Take Control of Emotional Eating with These 3 Steps


April: Hi! I’m April Perry here with Jonathan Bailor, back with another episode of the SANE Show. How are you doing today Jonathan?

Jonathan: I’m doing great April. I’m especially happy because I noticed you’re little lower third on our video recording here has got this wonderful smiling picture of you in it and it is a new addition.

April: Oh, I forgot to put my logo in! All right. So I’m really excited today. We’re going to be talking about emotional eating and this is one of those topics where I don’t know if you have a lot of experience with this. I don’t know if this has been an issue for you but it’s been a huge issue for me in the past and for a lot of my friend and a lot of the people I’ve worked with. So we’re going to try to figure out some ways to be helpful with this in a very SANE way. Does that sound good?

Jonathan: That sounds great and I can tell you I appreciate the idea that I don’t have any issues with emotional eating. That means this persona of Superman that I try to emit is working! But no, I definitely too have issues with emotional eating.

April: Okay, so maybe we should start with your stories. Tell me your stories Jonathan.

Jonathan: Well, to be very, very, very transparent, I think all of us have things that we turn to in times of stress and I personally – like I don’t drink alcohol at all. It’s not for any particular reason, I just don’t drink alcohol, and I’m a pretty clean liver on all aspects. My wife and I have a pretty boring and staid existence. So food and also exercise are two areas that I have often turned to in emotional times, exercise being really universally positive when it comes to dealing with stress. But eating can potentially be something negative when it comes to stress.

The thing that I found to be very, very helpful is within the SANE framework the idea of binge eating, or eating too much, is not so much of an issue. Like if you want to eat a lot of SANE foods that’s not so much of an issue, in fact it can actually be helpful. So just the nature of the SANE framework can sometimes help with emotional eating. Just one more quick thing then I’ll take a breath is I actually don’t think emotional eating is a problem, and I’ve said this before. I think that eating is intrinsically emotional, unless we go into the movie the Matrix where they eat unflavored sludge. Every time we eat we’re eating at some level for emotional fulfillment. The key is to have control over that emotion and to have outlets where if we lose control it’s not the end of the world. Like it might not be great but it’s a recoverable not great.

April: I love how you put that and I think that as we just acknowledge that, that this is an emotional thing and that if when you have stress or you have something in your life that you feel the need to eat, and you do eat that you don’t necessarily have to see that as a bad thing, especially when you’re doing it SANELY. So okay, I’m actually getting really excited to talk about this. So I’ll share just a few stories, just as far as being able to relate to those who are listening and who are struggling with this.

So the first time I can remember eating for an emotional reason was when I was 13 years old. I had a TV in my bedroom and I remember on the weekends or if it was in the evening and I didn’t have really any friends to hang out with and my family wasn’t really doing anything I just remember I’d sit in my room, and I’d watch TV, and I would eat continuously. I mean it wasn’t really bad food necessarily, but I’ll go get a bagel, then I’ll go have a salad, then I’ll have some cereal. I would just kind of eat to fill the time. My dad would come knock on the door and he would say, “April, do you want to go do something with your friends? Do you want to go on a walk?” He would ask me do you want to do something. So I was a teenager, awkward, and I’d say, “No, it’s fine I’ll just stay here.” I’ve been talking with Alea about that and I thought okay, so sad. Those were just sad evenings where I would just sit there and just kind of use food as my friend.

As I’ve been talking with a lot of different people through our SANE families program, and just as they’ve known I’ve been working with you, a lot of people will say things like I’m going through a really had time in my life. I’ve been just gaining so much weight because I go and I eat, I stuff my face. I just do whatever I can to deal with the stress and I can’t even think about being healthy. So I’m finding that this is a very, very common issue of people don’t know what to do next.

Jonathan: Yeah, and of the two really key distinctions that you just hit on right there is almost most of the time when we think of stress eating we think of eating a lot, and the good news is that is the – no one who is emotional eating with one Hershey’s Kiss, or they’re not popping a Pringles can and eating one Pringle. I think the key thing that I’ve experienced with working with people, and that I’ve also experienced personally, is that there is – to be sort of literal and metaphysical at the same time – we are using a high volume of food to fill a hole or a gap emotionally. I don’t mean that like a deep, oh my gosh I’m in this deep depressive hole. I mean, just like for me personally, at the end of the day the thing that I look forward to the most is sitting down for a half hour watching a little bit of Netflix and eating a bunch of food and going to bed completely full and satisfied. Because after feeling metaphorically empty, being used up by the day – not in a bad way empty like my life is meaningless, but empty in the sense of my fuel tank is on low and I want to fill it up. Then maybe even then some. The ability to do that in a SANE framework is transformational because in a calorie counting model there is no way to make that work. You just can’t because —

April: You just go hungry.

Jonathan: You just go hungry, right. Where in a SANE framework some people might argue that it sort of sounds ridiculous to emotionally eat on some of the foods we’ll suggest. But I promise you that when your taste buds change, when you start to go SANE, when you start to derive as much pleasure from SANE foods as you would from insane foods, the types of things that you could “binge eat” on are not – there’s no reason to feel the sort of shame that would come with binge eating historically. Honestly, there no reason to ever feel that shame because honestly, if you’re going to go off the ranch, the worst thing you could do is then compound that with beating yourself up with more sort of shame afterwards.

April: Yes, and I think we’re going to need to get into some of these things that would be okay to binge eat. I think that’s something – we’re not saying let’s just eat just to fill ourselves until full, but I love that it’s okay to be full. That was something that I was always taught was wrong. That you should always be not quite full. You should always just eat just enough, just so that you’re not hungry, but never eat so you’re full. I found that especially as I was pregnant, as I’m nursing babies, as I’m chasing toddlers and now as I’m running older kids around to basketball practice and things like that. If I can’t ever be full, I’m on edge and I’m grumpy a lot.

That’s what I love about SANE is I can eat as much as I want. I never have to feel hungry and I’m really patient and I’m really calm for the most part. My family might of course share some other details but I think that it’s a really important distinction there to let people know it’s okay to eat, it’s okay to be full, it’s okay to not feel like you’re constantly denying yourself the privilege of eating. That somehow if you ever do just say I’m sorry, I can’t take it anymore I got to eat so that I’m full that now that just shows how weak you are.

Jonathan: That’s exactly right, and the “I’ve got to eat so that I’m full”, like let’s get into this. Let me be very specific in that this is not – you know, sometimes some of this stuff can sound too good to be true. I want to be very transparent here and to say that what we aren’t saying is like when you go SANE magically if you choose to eat five pints of Haagen-Dazs Ice Cream that’s awesome and we should do that and that helps our health, right? Like that’s not what we’re saying, but what we are saying is once you take the time to learn how to enjoy SANE versions of all the flavors we love: sweets, salty, savory, fatty, bitter, so on and so forth. This idea, like I just used Haagen-Dazs for an example, there are SANE versions of ice cream where if you chose to sit down and eat them, eat 32 ounces of SANE ice cream that can – I mean as you’ve actually given examples of April, there’s like a SANE ice cream like thing that you eat for breakfast sometimes. Not only do you not feel bad, but it helps you goals.

That’s the key thing here is it’s not about deprivation. It’s not about being hungry. It’s about finding smart substitutions and clearly we don’t want to eat until we’re on the verge of vomiting on a consistent basis. But, if we need to do that and we do that with SANE substitutions it can be minimally harmful, if not helpful in certain contexts.

April: Okay, so should we start talking about some of the practicals because people are probably thinking okay, I can be full. I don’t have to go to bed hungry. If I had an emotional day I can eat. What do I eat then? So here’s a question. So maybe you do want me to start out and share what I’ve been doing, then you can give me advice on that.

Jonathan: Absolutely! Yeah.

April: Okay, so what I typically do is I mean, throughout the day I’m totally satisfied. For example, this morning I just had a big green smoothie, I had eggs for breakfast, I feel really great. I’ll go have a great lunch and I’ll have dinner. You know, I’m feeling really good during the day. Then what usually happens is the same thing as you were saying, about nine o’clock at night, something like that, the kids are finally in bed, I can breathe. It’s been a few hours since dinner and I’m thinking I’m kind of hungry. So in the past I would have gone and just gotten a bowl of cereal, or a bowl of ice cream, or I would get those little mini Twix bars and I would eat those because I thought they were really good.

Now what I do is first I assess my vegetables for the day and I just say how many servings of vegetables have I had today? Do I feel like maybe just eating a few more vegetables first? So I’ll get a bell pepper, or I’ll grab a few carrots, or maybe just a cucumber, or something like that. I’ll just start with some vegetables just because I like that and it’s an easy way to start. Then I think about protein and I usually will look in the frig and see if there’s maybe some leftovers from dinner that I want. Or, one of my favorites I did last night, I love Greek yogurt with some Stevia, come cocoa powder, a little bit of natural peanut butter, and it tastes like chocolate mousse to me. So I can eat that and it’s protein and it’s all pretty much SANE. Then I go to bed totally full and happy and I don’t even think about it anymore. So that’s what I do.

Jonathan: You hit the nail on the head there April. In fact, you mentioned that sort of a mousse type recipe and one of the things that I’m really excited about, and folks are already seeing this with some of the new recipe books we’re putting out and recipes around SANE sweets. Things like chocolate, or macadamia nuts, or coconut. These things we would have historically think of, like you probably are thinking of a Mounds bar, or an Almond Joy bar right now. You know, chocolate, coconut. But things like cocoa, things like macadamia nuts, things like coconuts, these are not only not bad for us, but when eaten in their pure, natural form. Like cocoa. Not chocolate but cocoa, with SANE sweeteners, and shredded, unsweetened coconut and macadamia nuts. These are our optimal sources of fats.

But like if were to say eat more eggs. You’re like okay, I can see how to do that. But if I say hey, eat more coconut, cacao and macadamia nuts. It’s not immediately obvious how you would incorporate that into your daily routine. But you can use those to make SANE sweets and SANE treats, then within the SANE framework where you’re looking for three to six servings of whole food fats per day, you can use those SANE sweets and treats. At that point they’re not even treats, they’re the way you get to that three to six servings of whole food fats and not even whole food fats but the optimal sources of whole food fats. So that’s really good news.

April: So going through the SANE recipe books, going through and looking for more recipes that include whole food fats I think is a great idea. I had some blueberries and made a little blueberry crisp with almond flour and some coconut oil. Okay, question though: Whole food fats, you can overdo it. So what do you do? Let’s say you’re about to sit down to eat something at the end of the day. You don’t want to eat six servings of whole food fats as you’re sitting there, right? You wouldn’t want to just get a bag of almonds and eat a bunch of almonds. I mean you kind of have to be careful. So do you eat a little bit of vegetables and make sure there’s some protein in there and then add fats? Or what do you do to make sure that you don’t just fill up on fats every night?

Jonathan: You’re exactly right April. In fact, the example you gave is perfect where you order your eating. So you always start with the non-starchy vegetables. Then you would sort of move on to the nutrient dense protein. Then you would finish with whole food fats, and that actually works perfectly because most often we finish our meal – if we’re going to eat dessert we eat it at the end. So that’s where the whole food fats would come into play. They would serve as a dessert.

One of my favorite things to do when I just want to eat, like I’m watching a movie and I just want to be putting food into my mouth is like you said: vegetables. I personally really like cabbage. I really like red raw cabbage, it’s very crunchy, it’s very delicious. Baby carrots. I love cucumbers in that context, delicious. Then if you can get some of those nutrient dense proteins in there, in some of the SANE certified dessert recipes will use things like a whey or a casing protein or a pea or a rice protein in the recipe, so you’re going to get it in there already. That will help you to avoid overdoing it. But you’re exactly right, you don’t want to eat fats just on their own.

Just one quick anecdote around – we often associate emotional eating with something negative because it is perceived that we are overeating in those contexts. The good news is that when it comes to eating SANE foods, it is physically difficult to overeat them when you eat them correctly. Let me just give you a quick anecdote. I was reading a book over the weekend about body building, just because sometimes body builders have very, very cutting edge approaches to nutrition and exercise.

In the book it was talking about people who want to get bigger. So the opposite of what most people want to achieve. What it was saying, it was like a call out in the book and it was talking about how fats are not bad for you, so on and so forth. It was like warning: As you start to eat more healthy fats you might get too full to eat the number of calories you need to become a big, strong body builder. So it was like saying these are so filling that you actually might want to watch out because they might cause you to not be able to overeat where in the context of body building, overeating is good because that’s the only way you can build muscle.

The point being, if you were to do what you just described. If you started with vegetables, then even if you say I want to eat something sweet so I’m going to have like a SANE vanilla almond meal bar. If you just ingest 30 grams of fiber and like 25 grams of protein in 30 minutes, it will be physically difficult for you to overeat. Like you’ll reach that point so quickly.

April: Okay, so I think that this is really exciting and I feel like instead of having to talk about all the reasons why we shouldn’t eat emotionally and why we just need to get over it, or we just need to figure out our lives, or stop being stressed. Those are the things that I feel like I usually hear whenever I hear somebody talking about emotional eating. I think instead what I hear you saying is let’s go discover more SANE foods you like to eat that can help you during that time. It can be chocolate and it can be something salty, or it can be something that you would typically go to. Yes, it’s not going to taste exactly the same. I mean, I can’t make it identical, but your tastes do start to change and get closer.

So I feel like for those people who are going through really hard times, which I know, I talk with them. I have been that person too and I still am at some points in my life. But I feel such compassion when I’m talking to someone who has gained weight, who doesn’t like the way that they look, and they’re going through stress, and they’re feeling overwhelmed and they don’t even know how to talk about it to anybody. That’s super overwhelming. That’s a really hard place to be and I feel like that’s just why I love SANE and I want everyone to be able to come try it and see what happens. Because when you know I can be full, I can eat, I can have fun and it’s okay if I’m emotional in the process, it’s not going to negatively impact me. That just seems like the best of both worlds. So I’m pretty excited about that.

Jonathan: It’s very exciting April, and it also just shows – I would encourage and I would just urge everyone to any time that any person or any program makes food seem like it’s bad, or negative, or you should be ashamed. I mean, you got to take a step back. You’ve got to give yourself permission to take a step back and say food is – I mean the oldest health anecdote that I’ve ever heard is from Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is food is medicine. “Let food be thy medicine.” So anything, like even this emotional eating, if you thought of food as medicine, which it is when you eat the proper foods. Then if you’re feeling sick to take some medicine actually makes a lot of sense, right?

April: Yes! All right, so next action. I’m thinking something like go research the SANE cookbooks. Go research the SANE Pinterest boards and find something that looks exciting to you to try to eat next time you’re feeling overwhelmed. So that’s one idea. Any other thoughts Jonathan?

Jonathan: I love that, and I would say as a stretch goal, because this might sound a little bit odd for many people, but I would say try to find a vegetable that you just like eating in mass. The most common that I’ve found are sugar snap peas, baby carrots, red cabbage, or cucumbers. And you might have some suggestions. But the next time you’re going to sit down to watch a movie, next time you’re going to sit down to watch television, next time you’re going to sit down and you just want something crunchy, try to just do that with that vegetable and just try to do that a couple times. Start to get in the habit of that, and I think that’s going to have some pretty transformative effects on your life as well as your health.

April: That sounds perfect. And yes, I think right now I use romaine lettuce, I love making a big huge salad. There’s lots of things you could do, and it doesn’t come naturally necessarily because the natural feeling might be the bowl of popcorn or the Cheetos, or something else that you were given when you were younger or that you’ve come to enjoy eating. But honestly, the more that you start turning to those vegetables and then throwing in some other foods that are going to be healthy, the more you’re going to feel really excited about your diet. You’re actually going to find that you’re emotional issues start going away as you move through them and as you see your life and your health becoming better. That becomes pretty awesome!

So thank you so much for being with us for today’s episode of the SANE Show. It has been really a wonderful experience for me to talk about these things and not feel ashamed and to be able to feel excited to eat a lot of food. So thanks for being with us and remember to stay SANE.

  • All of us have things we turn to in times of stress.
  • Eating can become a negative thing during stressful times if you are eating the wrong foods.
  • Every time we eat, we are eating for some emotional fulfillment; the key is to have control over that emotion and to have outlets where if we lose control, we can recover from it.
  • Some people use food as a friend or to deal with stress.
  • When we emotionally eat, we are using a high volume of food to fill a gap in our lives.
  • At the end of the day we are often tired, and we want to fill our ‘tank’ up.
  • In a SANE framework, you can eat at the end of the day when you feel like it and also feel content.
  • When you eat SANEly you don’t need to deny yourself the privilege of eating.
  • Once you take the time to learn how to enjoy all the SANE versions of the foods you love, you can enjoy them whenever you are hungry or feel the need to eat.
  • Always order your eating by starting with non-starchy vegetables, then move on to nutrient-dense protein, and then whole food fats. This will help assure that you don’t eat too many whole food fats.
  • We often perceive emotional eating as something negative, because it is assumed that we are overeating if we are emotionally eating. It is physically very difficult to overeat SANE foods.
  • Discover more SANE foods you like to eat that can help you at those times when you feel an emotional need to eat.
  • Anytime a program makes food seem shameful, give yourself permission to step back and acknowledge that food is medicine.
  • An nice evening snack could include some plain Greek yogurt mixed with cocoa powder, stevia, and natural peanut butter for a mousse-like dessert.
  • You can use healthy fats such as raw coconut, cocoa, and macadamia nuts to create a healthy dessert.
  • Munch on crunchy cabbage, cucumbers, etc. and try to satisfy your cravings SANEly.