I am happy to highlight today this excellent conversation between Jason and Dr. Allan Bacon on emotional eating and cravings. This is part 3 of a 4-part conversation, and parts one and two were both information-packed, “knowledge bombs” (as Jason called them) as well. However, this topic is close to my heart and I suspect relevant to many of us, so I wanted to be sure to create a space for us to discuss it.
Dr. Bacon begins with an explanation of emotional eating and defining the different types of hunger–physical hunger and emotional hunger. He explains that for many of us, we learn emotional eating as a coping strategy in our childhood or teen years in order to help us manage uncomfortable emotions like stress, fear, boredom, and loneliness. He points out the hopeful fact that because this is a learned behavior, stemming from our environments, this means we can unlearn it, too. He is careful to acknowledge that it isn’t easy, and we need to have a lot of self-compassion as we go through recognizing these tendencies in ourselves and finding new coping strategies.
Dr. Bacon shares a strategy at this point to help folks disrupt the rumination that can come with cravings called 54321. This is a new-to-me strategy, but it closely mirrors some skills I use to help me with my PTSD when I can feel a flashback or other trauma response coming on. Each number represents an observation grounded in one of the senses: What are 5 things you see around you? 4 things you can touch? 3 things you can hear? 2 things you can smell? One thing you can taste? The goal, as Dr. Bacon explains it, is to slow the mind and bring us to the present. While I haven’t tried this during a craving, I have grounded myself in the present by, say, looking around and identifying as many things of a particular color as I can find. Or, I might do a body scan, starting with my feet, and noticing what sensations I experience first in my toes, then up my foot, to the ankle, etc. These strategies often help me remain present when I’ve been triggered. Sometimes they prevent a flashback from taking hold, sometimes they just delay it. Both are good and help me take care of myself, and it sounds like Dr. Bacon sees similar results from the 54321 strategy for folks trying to break the habits of giving in to all of their cravings. I really appreciate his focus on making progress, which becomes apparent later in the episode, identifying that both delay of emotional eating or substitution behaviors are still disruptions to the pattern.
After this discussion, Jason and Dr. Bacon get into a really interesting conversation about mindset and restriction. I have a lot to say about this, and actually, I already have a post set to go out Monday on dietary restriction vs. restraint. The gist of this conversation fits very nicely into what I will say then, so I won’t go into a ton of detail right now, but I mostly agree with them that there can be benefits to setting boundaries with ourselves for a while with certain foods and the degree to which it is problematic comes from how we think about it. Dr. Bacon talks about how just recognizing that we are choosing different foods rather than cutting them out can help us to feel less restricted and more in control. I also agree that not all boundary-making needs to be problematic. I think it can feel like a “slippery slope” to folks who tend towards over-restriction. I also think there’s an unspoken expectation from better coaches about being selective with what we choose to avoid for a while–choosing a few things to change at a time, and not advocating for a total revamp/overhaul, going on a sugar-free lemon-juice-and-cayenne-pepper-cleanse. I think this selective choice is what Dr. Bacon means when he talks about “detoxing” from certain foods, although I don’t love the use of that word. It makes me think of “clean eating” and orthorexic tendencies to abstain from long lists of foods they deem “toxic.”
The last 10 minutes goes into a long list of other skills that could help someone break the habit of emotional eating including waiting 15 minutes before giving into a craving, monitoring our emotions and logging how we felt in the few hours before cravings to see if there’s a pattern, and one of my favorite strategies, meal prep. There’s a lot of practical tips here, and if this is an area you struggle with, I strongly encourage you to listen to the episode and take lots of notes.
There are times in my life when emotional eating has been problematic, and a lot of what Dr. Bacon says here rings true for me. Ultimately, the goal for me is to feel like I’m in the driver’s seat, getting to decide where I go and how I get there. I have used many of the strategies discussed here, including seeing a wonderful therapist to help me learn to manage my emotions in more healthful ways. I doubt the work is ever really over, but I am happy to say that it feels like far less of a disruption to my life than it has in the past.
Have you taken steps to reduce emotional eating? What in the podcast rings true for you? I’d love to hear from you! Join the conversation here or find Progressive Strength on Facebook. (Here is our comment policy.)