How to Stop Emotional Eating

Podcast Episode #025: How to Stop Emotional Eating

You're sad, angry, confused, frustrated or maybe just plain tired...

It's in those moments that your willpower is at its weakest and the desire to eat some comfort food can be at full strength.

Emotional eating is a powerful force to overcome, but it can be done by practicing a few simple strategies. Today we'll look at how to stop emotional eating by implementing Renee Cefalu's simple 8-step strategy.

Episode Resources:

How to Stop Emotional Eating [Full Text]

Hey, thanks so much for joining me in this episode of the Make Your Body Work podcast. This show is all about providing you with quick and practical answers to all your health, fitness, weight loss questions.

Really, we're just trying to experience life better. We're trying to live better lives, live smarter lives, and overall improve our health and wellness. Thanks for joining me today.

I have a really great question today from Rachel M. Let's dive right in. Rachel says,

"I've been listening to your podcasts for a while now. I'm really trying to apply what I've learned, but I still struggle so much with my emotional eating. I know I turn to food when I'm stressed out, but it's very difficult to turn off that habit. Sometimes I even catch myself in the moment, but then tell myself this will be the last time. It just never is. How can I break this bad habit?"

Rachel, I'll speak for myself and, I think, probably everyone else out there. I've been through this. We've been through this. Those moments where we're eating something and have that awareness and think, "I really wish I wasn't eating this. I really wish I wasn't doing that." The power or the impulse to continue and follow that habit is so much stronger than our willpower or desire to change.

I'm excited because I have a guest who actually just published a book all about this psychology of changing, the psychology of being aware of who we really are and how that relates to our habits and our behaviours. She's going to share an eight step process that can help us through exactly what you've been dealing with and what so many of us deal with. I'd like to welcome to the show Renee Cefalu.

Hey Renee, thanks so much for joining us on the show today.

Renee: Thanks for inviting me.

Meet Renee Cefalu

Dave: I'm really excited to have you on because I've read a lot about you online and a lot about your work. I know that you have a pretty interesting perspective, a psychological perspective on changing habits. I was wondering if you could start off by just telling our listeners what is your background? What's your specialty?

Renee: I've been studying health and wellness for over twenty years. I have a certification through the Institute of Integrated Nutrition. I've studied psychological well being. I have recently published a book called "Serenity of the Mind: The Process of Self Mastery" which is my little journey through changing my own core beliefs and self. I am a holistic health and wellness coach.

Dave: I'm excited. I'm going to put a link in the show notes to your book because it's a perfect summary of what we're talking about today. Rachel wrote in, and her question just in summary I guess was, that she's dealing with emotional eating and she says, "I know I turn to food when I'm stressed out but it's very difficult to change that. I catch myself in the moment, but then tell myself this will be the last time." When you read Rachel's question, what went through your mind right away?

You Are Not Your Mind...

Renee: Which I will touch on in my steps, but I have to say that the fact ... This is interesting concept for people who haven't really thought about it before. The fact is, we are not our minds. Our minds are a consolidation of beliefs passed on from family, friends, and culture, religion. A lot of times the things that we have learned are not true about ourselves.

Much of what you have been told about yourself is not true. You are a complex human being.

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We are really powerful human beings and her statement, excuse me, which the I, meaning consciousness, catches myself, meaning the ego that has pretty much sabotaged the mind, says there's two of us in a sense. Something that can watch ourselves behaving a certain way. Then we touch more on it later. It's a profound statement the fact that she's aware already of her behaviour, which is one of the steps, which is a really good thing Rachel. You're a step ahead, or two steps ahead of yourself. Awareness is the first.

Dave: It's neat hearing you talk because, I read her question at least a dozen times. I never even noticed that before. I'm going to say her statement again. She says, "Sometimes I even catch myself." You described that so beautifully. There are two distinct people in that statement.

Renee: Absolutely, absolutely.

Your Mind Versus Your Ego

Dave: What would you say before ... I know you've got some steps that really will help Rachel and anyone else through this process. Can you maybe just describe ... We talked about this a little bit before, the difference between mind and ego?

Renee: Basically, I always say that the ego has sabotaged the mind. The mind is meant to be used as a tool. It's meant, problem solving, utilizing when you're in a working situation, multi-tasking. When the ego gets involved it brings in a thought process that creates emotion, that creates stress as something that's difficult. When in reality, we are the perceivers and we have the choice of how we look at things. Which is your perception.

If we change our perception we can basically change the outcome of how our thoughts create our feelings in a sense. If you get upset or if you feel stressed because someone's doing something that you don't like, you have control over how you feel that. Basically saying, "I have no control over what this person is doing and I have control over how I'm going to think and how I'm going to feel."

Your mind is a tool, one that you can powerfully control.

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Dave: The ego, tell me if I've got this correctly, the ego is sort of that compilation of our experiences and what other people have said about us or what we've sort of come to believe about ourselves.

Renee: Right. Lots of times what people tell us are who we are or what we're about. When, in reality, we've got to learn who we really are. We've got to pretty much sort through all this stuff and where did it come from. A lot of it's not true. The more we work on ourselves the more we see that this doesn't even belong to me. Somebody else told me that this is who I am.

Or, even coming from our cultures, which I'm not putting culture down whatsoever. There's some great qualities within cultures. Within cultures lots of times they ... We become conditioned on how we're supposed to act. Our authenticity lots of times gets trampled, in a sense.

Dave: I can see how that becomes so important when we're trying to change habits. Without thinking about this quite often it would be easy to assimilate our habits or our behaviors as ourselves. "I am someone who is an emotional eater. I am someone who eats poorly."

Renee: Exactly. The best way ... Never take a habit, emotional eating or whatever habit, and claiming it as your own. It's not you. It's something you borrow which we'll talk about a little later. It's like a habit you've borrowed. It doesn't belong to you. You never want to take claims to something that you A, want to change and B, it's really not who you are.

You are not your habits. Your habits are simply something you borrow.

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Dave: That's powerful. Again, never take ownership of the habit.

8 Steps to Help You Stop Emotional Eating

Step #1 - Awareness

Renee: Right. I actually put together ... I have 8 steps. Basically the first thing as she has it down, which is awesome, is awareness. She's aware that she wants to make these changes and it's a desire to make these changes.

Step #2 - Catch Yourself

The second step is that she already notices her behaviours in action, which is another step. Basically, you catch yourself before you take your action. You remind yourself that the behaviour isn't yours. Never claim that that behaviour belongs to you. It's outside of yourself.

If you claim that it belongs to you, it's pretty much you own it and it's a part of who you are. You don't want to do that with anything. It's like the "I am" you can use in a negative. Again, the negative/positive I don't necessarily like but it's the best way to describe it.

Step #3 - Don't Claim the Habit

Never claim "I am a victim. I am a survivor." Or, "My emotions have control over me." Then you're owning it. Yes, those things happened to you and they were experiences in your life. You want to look at it in the sense, "I am healthy. I have control over my feelings. I have control over these habits." Basically, you are taking the power back instead of giving it away.

Dave: That's powerful. I could see how, when we start to frame things saying, using your word the victim or, "I am an output of certain circumstance." That does seem quite helpless.

Renee: Yes. Stop claiming these things as your own. The fact that she's aware of it, Rachel's aware of it is, the next step is stop claiming it as your own. She's already on her way, which is really positive. Oh, go ahead.

Dave: No, no go ahead.

Renee: I was going to say, the third step would be stop claiming the habit as your own.

Step #4 - Journal Your Experience

The fourth step is journaling your emotions, feelings, and triggers. Basically get them out in writing. You're releasing them. Then look back at them.

Another big key is to look at your history and your past to figure out, try to, some people can't because it's deep in their unconscious. Try to figure out the first time you remember reaching for the food, or whatever habit it may be. This doesn't have to just be emotional eating. It could be any habit that you have. Then, if you can find that trigger, the very first one, start writing down your feelings, what happened, the whole thing. You're releasing that power to the habit. You're acquiring the power back.

Dave: If I can jump in there and just build upon that. In the instance, and this goes for Rachel and anyone else who's dealing with emotional eating, what we're talking about today. That instance comes up. Say I was feeling really sad about something and I reach for that ice cream and I start taking a couple bites of the ice cream. I recognize what I'm doing and say, "Okay, I'm going to change my actions here." What would that journaling process look like? What sort of things would I write?

Renee: The emotions that arise. The trigger, what made you reach for that ice cream, or whatever it is. We are in control of our perception. When we believe that our mind is who we are, we give that power away again.

If we look at, "What stressful situation triggered this and how can I reverse that to tell myself, tell the ego that I am in control?" If you start to notice ... If you put it in terms of the ego, which she's doing. The emotions are coming up. Emotions are always produced by thought. When her feelings arise she's going to look at, "What thoughts do I have going on?" She has the power to reverse those thoughts and know that she's in control of how she looks at any situation.

Dave: That makes sense. The process of starting to journal it and put it onto paper, your feelings in that situation, to kind of give a little bit more clarity about why you're at where you're at?

Renee: Correct. Then, to know also that, don't claim it as your own. Look at it as that you borrowed it as a coping mechanism and that you have the power to take it back. You have the power to reverse it.

Dave: I like that concept of borrowing it as a coping mechanism. I like that. It doesn't sound like ownership at all. "That's not me, but I'm using this right now."

Renee: Yes, exactly.

Dave: That's powerful. Sorry, I interrupted your steps.

Step #5 - Start a New Habit

Renee: No, no. We'll go to the fourth step. I'm sorry, fourth step is journaling emotions, triggers. The fifth step would be starting a new habit, a new replacement behaviour. For her, this is a little challenging too, but it takes 21 days to start a habit. Which, a lot of these habits start in childhood, so you've got years of conditioning.

It takes 21 days to START a new habit, not 21 days to perfect one.

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It takes 21 days to reverse a habit. Instead of, when she feels like she wants to reach for that food, take a big glass of water and drink it. Go for a walk. Breath work is really important, breathing.

When you feel like your emotions are arising, if you focus on your breath, breathing deeply into your mouth and hold for four seconds, release through your mouth. Keep doing that until you gain control of those emotions. It does happen. You have to take practice. It's persistence and practice, but it does work. Practicing the breathing, even when you're not in that emotional trigger, allows you to have more control when those emotions arise where you want to reach for that food.

Dave: I really like that. This is something that I've talked about on the podcast and with other guests as well. I use ... It's a practice called delay, distract, decide. It's very similar to what you're talking about. When we're about to do something that we know we don't really want to do, to just delay that action even momentarily. Pick something, like you said go for a walk or do some breathing. That's the distracting piece. Then after that distraction we've sort of removed ourselves from that instant gratification. Then we can make a more mindful decision, "Do I really want to go ahead and do that?"

Renee: Right, exactly. That would be the fifth step, is replacing the old behavior with a new. It's practice, you have to practice. The other thing, which is in other steps, but you have to be gentle on yourself. Don't let the ego bring in that judgement or shame. If it comes in, catch it that that's not me. The true self is that higher self. That consciousness of being able to watch what's going on.

The more you can watch what's going on with your emotions and your thinking the more control you're going to take back, the more power you're going to take back.

Step #6 - Visualize New Behaviour

The sixth step would be visualizing the new behaviour or action that you'd like to see as an end result. See yourself participating in the new behaviour. Visualize more when you're not tempted to reach for that food. Do it when you're not in emotion because it's more difficult when we're caught up in emotion to break those habits. You've got to start when you're not in the emotion to visualize yourself. Where do you want to see yourself?

Dave: I like that because, I know a lot of the clients that I hear from and work with. It's really easy to beat ourselves up all the time and those instances of "failing" are really highlighted in our minds. Quite often those seem to overpower all the times when we, again, "succeed" or make the choices that we really want to make. They're there every day.

Renee: Absolutely. That's when we have to call out ... I say call out your ego when you see it. The more you gain that power the more you'll have humour and you'll start chuckling when you say, "Hey, oh my gosh I'm doing this" or "Look at this behaviour that I have. That's silly." You'll start to find humour in it. That's over time. At first it's challenging.

Dave: Yeah, totally. I even picture Rachel or myself or anyone who is dealing with adjusting their eating habits. I could see someone going to the kitchen and grabbing some veggies and making some hummus or something that's a really healthy snack and eating that and not thinking twice. If they're applying what you're teaching here, that idea of eating that and thinking, kind of chuckling to yourself, "Yeah, I'm eating some broccoli right now." It sounds funny, but it needs to be recognized.

Renee: Yes, absolutely. Humor has to be a part of the whole process.

Dave: I love that.

Step #7 - Find Gratitude

Renee: Then we'll go onto the seventh step which is finding gratitude and having daily affirmations. I would say starting your day with those. The affirmations are again, the "I am". We talked about not using the "I am" in a negative way like, "I am victim" or whatever that is claiming it to be who you are.

Instead it's like, even if you don't believe it start saying them because eventually you will. "I am healthy. I have control over this habit. I will have control over this habit." You're not using the "I am" but anything with the "I", that consciousness is the I, the self, the myself. Everything else is the ego. I've always said as a joke, "Me, myself, and ..." I love my company, Me, Myself, and I. The self being the soul that's kind of healed, the myself is the ego, and the I is the consciousness watching everything that's going on.

Dave: I like that. I like what you just said about, even if you don't believe it.

Renee: The more you say it the more you're taking it on as ownership, which is the positive ownership. The power that you give your consciousness and taking away the power from the ego.

Dave: Just personally, I've set a whole bunch of really ambitious goals for 2016. I needed to hear what you just said about saying that each day. Even on those days when I wake up and I don't think that I am that or can be that. I just want to emphasize, that's powerful wisdom. Everyone who's listening, start your day with those affirmations. Even if it doesn't feel true, I think what you're saying is it will become true.

Renee: Yeah. Everything is energy. Our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions. That's why it's important to take control of them. When you put something out into the universe, whatever you want to call it. You are creating that. The positive of the "I am" that you're sending out to the universe, the more you're going to be drawing that stuff to you. This is like, quantum physics. It's not like the, woo woo, I studied a lot. It's reality.

Dave: That's great. That's the seventh step and then we cap it off with?

Step #8 - Self Observation

Renee: Eighth step, continual self observation. It's learn with self discipline and with perseverance. You have to continually watch yourself. My book, "Self Mastery", it never ends. You're constantly bettering yourself. Learning to take control of your thoughts and your emotions.

With every little step, it's all worth it. You see the little ... The confidence building. You see the power that you take over aspects of your life that you previously didn't want. It's continual self observation and it's really powerful. You pretty much become the driver of your mind. The consciousness becomes the driver instead of the ego.

Dave: I like that. All those patterns, you talked about habits starting, I like that you said the word start at 21 days. As you observe and see those little instances of habits forming, then they can be reinforced and actually become a long term habit.

Renee: Absolutely.

Make Your Body Work Takeaway

Dave: Renee, I know we're just scratching the surface here, but we try and keep this show super quick and to the point and practical. We always end with something called a Make Your Body Work Takeaway. That's something that, someone listening, whether it's Rachel or someone else that's dealing with this issue of emotional eating, what's the first step that they could do today?

Renee: Again, we're going to go back. It's starting to watch your behaviours, watch your thoughts. Noticing that, the consciousness, noticing that ego and those behaviours. That is, I'm sorry it's really powerful. The very first step really to learning to take control and the self observation.

Dave: I liked, too, how you pointed out, it sounds like Rachel is on that journey right now. Again, just to everyone I want to recap what she says. She says, "I know I turn to food when I'm stressed out, but it's very difficult to turn off that habit." Then she goes on to say, "I catch myself in the moment, but then I tell myself that this will be the last time."

Renee: Right, right. That's that self observation, but then utilizing these other little steps I said to turn that habit around and to take control of it.

Dave: That's fantastic. Rachel, if you're listening I hope you're encouraged by that to know that you are on the right path. You're maybe at step one or step two even into the process.

Renee: I said, pat yourself on the back Rachel. You are.

Dave: That's fantastic. Renee, if someone wanted to find out more about you or about your book or your work, where's the best place that they can connect with you?

Renee: My book's on Amazon. You can find it, "Serenity of the Mind: The Process of Self Mastery" or just type in my name, Renee Cefalu, which it's C-E-F-L-U. My website, which I'm trying to change the URL, but currently it's

Dave: Okay, I will put a link to that in the show notes. I know that that's a mouthful.

Renee: It is, and I'm going to get that changed.

Dave: One project at a time. I'll give you a link to that in the show notes. Anyone who is a regular listener of Make Your Body Work you can just go to my blog and find the podcast notes there and we'll link that to Renee, and to your book as well.

Renee: Awesome, thank you so much.

Dave: Great. Thanks so much Renee.

Renee: Thank you.

Dave: Thanks again Renee for joining us and thanks for that process and just for your wisdom and giving us a bit better understanding of why we do the things that we do and what that really means for who we are as people and how we can change that going forward.

Thanks to you, the listeners, for joining in. This is ... You're the reason that I do this show every week. You're the reason that I'm excited about it and inspired to keep on going. Thanks for tuning in, thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to join me here.

As always, if you have a question for the show feel free to email me at If you want to see the show notes for this show, really easy, all you need to do is type in That will take you right to this episode. Thanks again, have a great week, and we'll see you here next week.

Thanks for joining me today!