Miriam Hatoum
Emotional Eaters

Emotional Eaters

blog brilliance of chocolate cake emotional eaters get unstuck Dec 21, 2021

You are NOT broken or stupid or lazy!

You may berate yourself for being an emotional eater. However, the new spin on this is that you are brilliant and your brain and emotional eating habits are working just as they should.

Here is your roadmap to this blog:

You are brilliant!

Your Feel-Good Chemicals

You are not stuck

What are the connections?

Food as a coping mechanism

Working with a coach or a therapist

You are one of millions of emotional eaters. You are brilliant!

Once you acknowledge that and accept it, you will be well on the road to breaking free from diet prison. Your brain and your body are designed to seek pleasure.

  • You are doing exactly the right things.
  • You have emotional eating habits and patterns that are working for you!
  • It is just a matter of interrupting some of those patterns.

Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center.

  • This leads to compulsive behavior despite negative consequences.
  • This is why people feel addicted to sugar and baked goods.
  • When you feel out of control (one cookie leads to the entire box) you can be assured it is not in your head (well, yes it is) and it is a VERY REAL thing.
  • This Journal of Nutrition article further explores the research on this topic, as does this article in the Diabetes Journal.

A brilliant meta study states that research shows that following consumption (of sugar), hormones are released to reduce the feelings of stress, which also increase the desire for comfort foods, thus perpetuating emotional eating habits.

You are not damaged goods, my friend. YOU ARE HUMAN. And everything is working as it should be working! Your neural pathways are in perfect working order but let's disrupt them a bit.

Important things to realize

  • Human beings have evolved to avoid pain and seek pleasure.
  • Our brains are wired that way deep down to their core.
  • Add to this habits, triggers and reactions.
  • We have the perfect environment for establishing deep pathways for emotional eating habits.

Your "feel-good" chemicals

Your brain lights up with the pleasure of eating. These feel good chemicals are:

  • dopamine
  • serotonin
  • oxytocin
  • endorphins

Sugar triggers release of these chemicals, specifically endorphins and dopamine. In addition to the simple release of these "feel good" chemicals, neural pathways (habits and reactions) are forged when a person turns to food over and over again. 

You are not stuck! 

(The following is from Emily Maroutian):  "You're not stuck. You're just committed to certain patterns of behavior because they helped you in the past. Now these behaviors have become more harmful than helpful. The reason you can't move forward is because you keep applying an old formula to a new level in your life."

But you say, "I AM stuck!"

  • Fair enough, but maybe you have not been doing your part in becoming unstuck.
  • You can't just wish it so.
  • You can't just do a ton of reading and not take action steps.
  • You can't take webinars and courses and not do the homework.
  • You can't keep joining diet programs and not follow them. 

Why is it so hard to follow our deep desires to stay on an eating program?

It is because our desires are not deeper than the connections we have made over the years between triggers and their responses.

What are the connections?

Habit Component

  • Do you always pair evening TV with a snack?
  • Do you always stop for coffee and a muffin on the way to work?
  • Do you always open the fridge when you get home?

Emotional Component

  • The emotional connection to food runs very deep for many people.
  • Food can soothe anxiety.
  • Food can soothe sadness and be our only nonjudgmental friend. 
  • Food can be a distraction from circumstances.
  • Even the texture of food can be a way to work out emotions (crunching chips when you are anxious or angry; eating ice cream when you need something smooth to calm you; or eating "comfort food" when you need comfort!)

Deeper Component than emotions or habits

  • Connections to food can be so deep that there might not even be an awareness of why we eat.
  • Are you trying to make yourself unapproachable?
  • Are you hiding and trying to make yourself invisible?
  • Are you recreating a time in your childhood that was happy for you?

Food as a coping mechanism

There is nothing to be ashamed of if you find yourself using food as a coping mechanism.

I mentioned a few reasons where food can be used as a coping mechanism:

  • to soothe
  • to comfort
  • to distance ourselves for people, situations and events
  • to avoid a situation

This is all NORMAL, my friends.  You are wired to avoid pain and discomfort. Yes, going for a run or knitting up a storm could also help you out, but in terms of addictive substances, I think you are lucky if it is only food.

Stop beating yourself up!

I keep a little thumbnail picture of myself (very overweight) on my dresser taken over 30 years ago. I was a young mother at the time, just beginning to work outside the home and juggling all my obligations of being a mother with young children, sticking to a budget, coming home exhausted, etc. etc.

I often look at that picture and say, "THANK YOU."

THANK YOU that it was only food (as painful as it is to be still needing to lose weight in my 60s!). THANK YOU that it was not drugs or cigarettes or alcohol or abusive behavior towards myself or my loved ones. 

Now I know to say THANK YOU to my brain and its brilliant evolution.

How brilliant it was of me to cope with food rather than have it come out sideways in all sorts of other destructive behaviors! Having emotional eating habits is so much better than having emotional drug or alcohol habits, I am sure.

My own emotional eating habit: Anxiety as a trigger

Fast forward to last night: I am a very anxious person. No particular reason for it, but often I can feel my body buzzing with anxiety (I don't know how else to put it). It is just the way I am wired. I am driving my grandson home from daycare and all of a sudden I have this urge to get into a stash of lollypops I keep in the car for the kids. (Yes, even Granny Keto gives the kids lollypops.) 

Normally I would do that, but this time I just took a couple of deep breaths and listened for the buzz. Yes I was anxious. It was dark, I still had to go through two dangerous intersections before it was clear sailing the rest of the way to the house, and, as I said, I don't particularly need any other reason to be anxious. I just was.

While I was processing that I did not need to grab for food, I thought back to the day before when I was feeling anxious about something else and my first reaction was to run to the kitchen to eat something. Again, I had stopped myself and realized I was looking to soothe the anxiety and it had nothing to do - NOTHING - with hunger.

I have been doing this more and more often. When I find myself hungry I take those few minutes to ask if I am really hungry (like at least 4-5 hours from my last meal) or whether the hunger is masking a need to soothe anxiety. 

I don't beat myself up that I want to run to food. Instead I think, "Boy, Miriam. Your brain, impulses and urges are working perfectly!"

And let me say here, had I not stopped myself I might have beaten myself up for anxiety eating, but even those beat ups are fewer and fewer. I understand that nothing good comes from a place of hatred, and that if I realize what just happened and forgive myself for it, I am more likely not to anxiety eat in the future. I wrote a blog on this, The Power of Forgiving Yourself.

Working with a coach or a therapist

If your coping mechanisms arise from deeper connections than habits or emotions, I would like to encourage you to seek a therapist to explore the issues and see how you can approach breaking the chains.

  • A coach moves things forward from where you are now. This takes a lot of grit and determination. Many people, even those with deep issues, will find success in working with a coach but sometimes you cannot move yourself past the mountains. 
  • A therapist helps you uncover the reason you are so dependent on using food for a coping mechanism and would help you explore this in a safe environment, and help pull you through to less destructive behaviors. 

(With my example of anxiety eating above, a coach would be a perfect choice, just moving me forward from the place of realizing that I eat from anxiety. A therapist might have been needed to make and understand the connection.)

 I want to leave you with these few thoughts...

  • You could have done so much worse for yourself. But, here you are and you haven't given up.
  • Be kind to yourself. No meaningful and lasting change can come from a place of hating yourself. Love the fact that you are willing to hit the reset button and try again.
  • Love the fact that you can...just maybe...effect a pattern interrupt now that you know that this is not your fault.
  • We can laugh and say, "The sugar made me do it." But it's the truth. Let's find new ways and forge new neural pathways. Be mindful. Be willing to break free from diet prison.


Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself for what is perfectly natural in terms of triggers, connection and emotional eating habits. Remember: Just because you are one of millions of emotional eaters does not mean that you are broken, stupid or lazy. A few adjustments and "new pathways" are what you need.

Learn more about this with my book and course:

Book Breaking Free From Diet Prison: Common Sense Keto and Low Carb 

Course Breaking Free From Diet Prison: The Roadmap to Low Carb and Keto Success

  • Here is your FREE bonus guide that gives you a worksheet to work through why you want sugar and why you have forged those emotional eating habits pathways. 

    The Brilliance of Chocolate Cake 


Understanding Your Hunger Scale

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