Working with clients who struggle with emotional eating
This blog is written for professional colleagues from all disciplines whose work involves helping people change how they eat. I’ll write this to you directly, to make the writing flow a bit better than using ‘your client’ throughout.
I hope this is OK with you.
Regulation or dysregulation?
An intensely negative emotion can have a profound effect on our day, but if we have learned ways of responding to the feeling which allows us to ride the wave of intensity, knowing that it will pass, we’ll be OK.
If we haven’t been so fortunate, and we experience difficulty with regulating emotions, which psychologists call emotion dysregulation, we’ve got another layer of pain to deal with – the pain of feeling out of control of what we’re feeling.
Discovering that food can change how we feel
Emotional states signal to our brains that something needs attention, and the more intense the emotion, the more urgent that signal can be. We all know that in the face of overwhelming negative emotions, our entire mental focus orients towards reducing the intensity, perhaps trying to rid ourselves of the feeling altogether.
If we find something that works on one occasion, we’re more likely to do it again, and over time a pattern of coping develops.
For some of us, what worked on one occasion was eating calorie-dense food (because of the way that certain foods affect our nervous system functioning). Coming back to the same food when we’re next struggling can be the beginning of a pattern of what we call emotional eating.
The relationship between feeding and feeling bad
Researchers from universities in Milan* looked at the relations between emotion dysregulation, psychological distress, emotional eating and weight through a survey of 600 people who filled in a range of validated questionnaires.
They wanted to understand more about the relationship between these different factors, and what they found were significant associations between emotion dysregulation, psychological distress, emotional eating and BMI (body mass index).
A pathway that illustrates the connections
Their results showed that psychological distress leads to emotional eating.
The results also showed that emotion dysregulation leads to emotional eating.
But there’s an additional twist – they found that emotion dysregulation itself contributes to higher levels of psychological distress. This is easy to relate to, if you’ve ever had a time when you’ve felt unable to manage the intensity of how you are feeling, and the inability to manage the feeling starts to become a problem in itself as you feel out of control.
As you can see in the diagram, emotional eating was related to higher BMI (body mass index).
In other words, both psychological distress and emotion dysregulation lead to emotional eating and the emotion dysregulation fuels more distress.
As we know, emotional eating is fundamentally about emotions, not so much about eating. Eating is the symptom or the attempt to cope with the emotion.
What follows from this is that the treatment of people with high levels of emotional eating should not focus on calorie-restricted diets but on emotion regulation skills.
Emotion regulation strategies can help
Your clients will really value help with developing new ways of responding to emotional feelings which mean they have an alternative to reaching for food.
This is what my Masterclass is there to help you with. It is recorded so that you can follow the course at your own pace, to fit in around your busy work schedule. You have lifetime access to the recording so you can return to it to refresh what you’ve learned.
The Masterclass has been developed to be useful to colleagues from different professions and disciplines, and the techniques that are presented give you a range of things you can do practically with clients, that stay within your scope of professional expertise.
Emotional Eating Masterclass
I developed this Masterclass in order to share insights and techniques from psychology, that you can use in your work with clients who want to reduce emotional eating.
In the Masterclass I present a curated summary of relevant research on the development of emotional eating, so you can share that with your clients.
Studies like the one by Guerrini-Usubini and colleagues provide the background to enhancing your understanding of what is happening with your clients.
I then give you a range of tools that you can use immediately with your clients, and evidence-based techniques that can help them manage those feelings without turning to food.
As with all my training courses, this Masterclass puts the emphasis on what is clinically useful when you are working with someone who is struggling with emotional eating, so that you can enhance the work you are already doing. It’s about adding new tools to your existing range of professional skills and the feedback from professionals who have already attended the Masterclass suggests that this is exactly what people get from attending!
I enjoyed the masterclass on Emotional Eating which was informative, research-based and compassionately run. I learnt a lot about the psychology of emotional eating and how to tackle it with new useful techniques including ACT which will help with my client work.
I loved the Emotional Eating Masterclass! It gave me a good understanding about the emotions involved in emotional eating and what personal values are behind them, as well as tools and techniques to apply in my nutrition clinic.
The Masterclass is approved for 6 hours of CPD by
- The British Psychological Society
- The British Association for Nutrition and Lifestyle Medicine
- The UK and International Health Coaches Association
The cost of the Masterclass is £165 including all the materials and lifetime access to the recording
Related blog article
* Guerrini-Usubini et al (2023) The interplay between emotion dysregulation, psychological distress, emotional eating, and weight status: A path model. International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology, 23, (1) https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijchp.2022.100338.