Emotional Eating
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What to do when you know what to eat but don’t follow it

Dietitian Andrea Holwegner on Global Calgary

“I know what to eat but I can’t seem to follow it” is a common comment that frustrates many of our clients that are trying to improve their health or improve their energy at work.

If you are overweight and struggling with weight loss or working through a disordered relationship with food or an eating disorder (such as anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder) you are likely familiar with the strong pull your emotions have on your eating habits.Emotional Eating burger

If you have struggled to follow through on eating according to a plan, you are not alone. In fact, I would say this would describe the vast majority of our clients.

Knowing what to eat is one thing but the biggest challenge with a healthy eating plan is working through why we either follow a plan or get off course. While there are many factors related to why we eat what we eat, our emotions are a large driver.

What effect do emotions have on our eating habits?

It is completely normal to eat differently in response to either negative or positive emotions. Emotional eating only becomes a significant concern if you are frequently eating in a way that makes you uncomfortable and is influencing both your overall physical and mental health.

Emotional eating denying foodThink about how different emotions influence what, when, where and how much you eat.

  • Do you eat more/less or choose different foods when you are happy, peaceful, exhilarated, hopeful, excited, grateful, confident or refreshed?
  • Do you eat more/less or choose different foods when you are afraid, confused, self-conscious, exhausted, bored, angry, sad or anxious?

Overeating can sometimes be thought of as stuffing uncomfortable emotions that are hard to talk about or feel overwhelming to manage.

Undereating can sometimes be thought of as starving uncomfortable emotions in an attempt to feel more empty, in control, or numb.

What could I do if I am prone to stuffing emotion (overeating)Emotional eating binge

  1. Work on mindful eating. When you are eating, only eat. Stop multitasking. Eat away from the distractions of driving, working on the computer, surfing on your phone or watching TV.
  2. Slow down the pace of eating. Take a few deep breaths before eating and pause between bites.
  3. Allow yourself to savour your bites and enjoy whatever it is you are eating. Take time to use all your senses to enjoy your meal (sight, sound, smell, taste and mouthfeel/texture).
  4. Plate your food in a bowl or on a plate instead of eating out of bags, packages or containers. This helps your eyes and your stomach connect hunger and satiety cues easier.
  5. Sit down at a kitchen table at home or quite place away from your desk at work. Eating while standing at the fridge or pantry, in your bedroom, while driving or on your computer at work does not create an enjoyable mindful eating experience.

What could I do if I am prone to starving emotion (undereating)?Emotional eating, blocking food

Many of the above strategies that help for overeating are also useful if you are prone to undereating in response to uncomfortable emotions.

You should also be sure to work on developing what we refer to as a mechanical eating routine which is eating according to a schedule by the clock rather than trusting intuitive hunger cues. If you have been undereating regularly your ability to trust hunger cues will not be reliable and likely lead to further undereating. It is important to first learn to eat according to a set plan rather than how you feel. Often if you are not feeling hungry it is easier to eat smaller meals and snacks (3 meals and 3 snacks) than to try and eat 3 square larger meals.

What else can I do if I am still struggling with emotional eating?

Work with a Registered Psychologist and Registered Dietitian that both specialise in emotional eating and eating disorders, as this is a unique skill and area of practice.

Your dietitian can help you:

  • dive into both the food, nutrition, body and weight management science to help you effectively learn what, when, how much and why to eat for good health.
  • learn to decrease anxiety about hard to manage or fear food, dispel myths and eliminate confusion about trendy foods or dieting behaviour.
  • improve your relationship with ALL foods chosen for both health but also soulful foods chosen for taste, enjoyment, celebration and socialising.
  • understand the many types of hunger and be able to work towards an intuitive eating relationship with food.

Your psychologist can help you:

  • dig into the deeper answers to the question “what is eating me?”
  • understand the interconnected role of your thoughts, emotions and behaviour surrounding health and eating.
  • work through minor or significant mental health challenges to help you live your best life and shift change.

Where can I find out more information?

Contact us at Health Stand Nutrition to book a nutrition counselling appointment with an experienced Registered Dietitian that specializes in emotional eating or eating disorders (such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder).  We can also recommend our favorite psychologists that we collaborate with regularly that can help support you with behavior change.

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Success stories

"I am a psychologist in private practice and it is very important to me that my clients have the best care with other health care professionals. For that reason Health Stand Nutrition is my only source for exceptional Dietitians. Andrea and her team provide highly knowledgeable, compassionate, and real world support to my clients who require assistance with food lifestyle. I trust my clients to them and you would be in excellent hands making them part of your health care team."
Adele Fox, Psychologist
“This is the first time I feel satisfied; my cravings have diminished dramatically and I have a whole new relationship with food. I am eating guilt-free for the first time in my life. My energy has also dramatically increased and I feel great!
Rhonda Jenkins, Nutrition Counseling Client
“The Dieticians at Health Stand Nutrition help you to take action on the science behind eating well by making it practical, understandable, and fun. Their office is cozy and not at all clinical or intimidating. I felt like I was sitting down with a really smart, caring friend who wanted to help me make the best choices for my lifestyle and food preferences. They really are the best in the business.”
Marty Avery, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I have come to think of the program as a one stop shopping excursion for everything one needs to know about creating a joyous relationship with food and our bodies. In a single word, the course has gifted me with freedom from the punishing rigidity of disordered eating, old stories that never were true, and body dysmorphia that did nothing but make me lose sight of a body that has done everything I've asked, despite my careless dismissal of her needs. Now when I look in the mirror I find myself shifting from harsh criticism to gentle gratitude.”
Lynn Haley, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“I spent 3 hours when first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. I learned more from my Dietitian about food in those 3 hours than I had learned in all the years of my life. I also love the newsletter, there is always something to learn.”
Peter Whitehead, Nutrition Counseling Client
“I didn’t realize how strong my “diet mentality” was, and all the rules I had in my head about food. I was in a cycle of reward/punish/binge/cringe. I booked with your business very reluctantly, on the repeated advice of my doctor, to get my slowly rising cholesterol levels in check. I thought I knew everything about food, and my behaviour with food, but I was definitely re-schooled. My weight is creeping down, I feel good about my diet, exercise, body image, and lifestyle.”
Amy Floyd, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Thanks Andrea for an amazing presentation, I have heard all positive remarks from attendees and the evaluations show the same sentiment. It is really gratifying when a speaker does their “homework” and weaves in our profession’s day to day challenges within their content, you did an awesome job of this! You truly took the “die” out of Dietician! Your information on healthy eating and simplifying how we can work towards this as we are all so busy really hit the mark. Andrea connects very well with her audience; she is energetic, funny, and very approachable.”
Carole Ann LaGrange, Transfusion Medicine Safety Officer

Event Planner for Laboratory Diagnostic Imaging Annual Event

I am a family physician who sees patients with a myriad of eating concerns – from wanting to know how to plan healthy meals for active families, to weight loss, to eating disorders, and so on. I cannot recommend the Health Stand team highly enough. I have worked with (and been to!) other Dieticians in the past and too often find that they just ask for food logs and make suggestions that are easily obtained online or in books. The Dieticians at Health Stand offer much more than just telling clients what they “should be eating.” In contrast, the team really does more of a counselling practice, and they work hard to help their clients learn more about why their eating habits may be off track and not optimal for them, as well as helping people to effect change at a deep level that, most importantly, is sustainable for lifetime health.”
Dr. Deb Putnam, Family Physician

Nutrition Counseling Client & Referring Physician

“I am a busy mom, with kids in high level sports, working full-time downtown, and running our home acreage outside the City. I now have the knowledge and tools I need to plan for and manage the chaos of meal planning.”
Gillian Gray, Pursuit of Healthiness Online Course Participant
“As a construction company, we select speakers who can relate to our industry and its employees. Andrea’s message was delivered with humor and empathy. She makes people feel as though they can make changes without leaving behind every favorite food. Andrea focused her presentation on healthy eating as a way to keep energy high throughout the day. This message and the way it was delivered resonated with our predominantly male, blue collar culture. I would highly recommend Andrea as a speaker for groups such as ours. She will get your message across without alienating anyone in your audience – which is a huge hurdle when trying to introduce a wellness program in the workplace!”
Stephanie Wood, HR and Safety Manager

Fisher Construction Group, Burlington, WA

I found my Dietitian warm, funny, and skilled at teaching nutrition concepts without the overwhelm. The general approach of each session was to mix science with emotion, which was exceedingly effective in helping me shift my perspective on food from one of anxiety to one of joy and curiosity.”
Erin Kronstedt, Nutrition Counseling Client
“Excellent presentation! What a refreshing change to have a speaker inspire rather than “lecture” about nutrition. Your captivating stories, tips and overall approach to healthy eating uplifts and puts people at ease. It was great to hear we don’t need to strive to be perfect eaters, and that small changes really can make a difference in how we feel and in our health. Thanks to Andrea, we have solutions to our everyday nutrition challenges that can actually work in real life!”
Tina Tamagi, Human Resources

ARC Resources Ltd.

“Had I not joined this course I would have struggled with no focus, low energy, and mindless eating. Excellent teaching and motivation. This is not just a course, it is a nutrition club with mentorship, support, and connections with other people with similar situations.”
Lorri Lawrence, Pursuit of Healthiness online course participant

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