071: The Underlying Causes Of Binge Eating w/ Tricia Greaves Nelson

Food addiction expert and author Tricia Nelson shared her time and wisdom with me this week to discuss some common issues around hunger and eating. We took a look at emotional eating, food cravings, binge eating and how addictive behavior can influence how and what we consume.

Tricia is the founder of Heal Your Hunger and is also a dear friend of mine. She has personally experienced emotional eating issues from a very young age but lost 50 pounds after identifying and resolving the underlying causes of her emotional eating. Since then, she has made it her life’s mission to help others identify and manage their hunger and eating issues.

binge eating0:00 - 5:32 min. – How emotions can trigger hunger?

5:32 - 10:27 min. – The Spectrum of Emotional Eating.

10:27 - 18:02 min. – Is Your Personality Making You Binge?

18:02 - 23:28 min. – How to Resist Temptation – even at Thanksgiving!

23:35 - 26:03 min. – Using Spiritual Strength to Win those Woman v Cookie Moments?

26:03 - 30:18 min. – Are you an emotional eater? Take the Quiz to find out.


The Desire Behind Your Hunger

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

Today on Couch Talk we’re going to talk about healing your hunger. We’re going to cover cravings, how to manage those challenging food situations like celebrations, and problems with emotional eating which you may have had (I know I have).

Here with me is food addiction expert, speaker, coach and a dear friend of mine Tricia Nelson who found love whilst searching for a solution to her own personal problems around eating. Tricia, it’s wonderful to have you here with us today.

Tricia Nelson:

Thanks so much; it’s so good to be here.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

I want to tell our audience a little bit about you. You’ve been in this emotional eating help space for well over a decade and you’ve been so passionate about getting this information out to a wide audience appearing on NBC, CBS, Fox, and Discovery Health.

You’re a highly regarded speaker and coach who has long been researching the hidden causes of an addictive personality to get to the underlying causes of emotional eating.

Tricia, will you share a little bit of your story with us?

Binge Eating From Childhood

Tricia Nelson:

I'll be so happy to. I've been an emotional eater as far back as I can remember and that's probably from age four or so. I remember being so happy about food.

If my family was going out to dinner, I’d get really excited and almost have heart palpitations thinking about what I was going to eat. I was big into snacking as well.

My sister was an over-eater too and she taught me how to binge when we went down to the local ice cream store and each got ourselves a pint of ice cream. We would sit there and eat the whole thing.

I loved food and my eating got progressively worse as I got older. I was always overweight but when I hit adolescence I became very overweight. My face was completely round and looked like a pumpkin.

I just hated being overweight. I had a role in my tummy that I would scrunch up in my hand and I’d just want to cut it off. I was upset about how much I hated my body and how my legs chafed you know when I was in a bathing suit. That was just so uncomfortable for me and it became an obsession of mine to overcome it.

Searching For A Solution

I fantasized about getting a disease which would make me automatically lose weight without having to try, or joining the army, so they’d force me to exercise at boot camp. I had these crazy thoughts around my weight because curbing my eating was not really an option, and frankly, it didn't even occur to me.

I looked in all these different places and I read self-help books and I tried diets and pills and potions and lotions and twelve-step programs and therapy. I really was going hard at it looking for a solution and nothing I did work for me until I found somebody who showed me that my problem had nothing to do with food.

They showed me that my eating was a symptom of something much deeper. That person was Roy who is now my husband. We met 30 years ago. He's a spiritual healer who helps people with all different kinds of addiction and he has been obese himself.

Emotionally Triggered Hunger

Roy shared with me that my eating was an emotional issue which is deeper and it’s spiritual as well. I did work on that and I was healed; not cured –you know I still consider myself an emotional eater because I can go in that direction any day of the week –but by the grace of God I don't because of these new tools that I've learned which really address the underlying causes.

That’s really how to Heal Your Hunger was born because I wanted to do this for other people.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

You hit so many points that resonate –binge eating, feeling our own rolls and what that feels like, and how can we not enjoy those aspects of our body, how we need to recognize that emotional eating is an issue. Let's start with how does one know if they are an emotional eater or a food addict?

The Spectrum Of Emotional Eating

Tricia Nelson:

Great question! You know in my experience I believe it's really a spectrum. I think everybody to some degree is an emotional eater and I think God made us that way. We like to eat it because it feels good.

It comforts us, so we keep doing it, but obviously, people take it to different levels. On one end of the spectrum is basic emotional eating and on other end is real food addiction.

I've created a quiz called the Emotional Eating Quiz that someone can take so that they can find out where they are on this spectrum. They get a personalized score and then we would take action based on that score.

Like with any addiction it’s not really a problem until it's a problem. Some people just like to eat; they’re foodies and that’s it and they don't even mind being overweight so for them I say keep going, enjoy. But for other people who are really unhappy with their weight and can't lose weight because this emotional eating issue comes up then obviously it’s something to pay attention to.

For me personally, I see myself as an all-out food addict as well as an emotional eater because my addiction to food got so bad that I could binge eat three or four thousand calories in one sitting. I had a binge eating disorder.

There are many, many people who take it too far and enter a phase where once they start they can't stop and that's really when it’s addiction–when they cannot hold himself back in any way shape or form.

Some people can hold themselves back but that doesn't mean they're happy about their relationship with food. They can be obsessed with food and thinking about it 24/7 and that’s an issue too.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

Yes, I agree. So, first you have to identify the problem right and a quiz is always a good way to do that, so I will provide a link in the footnotes here. Diets are often lauded as binge eating treatments, but they don’t seem to work long term. So, why do you think that 98% of all diets fail?

Why Dieting Doesn’t Work

Tricia Nelson:

It's incredible, isn't it? We’re talking about a multibillion-dollar industry. There’s all this money being spent on diets, but I really think that the reason why people aren't succeeding in their dieting endeavors is that of emotional eating and nobody's really talking about that.

People are thinking it’s their metabolism or the amount of exercise that they're doing or the kind of exercise they are choosing yet the emotional eating is why we are fat in the first place and addressing that issue is how to stop binge eating.

I mean I was overeating. My relationship with the food went way beyond nutrition. I was comforting myself with food, turning to it when I was stressed and when I was lonely.

There are so many different emotions that drive us to eat and if those aren't addressed then no diet is going to work. People start diets looking for a quick fix and don’t realize that they can’t sustain that way of eating if they don't deal with the deeper reasons why they overeat in the first place.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

How do you get to those deeper reasons, and what are some of those deeper reasons why we self-sabotage for example?

Tricia Nelson:

I think it’s really important to realize that emotional eating isn’t just about eating too much or eating the wrong foods. Emotional eating has so much more to do with the way we respond to life.

Personality Traits Of Emotional Eaters

There’s a physical aspect to cravings but there's also that emotional aspect and that comes from our personalities. Over the past 30 years that I've been doing this work, I have seen the same personality traits over and over again tripping people up.

In my book and on my program, I talk about the anatomy of the emotional eater. They have this unique composite of 24 personality traits that cause them to over-eat. The number one personality trait of an emotional eater is people pleasing.

Emotional eaters always have something in their past that was traumatic –usually in their childhood – that sets them up to start needing validation from outside of themselves instead of inside. And, people pleasing is an outgrowth of that where we are looking for kudos, and we want people to notice us and give us that sense of self we're seeking.

People pleasing seems pretty harmless, but it can really lead to trouble when we're out there in the world taking on too much and saying yes to everything request of us, either at work or at home or all of the above. We’re filling our plates with too many things figuratively and literally.

We're overdoing it and then we're exhausted and stressed out which means we usually skip meals because we’re trying to get it all done. Then, when we come home at the end of the day we have the ‘I deserve it binge’.

Using Food To Compensate

Nobody's ever as pleased as we want them to be when we’re people pleasing so we don't get the credit that we were hoping for. A thank you never fills us the way we expect it to, so we end up compensating with food.

Emotional eaters are also deep feelers. People tend to tell us that we wear our hearts on our sleeves or we're too sensitive. Being sensitive is a beautiful thing but it makes us feel overwhelmed with emotion sometimes and then we have to numb that with food.

So, you can see that these things don’t have anything to do with food and yet they have everything to do with our relationship with food.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

For people pleasers, when someone bakes something or prepares something for us we have to try it even though that might not be the right thing for us or we are full. In your work, what tools do you give to men and women to help them heal their hunger?

De-Stress To Lose Weight

Tricia Nelson:

The stress that we create in our lives by overdoing things definitely has to be addressed because it leads to stress eating. Somebody can't lose weight if they don't make real changes in their lifestyle and of course, nobody wants to hear that but it's just true. We have to put our health ahead of our schedules.

So, I teach simple stress-relieving things like meditation. I always recommend to people six self-care success secrets and advise them to do these things first thing in the morning. Sometimes we just bolt out of bed and we haven't made any connection with ourselves or with our inner self or spirit and we're just running on fumes throughout the day.

And of course, we use food for that quick hit to get us through the day, but we can actually get that hit first thing in the morning with a meditation, prayer, reading routine, or some kind of spiritual ritual that will help us connect with ourselves, and this makes such a big difference.

I could not be in a thin body if I did not have this ritual and it's a non-negotiable for me. I can't go without meditating because I know how directly it is related to my relationship with food.

With meditation, it’s like ‘yeah I should really get around to doing that but it's hard to do’ and when I went to the community of people who were actually doing these things it helped obviously. My course helps people do that; it’s all emotional eaters supporting each other in these self-care success secrets.

Freeing Emotions

The idea is to really get centered, get still, get quiet so you have a resource to draw on throughout the day that isn't food. Having a daily relationship with writing is a good thing too as when you do the writing you're getting emotions out. We take on so many emotions we have to get them out in a healthy way or we stuff them down with food.

Changing one’s schedule and starting to delegate are other practical things that people can do to reduce the level of stress in their lives and that can make a huge difference. It’s non-negotiable that our lifestyle has to change.

If you imagine it’s like an equation–this amount of stress equals this amount of food – and that's really what it comes down to.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

I definitely couldn't agree more, and I think for me a day starts out well when it starts at prayer, meditation, or focusing on a motivational or inspirational piece. That just creates a whole lot of strength and, like you said, filling yourself with that inner peace means you don’t need to nourish yourself in other ways.

Resisting Temptation

We really need to look at lifestyle factors, so I love that. How about those feelings of turmoil that invariably come up when we have been dealing with cravings well but suddenly it’s a time of celebration with lots of food around us?

Tricia Nelson:

Well, it's hard, there's no question about it, and the more your environment is filled with food the harder it is. I really feel for people who work in a corporate environment because their jobs are always filled with candy and starchy foods. Everybody brings in their leftovers from the weekend part. It's a very difficult environment plus people are bored and they're stressed and a lot of them hate their jobs so, so what are they going to do? They're going to eat right?

It’s virtually impossible to change one's eating habits without a community of support. You got to be around people who share the same goal otherwise you're going to fall in with the people who don't care or aren't yet at the stage where they’re addressing it.

It’s A Team Effort

You can be part of a Facebook community where it’s like ‘hey I’m going to this party and I don't want to go because I know they'll be serving my favorite food’. It's really important that you have people who can say ‘you go, girl, come back, and tell us how it went’ because then you have some accountability and that's so, so important.

There are things that people can do to protect against those situations where there is more temptation than normal. Party is an example where I always try to bring a food that I know I can eat that's going to be safe for me and that's really important. Bringing a buddy who is comfortable and knows what I'm going through is always a good thing for me.

Eating beforehand is something that I've done often just so that I don't have to deal with it. That way I can just socialize and not be stressed about getting exactly what I need food–wise.

When day–to–day temptations come up I always encourage people to look for the source of stress. I just came from a conference that was very fun but there was stress in that I was learning things that I felt overwhelmed by. And feeling overwhelmed is a trigger for me you know. When I feel overwhelmed or taking in a lot of information I am all of a sudden hungry.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

So, it's like studying for a test and eating at the same time?

Tuning In To Your Thoughts

Tricia Nelson:

Yes. So, it's really important to just get conscious and connected to what's really going on. I have to say to myself ‘you know you're not hungry you just ate just a couple hours ago, you’re okay, so what's really going on?’ And it’s like ‘oh yeah I just feel overwhelmed’.

I’m using ‘overwhelmed’ an umbrella word for ‘thoughts and feelings that are uncomfortable now’. When I feel overwhelmed by information overload what's really happening is in my head is I’m having a lot of negative thoughts such as ‘I can't do this’, ‘how am I going to implement this’, ‘everybody gets this but me’.

I have to really take a look and that I'm just feeling insecure. It has nothing to do with hunger. That is just the blanket you want to put over those thoughts and feelings, so you don’t have to experience them.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

Now I hear you a hundred percent! One of the things that you and Roy do a lot is spiritual healing. How do you incorporate spiritual aspects into your program and into your life?

Woman Vs Cookie Moment? Win With Spiritual Strength

Tricia Nelson:

I start my day on my knees! I have meditation and a prayer practice and read several scriptures as part of my morning routine. I meditate twice a day in the morning and before dinner. I don't have empirical evidence, but I believe that people will eat at least 200 calories less at dinner if they pray first.

I do not have willpower. If it is between me and the cookie, the cookie will win, so I have to have a higher power doing for me what I can't do for myself. I do a ‘walk pray’ every day where I put earbuds in my ears for my phone and I talk out loud to God. I live in the middle of the city, so this lets me pray out loud whilst passing people and they don't know who I'm talking to.

Strength has to come from a spiritual place; that's one of the very strong messages of my program Ten Weeks to Freedom from Emotional Eating. The program is about helping people get still and quiet and start making that spiritual connection, so they have a source of power that can help them make the saner and healthier choices that they normally wouldn't make

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

I have no willpower and I love the way you put that, “if it’s between me and the cookie, the cookie wins.” Just recognizing that is huge. I think the more you get into that practice and discipline of prayer and meditation you can decrease Cortisol and increase Oxytocin so there's less volatility in your system and you’ll experience fewer cravings. So, from the hormonal and the physiological aspects by finding calm you’re empowering your physiology and willpower, and that’s powerful.

Tricia it’s been great to have you here. We’re going to give a link to your quiz. Could tell us a little bit about your quiz again? Then tell us what in your life that empowers you the most – the one pearl that you do on a daily basis that you highly recommend everyone to do?

Tricia Nelson:

Taking the quiz is a great place to start. My pearl of wisdom is to remind people that it’s not about the food. I know it feels like it when you’re wanting that piece of chocolate but really your deeper desire.

Dr. Anna Cabeca:

Yes, the hunger can be a hunger for connection. Through community, you’re not alone and also through that higher spiritual connection that you described so beautifully.

In my magic menopause program, weight loss was a beneficial side effect that came from creating a more loving, happier, contented, and more connected person.

One of my clients put it this way, she said: “I’m happier but more importantly everyone is happier with me.”

It's a win-win investing in yourself, investing in filling your tank and having this overflowing abundance in your life to prevent overheating, compulsive eating and comfort eating.

Take The Heal Your Hunger Quiz

I would encourage our listeners to please check out Trisha’s Heal Your Hunger Quiz. It's important to identify where you're at. That’s just part of our discovery process. Whether we’re 20 or 80 we continue to learn things about ourselves.

Please comment below and share this podcast with your friends. If you’re listening here on iTunes please rate us and I look forward to reading your comments and questions and any suggestions you have for the further podcast.

Tricia, again it has been beautiful to have you here with us today on Couch Talk.

Tricia Nelson:

Thanks, Dr. Anna Cabeca. It was good to be here.

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Dr. Anna Cabeca

Dr. Anna Cabeca

Certified OB/GYN, Anti-Aging and Integrative Medicine expert and founder of The Girlfriend Doctor. During Dr. Anna’s health journey, she turned to research to create products to help thousands of women through menopause, hormones, and sexual health. She is the author of best-selling The Hormone Fix, and Keto-Green 16 and MenuPause.

Learn more about my scientific advisory board.