Healing Emotional Eating: A Guide to Finding Peace with Food with Tricia Nelson (Episode 190)

You are here:

Healing Emotional Eating: A Guide to Finding Peace with Food with Tricia Nelson (Episode 190)

Emotional eating exists on a spectrum from mild to severe. Here's how to understand the signs of emotional eating and whether or not you have an unhealthy relationship with food.
Do you struggle with emotional eating? Consistent loss of control around food? Expert Tricia Nelson joins Dr. Doni to talk about overcoming unhealthy relationships with food.


Emotional eating is a struggle for many people. This isn’t about overindulging once in a while – it’s when it become a consistent behavioral habit that we have cause for concern.

So in this episode I invite my friend Tricia Nelson, an emotional eating expert, bestselling author and speaker (including a Tedx Talk) to talk about how she overcame her emotional eating habit. She also has her own Heal Your Hunger Show where she helps people break the patterns of emotional eating.

Tricia’s Emotional Eating Origins

Tricia explains that her emotional eating likely started extremely early, as she has memories of always feeling excited around food. She loved eating, cooking for others, and bonding over meals from very young. When her sister lost weight and called herself an “emotional eater,” Tricia initially dismissed it as silly since in her mind, she just genuinely enjoyed all aspects of food.

However, in adolescence, Tricia began gaining weight rapidly, topping out around 50 extra pounds which was really tough. She hated feeling overweight and embarrassed. She tried to deny it at first, but began observing major differences between herself and friends around eating habits. For instance, they would leave half of decadent desserts while she felt intense drive to finish all desserts entirely, even after crossing the point of comfort. 

She started frequently overeating significant amounts, like full bags of chips with pints of ice cream, without planning to eat more than a normal portion. This led to feeling painfully over-full and anger afterwards. Still, the cycle continued as the urges overpowered her self-control strengths at the time.

Tricia made consistent efforts from young adulthood into her 30s to try healing her conflicted relationship with food, that she finally accepted was complicated for her. She turned to restrictive diets, intensive exercise plans, various pills and potions, therapy appointments, 12 step programs and more. But the patterns continued and her weight fluctuated up and down wildly – losing large amounts when sticking to plans initially through deprivation tactics, but inevitably regaining the weight each time. 

With the help of a mentor, Tricia learned skills to deal with the deep emotions that drove her overeating. This helped much more than short-lived willpower alone. From her own transformation, she developed the Heal Your Hunger Program.

It is a step-by-step program to guide people to change emotional eating patterns from inside themselves instead of strict dieting. The focus helps build sustainable abilities like self-soothing, self-worth, and listening to body signals.

By learning new skills for self-care and tuning into needs, Tricia gained long-term balance around food. Her weight stabilized at a healthy point by addressing root causes. She inspires hope for overcoming food struggles through overall wellbeing versus extreme restriction that never lasts.

Signs of Emotional Eating

Tricia notes that occasionally overindulging isn’t necessarily concerning on its own. However consistent loss of control around food intake coupled with negative consequences sets up an “emotional eating” dynamic. 

Major red flags include:


      • Feeling extremely frustrated and conflicted about your habitual relationship with food.


        • Frequently overeating far past fullness, stomach discomfort or what your mind knows is enough.


          • Weight erratically fluctuating up and down over spans as short as weeks or months.


            • Requiring different sized clothes on standby to accommodate rapid weight gains and losses.


              • Struggling to stick to any healthy eating plan or program for more than days or weeks time.

            Overeating exists on a spectrum from mild to severe. For example, overdoing it once on vacation is relatively harmless. But full addiction with severe health and life impacts is the extreme. Figuring out where your struggles land on this range can inform next steps.

            Tricia offers a quiz to reveal your specific habits, history and challenges. This helps identify suitable support approaches. However, she stresses self-compassion is essential. Why? Because emotional eating unconsciously starts as a coping mechanism, even when not healthy long-term. 

            Emotional Eating and Personality Traits 

            Tricia stresses that emotional eating arises from lifestyle patterns and personality traits at the core – not from a lack of education on nutrition fundamentals as most assume. 

            Some of these patterns include:


                • People pleasing – a strong need to make others happy. It often leads to overgiving – doing too much for others while neglecting our own needs. Over time, overgiving drains our energy and builds resentment.When stressed, it’s common to crave sugary “treats” as a fast way to boost our mood. The thinking becomes “I deserve this because I do so much for everyone else.” This people-pleasing trap fuels unhealthy emotional eating.


                  • Poor boundaries with overdoing – we often go past healthy limits while trying to get everything done. We make long to-do lists and feel we must finish them, even if it becomes too much. Pushing too hard prevents us from recharging properly. Going full speed for too long raises stress. Then we crave quick food energy to help us keep coping with an overloaded schedule. This unhealthy pattern happens when we don’t set reasonable limits and listen to signals that we need rest.


                    • Perfectionism and self-criticism – setting extremely high expectations for yourself. Self-criticism means always judging yourself harshly. These traits lead to anxiety as the inner critic berates your efforts. To temporarily quiet the critical inner voices, it’s common to reach for sugary treats or other substances. This provides short-term soothing and distraction from the high pressure of perfectionism.

                  For many people, patterns of using food to self-soothe start indirectly from difficult childhood experiences. Trauma or adversity in childhood shapes automatic responses that last through life. Food gives needed comfort when young.

                  However, this coping habit backfires long-term. Over the years, it can lead to health issues, shame, and low awareness of what inner emotions trigger stress eating. We lose touch with what fuels the behavior when we overly rely on eating to help push through challenges.

                  Making progress on unhealthy patterns requires self-compassion, not self-criticism. We need understanding for how early life shaped automatic responses, not judgment of current struggles resulting from past wounds. Healing starts with recognizing how innocently coping habits began before taking hold through life.

                  Cultivating Balance Through Self-Care Rituals

                  Self-care rituals can help create balance around food relationships holistically. These include:


                      • Daily meditation to reduce anxiety and connect spiritually.

                      • Reading personal growth or spiritual literature to positively feed the soul.

                      • Journaling for self-awareness and emotional healing.

                      • Light exercise like walking outside daily for activity without adrenal burnout.

                      • Getting support from others.

                    Starting healthy rituals builds mental resilience over time. It creates new response paths in the brain for handling stress. This counters the automatic habit to grab quick comfort foods when under pressure. Those foods may have soothed in the moment before but now mainly cause health problems.

                    These new rituals are better alternatives to high-calorie, salty/sweet snacks. Things like taking time to meditate, set boundaries, or do emotional healing work. They provide true nourishment long-term versus just a momentary sugar-rush bandaid.

                    The key is slowly reducing reliance on unhealthy food options while starting to incorporate meaningful self-care habits. Balancing both sides – limiting old patterns and cultivating new wellbeing practices – helps make change stick.

                    Navigating Social Pressures Skillfully

                    There are effective ways to avoid peer pressure, especially during the holidays. For example:


                        • Practice politely saying “no thank you, I’m good” without feeling pressured to provide lengthy personal explanations or excuses.


                          • Remind yourself persistently that others’ visible surprise or questioning of your choices stems from their own inner mental and emotional processes – it’s not your responsibility to sooth their discomfort or change deep habits in the moment.


                            • For tense situations, gently complimenting the speaker on their cooking efforts often allows to exit the situation smoothly.

                          The key is setting healthy boundaries for yourself while respecting others may make different choices.

                          You always deserve to listen to your body and say no to foods that don’t align with your health, even if others have different habits or opinions. You get to choose what fuels your body in line with your needs and goals.

                          In short, stand confidently in your own truth and respectfully allow others theirs, even when they question your path. Decline offering foods if your body says no, regardless of another’s perspective or traditions. Select nourishing options serving your personal health journey.

                          Emotional Eating and Sugar Addiction

                          Tricia explains how regular sugar and artificial sweeteners can be extremely addictive and harmful. She reveals how powerfully they hook the brain and damage health, often quietly without people noticing. Even fake sugars can fuel sugar cravings rather than reduce them.

                          Tricia created a 5-day “Quit Sugar Challenge” to help break this addiction. It offers step-by-step education, coaching to build resilience, and healthy sweet alternatives that won’t hook the brain.

                          This enables people with strong sugar cravings to still enjoy delightful flavors. Participants make tasty foods like chocolate pancakes and paleo fudge bars without causing energy and mood swings from blood sugar spikes and crashes.

                          This program helps change your tastes so you want less sugar. It strengths your inner voice to make better choices for yourself, without doubting your worth. The program quiets the inner critic inside all of us that sabotages our goals. Making this small but powerful shift steadily cuts sugar cravings over time. This allows you to better hear your body’s own wisdom about what healthy foods it needs most.

                          Going through this short sugar detox program has been shown to help people who eat emotionally to break their sugar addiction. It helps stop cravings and energy crashes related to sugar highs and lows. By clearing sugar from your system for a short period, it becomes easier to tune into what your body specifically needs, rather than just craving sugar. This opens the door to understanding and responding to your unique body’s signals, instead of overriding them with sugary foods.

                          Understanding and Overcoming Sugar Addiction

                          As mentioned above, emotional eating normally develops early as a coping mechanism to provide comfort or quick distraction from any form of suffering or trauma during our childhood. It is critical for surviving traumatic and challenging experiences we went through while growing up.

                          At first, emotionally eating sugary foods feels like it gives relief. But for most people, over time it backfires. It becomes an unconscious habit to reach for sugar to feel better, without thinking. Quickly, this can grow into a full-blown dependence on sugar and unhealthy substitutes.

                          True healing starts with self-compassion. We need to acknowledge that this coping mechanism started innocently before taking over. Looking carefully at contributing factors, like people-pleasing tendencies, allows us to respond differently moving forward. We can consciously choose self-care rather than falling into numbing or depriving habits.

                          Emotional Eating Resources

                          Establishing new rituals like setting boundaries, meditating, emotional healing, and reading uplifting material can slowly override automatic unhealthy drives. With commitment to daily practice, limited backsliding, and community support, whole life transformation happens from the inside out.

                          Thousands now live free from food obsession through Tricia’s practical, spiritual guidance. Her method helps replace unconscious emotional eating with conscious self-care.

                          If you would like to learn more about Tricia and how she can help you, you can sign up for her Quit Sugar Challenge. You can also find her on Instagram @tricianelson_ and Facebook Heal Your Hunger

                          Dr. Doni completely agrees and teaches how to create a selfC.A.R.E. routine in her book and programs. Find her book, Master Your Stress Reset Your Health, here https://doctordoni.com/master-your-stress/. Master Your Stress Reset Your Health.

                          For the most comprehensive support, even with the most difficult health issues (physical or mental), it is best to meet with Dr. Doni one-on-one, which is available to you no matter where you are in the world (via phone or zoom). You can set up a one-on-one appointment here.

                          We’re here to help you! 

                          Connect with Dr. Doni:

                          More Resources from Dr. Doni:

                          Personalized Solutions:

                          Disclaimer: This specific article and all other Content, Products, and Services of this Website are NOT intended as, and must not be understood or construed as, medical care or advice, naturopathic medical care or advice, the practice of medicine, or the practice of counseling care, nor can it be understood or construed as providing any form of medical diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease.

                          Share this Post:
                          Master Your Stress, Reset Your Health by Dr. Doni Wilson


                          MASTER YOUR STRESS
                          RESET YOUR HEALTH

                          Order Now!
                          More from Dr. Doni

                          Related Posts

                          The 5 Burnout Types

                          Did you know there are 5 burnout types? They are based on your Stress Type®, which is how your adrenal function has been affected by