“Listening to hunger and fullness signals is only part of the equation.” Julie Simon
Julie M. Simon is a Licensed Psychotherapist and Life Coach with a full-time private practice specializing in eating issues, weight loss, body image challenges and associated mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety.
Her professional experience with and personal journey through childhood trauma, weight challenges and body and brain chemistry imbalances led to the creation of The 12-Week Emotional Eating Recovery Program which she has been running many times per year, for twenty-plus years. Julie was compelled to write The Emotional Eater’s Repair Manual to reach more people that want help with this issue.
It was a joy to speak with Julie and learn from her experience. Emotional eating is something I have struggled with and I know I’m not alone. There are so many of us that can benefit from this book. Below is an edited summary of our conversation. Enjoy!
How is this book different from other well-known work on emotional eating?
I was formerly an emotional eater myself and as a therapist and coach, I have worked with overeaters for over 20 years. When I read some of the other well-known books on this topic I enjoyed reading them and learned a lot but felt there were certain pieces missing or some topics were poorly addressed or not addressed at all.
Overall, I felt that in most books on the subject, skill building was not adequately addressed. I really wanted to cover emotional skill building, particularly focusing on developing and strengthening our inner nurturing voice and reducing the voice of our over-developed inner critic. I also always had a sense that certain foods may be impacting our bodies differently than others. My own experience led me down a path to learn more about food allergies, sensitivities and food addiction. This topic was crucial for me to include in my book because my work has shown me that listening to hunger and fullness signals is only part of the equation. If someone has a food sensitivity or addiction to certain foods, they can have the best intentions of stopping when full, but it may not work.
My book is different because it covers all of the imbalances—emotional hunger, body imbalances and spiritual hunger—that lead us to use food and includes specific skill building strategies to overcome these imbalances.
Can you walk me through an example of how to tap into the inner nurturing voice?
Sure. At first this may feel awkward, especially because most emotional eaters have not developed this inner nurturing voice at all.
Let’s use an example of a mom who notices she is eating when she isn’t hungry.
First, she would ask herself what she is feeling. She identifies that she feels trapped by the responsibilities of motherhood and that she has to spend her entire weekend doing kid activities.
Then she would ask herself what she needs.
This is normally where the inner critic steps in and makes her feel guilty for feeling this way. The inner critic might say something about her being selfish and that she should be lucky to have healthy children. Insert guilt trip here.
The inner nurturer, however, would say that yes, she is feeling restricted and confined, and that there is nothing wrong with having these feelings. She doesn’t feel like taking care of someone else’s needs all the time and that she needs freedom from responsibility right now. She doesn’t judge. She says it’s normal to feel trapped.
The mom might feel frustrated because she can’t have her needs met right now. She may have to wait until she can get a sitter or time away.
The inner nurturer might help this mom by reminding her that her source of giving is infinite. That she is seeing herself as limited but, in fact, she can tap into an infinite source. To breath into this and be the infinite source. She might also say that she is a good mom. She will tell her that she is here for her no matter what.
The section on emotional hunger discusses how overeating can be a result of a neglect and/or abuse during childhood. What about readers that are emotional over-eaters that don’t feel they were mistreated as children?
Many emotional eaters have loving parents that are very well-intentioned. However, usually when we dig a little deeper we can figure out how we may have been under-nourished in a more subtle way. For example, maybe a person was from a big family and the mom was spread thin. Or maybe the parents were more indulgent and didn’t provide clear boundaries. Perhaps the mother of the child never learned to soothe or comfort herself, so she could not pass that skill along.
Can you talk a bit more about the section on body imbalances?
We are conditioned to think about going on a diet and exercising when we want to lose weight. However, we might be turning to food because our body is out of balance. These imbalances can come from a variety of factors such as a history of chronic dieting, stress and food sensitivities or food allergies. Sensitivities and allergies to certain foods (such as processed foods containing wheat, dairy products and sugar) create imbalances in our body and brain chemistry. These imbalances can lead to food addiction. Once we are addicted to these foods it is really challenging to go back to unprocessed whole foods. They just don’t taste as good as the processed ones.
I also explore genetic and lifestyle created imbalances that can cause food cravings, overeating and weight gain. These include hormonal imbalances such as thyroid and adrenal problems, premenstrual syndrome, (PMS) and peri-menopause/menopause. I explore brain chemistry imbalances that cause depression and anxiety, too. And, I talk about therapies that can be explored to address these imbalances.
I suggest making a transition to eating more unprocessed whole plant foods and beginning to eliminate foods that are allergens This can be done using a rotation plan so it’s more gradual. Additional foods that people are sensitive to include corn and soy.
I also advocate adding in more whole foods to “crowd out” the processed foods. For example, you might try adding in an apple a day, some pea soup, lentils or a potato. These are higher in fiber and more filling. So you’ll feel fuller and less likely to grab a processed food.
Can you talk a bit about the third section on spiritual imbalances?
Many emotional eaters feel disconnected from the deeper reserves of joy, peace and contentment. Some emotional eaters feel like they have it all, yet still feel empty. We have a lot of stress in our lives and external pressures to do more. We get sucked in to what society tells us to care about versus being true to what brings us joy and what we’re really passionate about.
Here’s a personal example. My book launched and my inner critic asks “why isn’t my book selling faster?” Then if I can pull myself back and ask, “What is really important here for me?” I realize that I wrote this book because it will touch a lot of lives and it doesn’t really matter how fast it takes for people to hear about it. I just want them to hear about it, read it and hopefully benefit from it. And I really do feel better. It’s a lot about realizing what’s important to you and staying true to it.
What do you say to the people that aren’t ready? That know they need help, maybe they’ve even bought your book. But they aren’t putting it into practice.
I say that they need to honor and embrace their resistance. Really make it ok in a loving way. Explore what feels scary. Is it painful? Is it fear? Or maybe it’s not that bad yet.
Sometimes we need to “hit bottom” and everyone’s definition of that is different. A client of mine resisted doing any of the skill building and then she had a diabetes scare and that was bottom for her. She said “I can’t keep doing this. I’m ready to work on it.”
Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t ready. Love yourself just the way you are. Tap into the inner nurturer who is always ready and there for you when you feel ready. Acceptance creates a calmness inside that can allow you to open up and try something out of your comfort zone.
If people feel like they’d like more assistance, how can they work with you?
I live in Los Angeles and conduct The 12-week Emotional Eating Recovering Program. I am planning to have an online version of it in 2013 where there will be a recorded lecture one night a week and a live coaching call once a week as well. They can go to my website for more information.
I also offer tune-up sessions via phone, email or Skype which can be a good way to discuss a specific issue you want help working out.
Miri McDonald works in strategic communications and a yogini on and off the mat. She earned her 200 hour teaching certification in 2005 from Tranquil Space Yoga in Washington, DC. Miri lives in Madison, WI where she is doing her best to live in the moment, learning from her favorite gurus, her two young boys and a crazy black Labrador. She tweets at@mirimcdonald.
Asst. Ed: Edith Lazenby
Ed: Kate B.