wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • ha, I was the opposite when I packed on 50 pounds…in my mind, I still saw myself like I was before I gained the weight, until I looked in the mirror! Yikes. Talk about denial. Now that I’ve lost that weight I can’t believe I let myself get to that point, but if that’s what it took to find a primal life, then so be it! I still have 40 pounds I want to lose, and I don’t remember being that small ever, so once I get there I’m sure I’ll still see myself as the “big girl.”

      Stacie wrote on January 24th, 2013
  23. I’ve done weight watchers, made it to goal weight and kept it off for 8 months. My mom had surgery and complications and I ate to comfort myself and gained back 20 of the 45 I had lost. So last year I found this site, started my primal journey and have not lost any weight. I feel better, I sleep better but I am still the same weight. So this year I am really tracking my food, exercising slowly every day and just started adding in lifting heavy things. I am disappointed that the weight hasn’t fallen off of me like it seems to every one else. I didn’t eat processed food so the only thing I have done is give up potatoes, pasta, rice quinoa, oats and dairy. I added the fats and grassfed meat and upped my veggies. It is very frustrating.

    Patty wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Hang in there! I know it’s hard, but even if the weight loss is not coming easy (yet), know that you are giving yourself the best chance at a healthy, long life by eating whole foods and avoiding “poisonous” things.

      I was feeling the same as you over the last month. I felt I had been relatively primal but I’ve been stuck weight-wise for 2 months. I took a hard look at what I was doing to prevent the weight from coming off and have decided to change 2 things: absolutely NO alcohol for 2 weeks (to start) and to begin heavy lifting. I’d say it’s my first personal n=1. The lifting might help you, or try intermittent fasting (read Mark’s posts about it).

      In the end, you’ve got a whole community of people here to support you, so grok on! =)

      Stacie wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • the solution is actually fairly simple in this case (although not easy to implement). If you’re not losing weight, you have to eat less. So remove some of those added fats (not all of them) and the weight will begin to slip off.

      Intuitively you already know that you have to eat less to lose weight. A calorie isn’t a calorie BUT calories still count.

      Frank Fuller wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Patty, I have had a similar experience, after doing WW and achieving Lifetime status, maintaining that for over a year. Then my mom was diagnosed with brain cancer and died fairly soon afterwards, 2+ years ago. I kind of fell apart (people brought all kinds of “goodies” to the house and I ate them), and gained back about 10 pounds. I couldn’t shake the weight, even with a guided diet plan from a nutritionist (a SAD plan on which I only lost about 5 of those pounds over a whole year, despite lots of exercise). I dabbled in going Primal last July and committed to it not long after, including increasing my strength workouts and lowering my running mileage. From July to November, I only lost about 1 pound, but the nurse at my gym told me I’d lost 6 pounds of fat and gained 5 pounds of lean! People think I’ve lost a LOT more weight than I have! (I’ve now lost those remaining 4 pounds.)

      I have found that I don’t like how I feel after “treating” myself to typical desserts/snacks – that sugar rush makes me feel ill – so that helps me avoid them these days. However, I have to really watch the amount of dried fruit I eat. Last night I was tired and totally stressed out from work and gave in to a ton of raisins and a bit of chocolate. So emotional eating is something that I’m still working on!

      Louise wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • I totally understand your frustration, Patty. I started Primal in December 2011 and I didn’t lose ANY weight in all of 2012. I decided to join Weight Watchers in December 2012. I’m still following PB, just keeping track of things using the WW points model. I’ve lost about 7 pounds in a month, which is huge for me.

      I’ve found PB great for maintenance; my weight didn’t fluctuate by more than 5 pounds in 2012, which is actually amazing for me. However, I need a big loss first (like 50 pounds) before maintenance is my concern.

      You’re not alone!

      Nikki wrote on January 25th, 2013
  24. The emotional changes I’ve seen since going Primal have been HUGE, and I’m completely convinced that, for me, PB is the main reason I am no longer an emotional eater. I don’t get those sugar cravings or cravings for specific foods anymore when I’m stressed or bored or happy (or whatever emotion I’m feeling). Going Primal was a lifestyle change, so aside from changing what was going into my body physically, I was simultaneously changing what was in my mind. PB finally released me from the stigma that *I* had no self control, that *I* was a failure, that *I* was doing everything wrong if I ate something “bad.”

    Before going primal, I was a college athlete that struggled to keep my weight down, despite doing major workouts nearly every day. I couldn’t lose the weight I needed, so I ate less, but then I would have no energy for my workouts (SO frustrating). Then I would be upset that I had failed, that I wasn’t doing something right (despite eating a relatively healthy CW diet). It was always my fault. Then, like some athletes, I packed on about 50 pounds over 2 years after my collegiate career finished. I’m now back to my playing weight but have more weight to lose and strength to gain, and am so looking forward to doing that over the next 6 months and beyond.

    I wish I would have found PB during those years, because I would have been such a better athlete, but I’m so thankful for having made the change now at 24, and being able to do the things I love now without problems. PB gave me freedom from the awful cycle of diet and exercise that came with the worst emotional roller coaster in the world. That’s a bigger benefit to me than the weight loss (that’s like a bonus!).

    Stacie wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Exactly! Freedom from the roller coaster, control over your own well-being, that’s what it’s all about!

      I think you speak for many of us here when you say: PB finally released me from the stigma that *I* had no self control, that *I* was a failure, that *I* was doing everything wrong if I ate something “bad.”

      Chica wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Exactly same for me… Thank you!

        Chantal wrote on January 24th, 2013
  25. Great post! When people ask me how I lost weight I start out by saying “years of therapy” and follow that up with talk about diet and exercise.

    Joshua wrote on January 24th, 2013
  26. I started Primal last April. I have lost about 30 lbs — which on a small person like me is A LOT. I still struggle to see myself accurately in my new body (still have about 15 – 20 lbs to go). I continually experience the wonderful realization/feeling/KNOWLEDGE that I am returning to the athletic body of my 20’s and 30’s (but so much healthier than then, in a lot of ways!). I still deal with cravings for sweets — though eliminating wheat and other grains helped ENORMOUSLY. I find when I eat enough fat (mainly avocados, fatty fish and some nuts) my cravings for sugar are way less. But… the emotional component is DEFINITELY still there! I struggle with developing consistent healthy routines and “self soothing”. And this is all at the age of … OK, let’s just say the “other” side of 50! All the thoughts here are good ones, I’ve just re-committed to journaling and improving my sleep (both quality & quantity). For me, it’s helpful if I keep reminding myself that all of this — learning to take care of myself, honor my body, and my feelings — is a process and a journey and that there is no “perfect” and no point of arrival….

    As an aside, this is only my 2nd comment though I’ve been “here” for nearly a year. Just want to say this is an AMAZING community and I so admire Mark’s approach, which is intellectually curious and non-dogmatic and holistic (and HUMOROUS!) — cheers, All!

    am_stjohn wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • It is a very excellent community and blog in general.

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
  27. I recently wrote an article similar to yours, Mark. The context was new years resolutions, but the focus is the same…negative beliefs we have about ourselves. I’m really glad you put this out there on your site, it’s an important aspect to health and well-being!

    Here’s my article:

    Morris Cohen, LCSW wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Just to say that your article on negative beliefs is very good. Thanks for sharing the link.

      Violet wrote on January 25th, 2013
  28. For me, finally learning that I couldn’t starve myself for a few weeks and be done with it was crucial. I lost about 50 pounds, then plateaued for years until I adopted the “marathon, not sprint” mindset and finally lost another 20.

    I’m at a healthy BMI now but want to lose another 10-20 pounds for vanity. What’s holding me back is twofold: 1) Delaying gratification. That’s a long term problem that affects many aspects of my life, including my finances; 2) extreme social isolation. I’ve got no supportive relationships in my life – food is the only thing there to soothe and comfort. Anything else is a sorry substitute.

    Violette_R wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • Violette, some things that have helped me on the social isolation: volunteering, getting involved in a hobby (joining a club); on the physical side: interacting with pets, getting a massage or even things like a manicure, pedicure or haircut (the pleasant interactions as well as the touch/care aspects). There are ways to do/make these types of things happen for no or low cost, too — even taking a warm bath (by candlelight, with a few drops of a pleasant essential oil in the water) can be an act of self-love and very soothing and comforting. And sometimes I say this mantra to myself when I crave sweets or those “comforting” foods that do me harm in the long (or shorter) run: “my life is sweet (enough), I don’t need to fill up on sugar”, or “my life is full, I don’t need to fill myself physically with food [to not feel empty]” — these have all helped me. My tendency at times can be to avoid social events, but I find that that once I go/participate, my mood is lifted, and that tends to start a, shall we say “virtuous cycle” instead of a vicious one.

      am_stjohn wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Find your people.

        Madama Butterfry wrote on January 24th, 2013
  29. Is it just me, or are words like “strict” and “diet” and “cheating” emotional stop signs when it comes to actually doing something healthy for yourself?

    I hate telling myself to be “stricter” on my “diet” after a weekend of “cheating.” My own mental dialog has so much to do with how I feel and act. Rather than trying to guilt myself into health and fitness, I try to phrase things in a way that help me toward my goals. It helps that I actively enjoy the majority of eating according to the primal plan. If someone brings cookies, donuts, or bagels to work, I only have to think about how lousy I’ll feel in the afternoon if I fill up on carbs in the morning. And if I absolutely want that doughnut no matter what, I try not to feel bad about it. The doughnut is usually tasty and I can get back to my salad and salmon (which I love!) without inflicting much damage.

    Mark A wrote on January 24th, 2013
  30. I don’t necessarily buy into “emotional eating.”

    Rather than walking around thinking, “Oh, good, my stomach is growling…that means I’m getting thinner…” I recognize true hunger and EAT. That equates to taking care of one’s self at a most basic level. Since doing the paleo diet, I feel “allowed” to eat. So, instead of walking around starving and patting myself on the back for it, then having a complete meltdown and a potato-chip-chocolate-cookie-hot-fudge-ice-cream-sundae binge, I actually recognize the hunger and put something good in my mouth. And sometimes, a carrot stick is not good. If you’re physical self is telling you it needs something, then it needs what it needs – whether it be something greasy or a nap.

    The caveat to that is – no one needs white sugar, white flour, or any of its equivalents. The body needs natural foods. So, part of the trouble is recognizing precisely the true need and not the need disguised and clothed in one of the white substances.

    Mazzy wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • You might have been lucky enough generally not have emotional eating be part of your life. That’s a very good thing.

      However, I absolute do know that it exists. I’ve had issues with it but thankfully have generally wrangled it to something under control. Both my parents and my aunt still struggle with it and are all varying degrees overweight because of it.

      The absolute hardest part as an emotional eater is actually separating real hunger from the emotional urge to eat. It’s not as easy as it sounds, even after eliminating 95% of the sugar/starch triggers. I have been known to overeat eggs and mayo. (Really!) The difference is (thank goodness) that at some point your body screams ENOUGH!!! when the emotional eating is mostly fat. (No so much with a bag of cookies.) It’s much harder to gain weight that way, although it does seriously impede weight loss.

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • I understand where you’re coming from. I guess what I take issue with is the idea that someone is fat entirely of their own doing and calling it “emotional eating” is just another way of saying it’s your fault. Instead of saying you’re weak, now it’s that you’re incapable of handling emotions. But what is the real problem? Your body is overweight. That’s a physical problem according to the “lookist” society we live in, not an emotional one. If you were 115 pounds, and ate every hour, no one would question your emotional stability. If you were to embrace your hunger, your cravings, and eat forgivingly, accept your inner beauty, and take care of yourself by listening to your body, the emotional side will also improve. Maslow’s heirarchy of needs comes to mind…with the physical needs the largest first block. If you can’t fulfill those most basic needs, then how can you move upwards toward self-actualization? Basically, what I’m saying is that it’s ok to forgive yourself for being larger than others, just like being taller or shorter.

        Mazzy wrote on January 25th, 2013
    • I don’t buy into your logic that it has anything to do with need. Sugar has a powerful effect on a lot of people and some not all form addictions to it. Using your logic nobody would ever form addictions, and things like alcohol and cigarettes are all misguided needs related behaviors. I can tell you that Sugar does effect your insulin and very real brain patterns can be associated to all sorts of things that you physiologically don’t need and don’t relate to need. People exist that eat 100 % Paleo and listening to there bodies needs and still crave sweets, crave alcohol, crave drugs, crave exercise it is they have become addicted to for whatever reason in there lives, and its emotional not a physiological need masked.

      D wrote on January 24th, 2013
      • Not sure if you’re just looking at it from a different angle, but we essentially agree. Sugar is an addictive substance. I often call it crack. When I feel a “craving” for sugar, I listen closely to the craving and often realize I’m either thirsty or need to eat fat. It works for me. I was addicted to sugar. Maybe it wouldn’t work for everyone.

        Mazzy wrote on January 25th, 2013
  31. I think there’s also an emotional impact on others around us as we lose weight or become more fit that gets reflected back and can cause issues.

    Since August of 2011, I’ve lost 65 lbs (From 255 to 190) and my wife has has a number of deeply emotional reactions.

    I do almost all of the cooking, and at first she interpreted the shift in what was on the table as selfishness on my part. Then she was jealous of my ability to simply stop eating things and told me that my weight loss was damaging her own self-image.

    It was hard to deal with, and I had to work it out with a therapist. I also got her to go to her own therapist to try to figure out what was going on.

    When I started exercising regularly about 6 months ago (boxing and cross-fit) we went through a similar journey.

    About three months ago, she started doing Pilates and is taking baby-steps towards fixing her diet – no more Starbucks pastries, fewer sweet things in general.

    All of this has made it harder for me, as I’ve felt guilty for causing her so much distress. These days, it’s become a lot easier.

    I guess I’m lucky – I really didn’t have a hard time changing my diet, and I understand that it will be harder for her. In fact, she may never do it. It’s her choice.

    LarryB wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • The weight loos probably will be harder for her. Women physically tend to have a hard time losing body fat.

      On the other hand, the idea that your weight loss was damaging her self image is..well an idea that belongs in the compost heap. There’s no reason to feel guilty about it (hopefully you’ve worked through that with your therapist).

      *sigh* My MIL has a very similar attitude — that actions of others control her happiness. It’s not an easy to deal with because it’s simply not true. The only person responsible for her happiness is her.

      Anyway, good luck to the both of you.

      Amy wrote on January 24th, 2013
  32. Every body here seems to eat with stress. I do not. When stress in present I can’t seem to eat much of anything or it comes up. So I have learned to eat when its all over.

    ponymama wrote on January 24th, 2013
  33. Sheesh, this post is definitely for me. I lost a fair bit of weight last year and then suddenly developed Alopecia Areata and lost 75% of my hair. *Cue emotional eating* I was just starting to get a handle on things when my grandmother passed away. *Cue emotional gluten binge* Months later I’m still working on getting back on track, getting the bad habits under control, and giving myself permission to just eat well, exercise sensibly and enjoy a healthy body.

    Jaclyn wrote on January 24th, 2013
  34. Great piece and thought provoking..

    To a surgeon..every problem ends with an some say the issue fixed with bariatric banding, or removal of 3/4 of the stomach..etc etc..
    to a psych the issue is all in the mind…etc etc..

    I think there is a lot of cross over..reading up on the effects of leptin, the consequense of over eating leads to a need to overeat for emotional relief..and some get the same reward from over exercise, so many feedback loops to look at, it is often hard to nail exactly which one is the issue for which condition..

    Hence so many solutions are available and people will swear that their answer is the one true path to less move more for example is popular among the ignorant masses..

    Sorry folks there is no simple solution but there are plenty of complicated ones..and yes it does start in the does all human endeavour.

    BPT wrote on January 24th, 2013
  35. I am a big emotional eater as well. I never ever ate out of hunger it was always some emotion or another. I am trying to learn to love myself as I am now. Not to be so hard on myself and focus on non physical positive attributes.

    Amber wrote on January 24th, 2013
  36. I used to struggle with a weight problem, against myself.

    Now I struggle against a weight problem, with myself.

    That has made all the difference.

    Brett wrote on January 24th, 2013
  37. I “hated & ated” myself up to 450 pounds. It wasn’t until I finally started working on the emotional crap that I could lose more than 10 pounds before reverting. I’m now 90 lbs down since August 1 and I’m not nearly as excited about that as I am about just being in better head space.

    Jane wrote on January 24th, 2013
  38. I have been living the Primal lifestyle for a couple of months now and have been experimenting with different levels of daily carb intake.

    I’m finding my body often responds better if I have between 75-100 max grams of carbs. Originally I was having 30-50g max per day but have found my body felt stressed out and more adrenalised.

    Including more vegetables, maybe a sweet potato and one piece of fruit is making my body feel much calmer! Has anyone else had similar experiences? Having slightly more carbs each day also makes me feel more emotionally stronger and calmer. I had really thought 30g carbs would be my daily ideal!

    Karen wrote on January 24th, 2013
    • yup, i had the same experience. i was ok for a few weeks low carb but there was a ‘freak out’ tipping point. i also exercise regularly and vigorously so definitely needed some glycogen stores! i’ve up-ed my carbs to about 115 or so, unless i’m not exercising that day, in which case i’ll decrease it a bit and add some fat/protein. this primal/paleo thing is certainly FAR from a single prescription one size fits all. i’ve only been into this for a few months but find the psychology of it (the writers/bloggers AND the followers) to be really interesting. at the end of the day, you really have to take ownership over your life and lifestyle and not let anyone dictate what works for you!

      melissa wrote on January 24th, 2013
  39. I wanted to reply to this because it is EXACTLY where I am. I am not an emotional eater. I can “not eat” in amazing ways. So that’s not my issue. But letting me see myself as something healthy, fit and attractive? Now that’s some crazy talk right there! With primal I’ve put the focus on healthy, and I can except that – but when people’s response to my changes has been commenting on my appearance, it makes me really uncomfortable! Great post reminding us to allow the for the things we want to come!

    mlou wrote on January 24th, 2013

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