Women who struggle with emotional eating often come to me believing that negative emotion is the problem. Which means, they also believe that to change their eating habits they need to focus on creating positive emotion.
This isn’t exactly the case.
The most useful emotions for healthy eating often aren’t positive or negative. They’re completely neutral.
These are the emotions that allow us to make the most deliberate, intentional decisions with food.
In this episode, I clarify what neutral emotions are and how you can harness the power of these emotions right now with your eating habits.
Hello there. How are you doing this week? We are halfway through October of 2021. Can you believe it? It’s absolutely insane. This year has absolutely flown by. So first thing I want to share with you today. Last week I mentioned one of my lovely clients Cathy who has finished her time in my Own Your Eating Habits program. So this means we have worked together privately for 6 months to teach her how to manage her mind, listen to her body, and create systems for naturally healthy eating that she can take with her into the rest of her life. It’s building strong foundations with food. Well, last week I shared her kind words that she had to say about the program so if you didn’t listen to that, be sure to go back and listen to what she had to say, since she’s such an example of what’s possible. But she actually just gave me another update that I wanted to share with you all. So, she came into the program wanting to lose some weight (about 10 pounds or so), but our focus during the program wasn’t weight loss. The focus was really around building strong foundations with food, changing her relationship to healthy eating so it could feel natural to her – the deeper work. Which she was able to achieve. But then, a few days after we ended our time together she sends me this message. She said, “Hey. I wanted to let you know that I haven’t weighed myself in months. I finally recharged my scale because I was curious since I felt a bit lighter. I have lost the 10 pounds since I was at my highest weight in the last 6 months without dieting. Maybe it really can be easy”. You guys. I told her this in our chat, but whenever things like this happen with my clients, it’s just such a moment. Such a moment. Because something they unlearn when they work with me is this hyper-focus on weight loss. Not because there’s anything wrong with wanting to lose weight. But because there’s this urgent, non-useful energy that’s associated with hyper-focusing on the end result of weight loss. It’ll feel too survival-based because your brain’s going to be so attached to the feeling it thinks it will get when it reaches that weight loss. It’s going to feel tempting to quick-fix yourself to that end-result. So, when joining my process women really lean into the understanding that they no longer want to focus on the quick-fix. They want to build strong foundations for naturally healthy eating, so it becomes easy. It just becomes who they are. Knowing that weight loss is a possible end result when they accomplish this. But it can be hard to trust in the process and let go of that when your brain is so attached to it. Cathy is such an example of committing to that trust and detaching herself from the quick-fix methods and the attachment to losing weight. Which ended up showing up in her results as natural weight loss. Without dieting. This is possible for anyone. And when you learn to lose weight, without focusing on weight loss and quick-fixes, that’s how you create results with your body that last. So, so good. So, let’s move on into today’s episode topic. Today, I want to talk with you all about the concept of neutral emotions and the impact that they will have on your eating decisions. We talk about emotions a lot on this podcast. Because they really, really, matter. What you eat, or what’s on a food plan, isn’t the cause of your eating decisions. It’s your emotions. And the emotions that are driving your eating decisions will influence what eating decisions you’re making. It goes without saying that many women, and my clients, when they first find me really struggle with emotional eating. Much like I did in the past. Where it all just feels very reactive and out of your control. You feel like you don’t even know where to start when it comes to your emotional eating. You likely have this story that you’re out of control and that you’re addicted to food. Things like that. It just feels very messy when we don’t understand exactly how to manage our emotional eating. So, when women struggle with emotional eating, I find that most of the time they think the problem is the negative emotion. They’ll say things such as “I overeat because I’m stressed” or “I overeat because I feel anxious when I get home from work”. And this method of thinking is valid. Because we’re not taught otherwise, right? It seems to make sense. We’ll think “Well, I want to indulge in a ton of food right now and I’m feeling overwhelmed, for sure overwhelm must be the issue.” And what this leads to is that these women will mistakenly think that to stop emotionally eating that they need to try and reach for positive emotion all of the time. Like, their negative emotion is the problem and that to stop emotionally eating they should feel positive emotion. I actually think there’s quite a few people who misunderstand what I do and my work, and this is what they think I’m saying, if they’re not listening carefully. They’ll hear me say that emotional eating occurs when a negative emotion occurs, and they’ll think, “Oh. So she’s going to tell me to repeat positive affirmations and talk my way out of the negative emotion”. Hell no. That is not what’s going on here. That is not useful. Here are the things you need to know about this. First, you don’t emotionally eat because of a negative emotion. You don’t overeat because you’re stressed, overwhelmed, any of it. You overeat because you’re unwilling to feel those emotions. That’s the distinction here. Second, you need to know that no emotion can actually be positive or negative. This implies that some emotions are morally better than others. Whether an emotion is positive or negative is an opinion. Emotions can only be comfortable or uncomfortable in your body. Based on the vibration of the emotion. And the reason why I’m clarifying this for all of you is it makes emotional management cleaner. You can’t manage your emotions from a clean place when you’re viewing certain emotions as negative. We can acknowledge that they’re uncomfortable, for sure, but viewing them as negative will never serve you. Uncomfortable emotions are just part of the human experience. And the problem is that as a society it glorifies comfortable, positive emotions. It’s always being advertised to us. Like, that’s how we should feel all of the time. Seriously, go out in the world and take a look. Social media, brand marketing – everything. Are promoting this idea that we should strive for constant and continuous happiness. A world in which negative emotions do not exist. And that’s not possible. But, I digress, the point I’m making is because of the relationship we have to negative emotion, we find ourselves doing anything possible to stay in what we perceive as positive emotion. This is when we do things like put sticky notes everywhere with positive thoughts on them, try and repeat affirmations until a negative emotion goes away – things like that. Things that feel very inauthentic and kind of like BS, if we’re being honest. This is not sustainable. You cannot stay in a positive emotion all of the time. So, eventually what happens, especially with food, is that we lose control. Because constant positive emotion isn’t sustainable and we don’t know how to manage our negative emotion because we think it’s morally wrong. We think we should never experience it. Which eventually leads to a ton of suffering added in many different ways. Now, this is a bit of a higher level concept. So, just know that if it feels a bit overwhelming that’s totally normal. These are concepts my clients learn in-depth over 6 months time. So just keep that in mind. This work goes very deep. But I want to explain how this all relates to neutral emotion, which is the point of this podcast episode. The women in my coaching practice really learn on a deeper level, when they work with me individually, exactly how their emotions lead to every food action. They learn the ins and outs of this. And they learn how they can start managing that in a really tangible way. And at first, when they begin this process, their brain immediately thinks that they want to go from uncomfortable emotion (or negative emotion) to the goal emotions that they want to feel (so the positive emotions). In other words, they want to go from a heightened emotion that feels negative, to a heightened emotion that feels positive. It’s like going from that -100 to +100, right? The reason my client’s brains go here immediately in the beginning, is because of all of this conditioning that I’ve described to you here. We’re trained to believe that there are negative emotions that are bad, and that there are positive emotions that we want to feel all of the time. It’s very black and white thinking in terms of our emotions. I see this a ton when I coach women on their relationship to their bodies. It’s common for us to begin this work having certain emotions come up when we think about our body. So, for women, I often see emotions of shame, regret, guilt – things that are emotionally very heavy and heightened in a quote unquote negative way. Obviously, these are emotions that we don’t prefer to experience. Now, I always tell my clients that the work you do emotionally with your body will be the deepest work you ever do. Because it’s very personal. The lows will feel the lowest emotionally when it comes to your body, which means you’ll feel a natural tendency to reach for the super positive emotions when it comes to your body. So, for my clients when they’re in this place of negative emotion, they’ll think that the emotions they want to experience with their bodies are confidence and love. Most often. And this is possible. Just to clarify. These emotions are 100% possible to create for your body. But, this jump from negative emotion to positive emotion isn’t always the most useful. It makes sense why we want to go from negative to positive in this way. Of course it does. But, we actually make the most high-value decisions from neutral emotion. Because it’s when we will have the most access to our logical, decision-making brain. So, for instance, rather than feeling shame for their bodies and then trying to force the feeling of confidence, the most powerful thing you can do is work towards a neutral emotion. That 0 mark, rather than forcing yourself from the negative 100 to the positive 100. In terms of your body, that neutral emotion could be acceptance. Right? Really picture that. How does total acceptance for your body feel for you, rather than the feeling of confidence for example? We think that when we feel negative emotions that all we want to do is most to the ultra-positive experience. But, notice how much more grounding an emotion like acceptance is, rather than confidence. In most cases. And this doesn’t just come to emotions that have to do with your body, this is the case with all emotions. Obviously, when you feel what we consider to be negative emotions, you will feel more compelled to emotionally eat. So, emotions like overwhelm, anger, frustration, shame, etc. We can agree that those aren’t the most useful emotions when it comes to making eating decisions. It feels very heightened. But I also want you to consider hyper-positive emotions. So, emotions such as excitement, elation, joy – emotions that we want to be feeling, because that vibration feels good in our body, but also feels very heightened and quick in our bodies in most cases. Notice how these emotions don’t exactly always feel the most comfortable in your body. It’s still heightened. Which means these emotions, as well as the negative emotions, may not be the most useful in terms of making clear and deliberate food decisions. The most clear food decisions are made from emotions that you have no desire to escape. I had this come up with a client recently. She said to me, “I want to overeat when I feel overwhelmed. But I also want to overeat when I feel excited.” What we explored with her is that even though excitement is a positive emotional experience, it wasn’t the best place to make food decisions from. I asked her to consider if she’d feel comfortable just sitting with that emotion in her body, in a room, with nothing else to do for half an hour. Would that feel comfortable to her? And she said, of course, “No”. She felt like she had to do something from that energy. It felt very heightened. Now, this isn’t to say that you don’t want to have these emotional experiences. Because you will. It’s just not the emotional experience that will best serve you in terms of making food decisions. When I work with each client, just to give you all perspective, we identify over a period of weeks which exact emotions are not useful for them individually and which emotions are. I like to define their useful emotions, once we discover them, as weapons in their arsenal. They are tools that they have available to them now. So, you can start considering which emotions are most useful for you when it comes to intentional decision-making with food. Think about when you make important decisions in other areas of your life. Are you making decisions from a very negative place, such as shame, overwhelm, fear? Probably not. Are you making decisions from a very positive place such as excitement, joy, elation? Probably not. You are in neutral energy when you’re in clear decision making mode. The emotion isn’t heightened because you’re in the decision-making mode. It’s going to be a neutral emotion such as focused, calm, certain – emotions that have a very soft vibration and feel very level in your body. So, consider which emotions are most useful for you when it comes to intentional decision-making with food. It’s probably not something super sexy like encouraged, confident, motivated, committed, etc. These can be very useful. But they have a short fuse I find when it comes to life-long intentional decisions with food. What’s something that feels more level in your body? And not as exciting or heightened? Don’t underestimate the power of neutral emotion. It’s one of the most powerful secret weapon you have in your arsenal when it comes to changing the way you eat. Now, I want to offer that if this higher-level, deeper work with food is something that resonates with you, and you’re looking for private customized support with your eating habits, I invite you to apply to my coaching program Own Your Eating Habits. This is the only way to work with me. This program is really designed for women who are ready to commit to learning a life-long process for healthy eating that allows them to change the way they eat on their terms. So, especially as we’re approaching the holidays and the new year, there’s no better time to get this support. Truly. You can learn more and apply at katrentas.com/coaching. Alright my beautiful friend. I hope you have a lovely rest of your week and I’ll talk to you next week.
Hey there! I'm Kat Rentas. I’m a certified health coach for women who believes that eating healthy should feel simple and sustainable. I teach hundreds of high-performing women to change their eating habits without the overwhelm. Want to change your eating habits in a way that is aligned with your needs, preferences, and goals? You’re in the right place. You can read my full story here.