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The link between what we eat and how we feel is strong. Many big emotional moments in our lives are paired with certain foods. We reach for our favorite treats for comfort and celebration. But what happens when you find yourself routinely turning to food as a coping mechanism? We talk to psychologist Susan Albers-Bowling, PsyD, about what emotional eating is, how to recognize it and ways to manage it.

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Taking Control of Emotional Eating with Dr. Susan Albers

Podcast Transcript

There's so much health advice out there, lots of different voices and opinions, but who can you trust? Trust the experts, the world's brightest medical minds, our very own Cleveland Clinic experts. We ask them tough, intimate health questions so you get the answers you need. This is the Health Essentials Podcast brought to you by Cleveland Clinic and Cleveland Clinic Children's. This podcast is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician.

Molly Shrodes:
Hi, and thanks for joining us for this episode of the Health Essentials Podcast. My name is Molly Shrodes and I'll be your host. For many people, food can equal comfort. If you've had a bad day, a tough breakup, or a stressful meeting, prepping a plate of something delicious can really up your mood. But when does this fall into the category of emotional eating? Today, we're joined by psychologist, Dr. Susan Albers, to talk about emotional eating. Thank you for joining us.

Dr. Susan Albers:
Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here.

Molly Shrodes:
Now, just starting off, can you tell us a little bit about the types of patients you see and what brings them through your door?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Sure. I've had the pleasure of working at the Cleveland Clinic for 17 years now, so I have had the honor and the pleasure to work with a very wide range of individuals. My specialty, my passion, which you will see today, very excited to talk about, is around mindful eating. I help people with all different kinds of eating issues, whether it be problematic eating, overeating, restrictive eating, or on the other end, not problematic eating at all, really trying to have a wellness approach to improving eating habits.

Over the years, starting out, I started out with a large population of women, and over the years, many more men have come forward and have been working on their eating as well. So I'm very fortunate to have a wide range of experience, meet with lots of different kinds of clients, and helps people with all different kinds of eating issues.

Molly Shrodes:
Awesome. That's fantastic. As we dive into this topic, can you give us a definition of emotional eating? What exactly is it?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yeah. Well, we have all experienced emotional eating at one point or another. Basically, the technical definition is eating in order to escape, numb change, or amplify our feelings. Research has indicated that about 75% of all of our eating is emotionally driven. We eat not because we're hungry, because we're bored, we're stressed, we're anxious. Think about that for a moment, 75% of our eating, that's a large number. So it's an incredibly important issue for us to think about and dive into.

We're going to be talking about lots of different aspects of it today from how to cope with it, but I'd love to start out with telling you a little bit about... a story, a story about emotional eating to really highlight the way that emotion is so interwoven with the way that we eat and with food. So I'll start there.

When I was growing up... I am from an Italian family. My mother's side of the family is Italian. Now, if you come from any kind of strong cultural background, you probably can identify with this, that food is a big part of culture and tradition. It's very interwoven. So in my mother's side of the family, the Italian side, food was really about love and celebration. We're going to talk about that a lot today. Anytime we would have a holiday growing up, the first thing we would do is decide what we were going to eat. And there were a lot of traditional foods that would go with that celebration.

My father's side of the family is very different. He grew up on a farm. What he ate growing up... and if you look at my grandmother's recipe cards to this day, it had foods that they grew throughout the farm; apples from the trees, fish from their creek. So my parents had a very different relationship to food. Growing up, when my mom would make dinner, she'd be very excited, she'd say, "What are we going to have for dinner tonight?" Very excited about making something. And of course my father would say, "What do we have?" His relationship was very practical.

So I can see both sides of the coin with food, the very emotional side, that it's part of love and celebration and tradition, but also the very practical. We would talk a lot about how was food grown? Where was it from? What kind of nutrients did it provide? So if you're listening today, I would really encourage you to think about your own family and bring your own background and emotion connected with food into the pictures we're talking today and think about your caregivers. What kind of emotional relationship did they have with food and what did they pass on to you?

And with your own family, maybe your own children or your partner, significant other, what kind of emotional relationship do you bring to the table or what kind would you like to have? Fast forward to today, my father, who is a veterinarian, about 20 years ago, he had a chemical accident and his smell was knocked out, his sense of smell was knocked out and he could no longer taste food. And if you've experienced COVID, you may have had this experience as well, that it's very difficult to taste food at this point.

I've had many people, clients come in who have said, "Gosh! I just wish I didn't enjoy food as much." And it's been really heartbreaking to watch my dad after he lost his sense of smell not be able to taste food and the clients that I work with who come in who've had COVID can no longer taste food for a short period of time. Luckily, for many of them it comes back. But it's interesting to see how different it is when we don't experience joy from food. We need to have a little bit of joy and emotion attached to it to want to eat and to experience food.

So my main message that you're going to hear today is that emotional eating, not a bad thing for many people, we all do it. It's really about when emotional eating becomes a problem, or the main source of coping in your life, that it becomes an issue for clients who are coming in.

Molly Shrodes:
That's awesome. And that's a really great spot to start, with that family connection and also celebratory eating. It's such a big part of all of our parties. The first thing we think of is, what are we going to have? What are we going to serve?

Dr. Susan Albers:

Molly Shrodes:
But I do want to talk to you a little bit about, what are some of the main emotions that you see with emotional eating? Obviously, we already mentioned the happy, joyful, but what are some of the other things?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yeah. A significant part of emotional eating has to do with stress. All of us have experienced stress eating at some point in our lives. What's interesting about our society and our culture is that one of the things it does is it teaches us to use food for coping. And I would challenge you to do this today. If you look at commercials or ads, often they are encouraging people to turn to food as a way to cope. In fact, I was looking at an ad the other day. It was an ad of a woman and she was in a bathtub and she was covered in chocolate.

She was taking a bath and chocolate and the tagline said something about soothing and comforting with food instead of... The underlying message was instead of soothing and comforting as we traditionally do with a hot bath, but to eat and eat chocolate and cookies. So it's very subtle ways our culture really teaches us to use food to sooth. Also, it's something that's available 24/7. We can reach for it any time of the day. So when we're feeling stressed, it is very easy to make a beeline for food.

What's different about stress and stress eating that we have to keep in mind, and one reason that it's very normal in a way that we should turn to that as a coping mechanism, is that when we're feeling stressed, our whole bodies are flooded with cortisol. Cortisol is that stress hormone, and that really makes us crave sugary, fatty salty foods. Now, go back to ancient times, when we were stressed, we needed all the calories that we could because we were going to be involved in some sort of fight or flight situation.

So you're really, when you're feeling stressed, dealing with your ancient biology that is telling you, "Go get some food." So don't get so hard on yourself. When you're feeling stressed, your first response is to want to eat it. It makes a lot of sense.

Molly Shrodes:
Absolutely. Now, can you talk to us a little bit about the blurry line that exists between emotional eating and the occasional stress eating or celebratory eating?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yeah. This question comes up a lot with my clients. When does emotional eating become an issue or a problem? When is it emotional eating? Sometimes you just need some chocolate to feel better, and that's okay. When does it become an issue? For my clients, one of the things that we look at is when it becomes their primary sense of coping, that it's time and again, when they're feeling stressed, that is their first stop or their first or only way of coping, is turning to food. Often, that is when emotional eating becomes more of a problem or an issue.

When we go to parties or celebrations, the holidays are coming up, this is another time that people often struggle with emotional eating for many different reasons. In part, holidays can bring up a lot of busyness, stress, contact with family members, and availability of all kinds of great holiday treats. So sometimes it is the perfect storm of a recipe for emotional eating. So during the holiday season, I often see an increase in people who are coming in specifically for emotional eating. That is the time of the year that they struggle, other times, not as much.

Molly Shrodes:
So there are kind of peak seasons?

Dr. Susan Albers:
There are definitely peak seasons where I think it comes and goes. The pandemic has been quite an issue in regards to prompting emotional eating. So if you have experienced emotional eating during the pandemic, an increase, you are not alone. The research that is now coming out really confirms what my clients were saying all throughout the pandemic, is that suddenly all of their habits and routines around food came to a screeching halt, and some of their coping mechanisms outside of the home, exercise and connection with others, other ways of coping, were pulled aside.

What happened? We were isolated, sitting at home, and within reach of our kitchen. So during the pandemic, that increase of stress... Also, boredom. That's another emotion that I didn't mention before as being a primary trigger, is boredom. We do a lot of boredom eating because eating feels purposeful. It fills up our time, it gives us some entertainment. So during the pandemic, there was a lot of anxiety, stress, boredom eating that was happening.

The good news is that as we have continued on, pandemic issues still are prevalent, but people found new ways to cope and new ways to adjust to the environment. So we've seen some positive movement in regards to emotional eating.

Molly Shrodes:
I do feel like during pandemic I saw an uptick in the conversation between boredom eating and emotional eating versus physical hunger. Can you talk to us a little bit about the difference there?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yes. That is a primary issue for people to really piece apart, is what is emotional eating versus physical hunger? And that one is not easy. One of the reasons it's not easy is because after years and years, we look to external cues of when to stop eating. So for example, if I'm eating a plate, one of the external cues is when my plate is finished, I'm done. Or if a parent says to me, "You need to finish your plate," then you're done, instead of those internal cues of paying attention to the stop and start that our body gives us.

One of the things that first and foremost that I go over with my clients is the difference between physical and emotional hunger. And this takes some time to piece apart. Physical hunger, for example, develops slowly over time. So after you eat, you may be satisfied for a while and then your hunger is going to grow over time. You desire a variety of different foods, you feel the sensation of fullness, and you can track feeling more satisfied or full as you're eating. This is in contrast to emotional eating.

Emotional eating is often sudden. Suddenly you say, "I need to eat something. I need some chocolate." You may crave only certain kinds of food. If you're saying to yourself, "I don't want to just eat something because I'm hungry. I want chocolate, and that's all that's going to satisfy me," it's a red flag of emotional eating. You may also overeat on a certain amount of food. The sensation that a lot of my clients talk about is wanting that food to make them feel better or satisfied, and no matter how much they eat, it never really brings them to that feeling until they feel sick or overly full and then they stop eating.

But they're hoping that as they're eating, it's going to change their sensation in some way. Again, another red flag. Then also, if eating is attached with shame or guilt, red flag of emotional eating. But if this is something that you struggle with you, you're definitely not alone. But one of the things that you can do and start doing, is before you take a bite, is tune into yourself and ask yourself just that question, "Am I eating because I'm physically hungry or perhaps I'm emotionally feeling something?"

You would be surprised at how often when you really pause for a moment, take that mindful moment, and ask yourself that question, that you say to yourself, "You know what? Maybe I'm feeling bored right now." Or, "Maybe I'm really not that hungry. I'm feeling anxious." Having that awareness, taking that pause moment, can turn it in a different direction. If you don't ask yourself that question, if you start eating and then after the fact when it's too late that's when you start asking those questions... So with my clients, we can turn that around.

We start asking ourselves that question before we start eating. It can really shift your coping in a very different direction. But it's so automatic, a knee-jerk reaction for many of us, that we engage in it before we even know it.

Molly Shrodes:
Now, diving just a little deeper there, what are a few more of those red flag kind of questions that you can ask yourself?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yeah. Well, one other trigger that I think is really important for us to ask ourselves and to think about is around dieting, that dieting is often a significant trigger of emotional eating. And this is tough because many people in our world, in our culture, are dieting each and every day. They want to eat healthier, but that restrictive eating is one of the number one triggers of emotional eating. So a question to ask yourself is, what are you eating? Is there any aspect of dieting or restriction that is linked to overeating?

Also, anxiety. Anxiety is a significant trigger. There's about 40% of people who eat more when they're feeling stressed. But also, on the other end of emotional eating is that there are about 40% also of people who say when they are overly anxious, they don't eat, they lose their appetite. That's when their emotions are so great and so intense that it pushes away or supersedes that feeling of hunger, that they no longer tune into it. This can be an issue or problematic because we need food. We need food to help us to deal with stress and emotions.

One of the things that I think and I've found in my research that's been a little bit of a myth is that we focus on emotional eating in one direction. We think about what we feel and how it impacts what we eat. Instead, I think that direction goes both ways. What we eat can also impact how we feel. So we need to start looking at it not just in one direction, but both directions. In fact, there's some recent research that had participants track everything they ate for a week and then they started to look at their mood.

What they found is they were able to predict people's moods two days later based on what they were eating the day before and two days before. So what an interesting study and an interesting finding to think about, what we eat could impact how we feel. The more that we start to take charge of that and control of that, we can eat certain foods that can actually help our mood and prevent a lot of emotional eating.

Molly Shrodes:
I am now incredibly curious what those foods are to put on the shopping list.

Dr. Susan Albers:
Right. Yes, absolutely. Well, one that is very important are vitamin D rich foods. Lots of research indicates that people who are low in vitamin D actually have more features of depression and anxiety. So super interesting, right? That this low level of vitamin D has an impact on mood. So, bulking up on vitamin D rich foods. These are things like fortified milk and cereals, eggs. Mushrooms are the number one source of vitamin D because mushrooms grow outside, they absorb the sunlight, which is vitamin D, and are things that you can weave into your diet.

Also, vitamin C rich foods can help with stress, because when you think about it, when you're stressed, your body is really... it's fighting and it needs its immunity up. So one of my favorite foods for stress eaters is mandarin oranges. So I love that because, one, it's a very portable food, but also high in vitamin C, low in calories, they're easy to peel and eat. But also research has shown that when you smell an orange, the aroma is very calming. We know this because when you walk into spas and hotels, they pump in this smell of citrus because it's so common.

So if you're a stress eater, load up on some of those mandarin oranges. They can be really helpful. Also, we like foods that are high in proteins for people who are emotional eaters. This is going to help to prevent you from getting overly hungry, and that's when we reach for any kind of food to soothe our emotions. One of the topics that I've been writing and talking a lot about lately is about being hangry. And hangry, it's that term hungry and angry that we put together. It's kind of a new term. But we've all been hangry at one point or another. It's such a clear example of how mood and food are connected with each other.

I was really inspired by my own children who when I pick them up from school and they get in the car, I started to notice that when I asked them questions, they were a little bit more on the grumpy side until we got home, we had a snack, and they were completely different kids. Our mood is highly impacted by when we're feeling overly hungry. So making sure that we have enough snacks, that we load up on things that help to give us nutrients, make sure that we don't fall into that hangry zone.

Molly Shrodes:
That's really fascinating. I was thinking back to advertising, as you said earlier, with the grab a candy bar kind of ad when you're angry. But as we transition here to some of the things that can happen or medical conditions that are related to this, what medical conditions are related to emotional eating?

Dr. Susan Albers:
That's a great question because sometimes my clients are coming in and their primary issue is around emotional eating. Then sometimes it's more of the background. If you're struggling with depression, you are likely to have changes in your appetite, either overeating or undereating, a lot more emotional eating. There's a lot of research that talks about seasonal affective disorder. When the time change happens and it gets colder and darker earlier, there's often a significant increase in emotional eating.

People who experience any kind of issue with pain, we often turn to emotional eating to soothe pain as a way of coping and feeling a lot better. One of the things that we really talk about when clients come in is, is this the primary issue or is there another issue that's exacerbating your emotional eating? So if you're feeling depressed, is it the depression that needs to be treated to really help the emotional eating go down? Or is it the other way around? Is it emotional eating is causing some depression or exacerbating the depression? So it's a chicken and egg approach sometimes of really looking at what is causing what.

Also, anxiety disorders. Sometimes it can be a medical issue as well. People who struggle with diabetes, often their blood sugar is up and down. It strongly impacts their mood. I will often have clients who come in who have struggled with diabetes for a long time and they routinely take their blood sugar and they can tell given how they're really mindful and get to know themselves and their blood sugar levels by how they're feeling. When they tune in, they can almost tell me to a tee if their blood sugars high or low and where it is because that's how much their mood is impacted by their blood sugar level.

So it's really important if you struggle with emotional eating to get an assessment from a physician, a therapist, someone who can help you to piece apart if there is an underlying medical issue, or if this is the primary issue that's going on in your life. Often, there's another issue that is related.

Molly Shrodes:
That's right. It never feels like there's anything that exists in a vacuum. Everything goes together. Now, for people out there that are thinking, well, this sounds kind of like me, how do they get started on managing emotional eating?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yeah. Well, first of all, what's really important is to understand what's causing it, to use some mindfulness and tune in and to recognize that emotional eating is part of your life. One of the techniques that I use is to encourage people to use the acronym SWAP, S-W-A-P, SWAP. So we're going to SWAP out food and SWAP in something else. The S stands for say. Say really clearly how you're feeling before you eat. Am I feeling angry, bored? Being really mindful of your feelings. If you're genuinely hungry, eat, no problem.

But if you're at that stage and you say to yourself, "Okay, maybe I'm feeling something else," step two is to wait. So S-W, wait. Don't act immediately. Again, slow down that knee-jerk reaction between I'm feeling something and I eat. Create a gap between that thought, "I want to eat something," and the response or action of doing it. Count to five, give yourself a little pause to tune in. A is to address the feelings and not the food. Target the feeling instead of that desire to eat.

If you're feeling bored, what can you do to help with that boredom? If you're feeling anxious or stressed, finding some things that can help you to soothe. What's interesting is research indicates that food makes us feel better for only three minutes. They did a study and they gave people a chocolate and they studied how long they felt better after they were eating and it was only three minutes. That's very fleeting. When we turn to activities that actually soothe, research indicates that good feeling lasts a lot longer.

So it can be a challenge to find things that are soothing, not pleasurable, but soothing. So wrapping in a warm blanket, getting some exercise, things that help to bring down that cortisol level, it's really important. Then P is to pursue another activity. So if you take out that comfort eating, you got to put something else back in its place. One of the things that I do with my clients is to do what we call the 5/5/5/5 exercise. If you're listening and you need a little bit of help with this, get out a piece of paper and think about, write down... You need a plan. And having a plan and writing it down, hanging it up if you're an emotional eater.

It's kind of that if/then statement. If I'm feeling anxious, then these are the things that I do. So five people that you can call when you feel down or upset or you need to vent. Five ways that you can relax. Maybe it's take a hot shower, shut your eyes, put your feet up. Five places that you can go to calm down. Maybe it's your bed, a quiet room. Even shutting the door sometimes of your office can be a place that you can soothe and calm down. Five things that you can say to yourself when you're feeling pretty stressed or you need a pick-me-up. I can do this, this too will pass.

Then five ways that you can distract yourself. Maybe it's a puzzle, a movie, run an errand, an email. Have a list of these five different areas, because each time that we emotionally eat, something different triggers it. Sometimes it's a thought, sometimes it's a feeling, an emotion. It's not always the same trigger. But if we have some options instead of food that are already laid out for us, it's highly likely that we can choose one of these other options. And it takes some practice.

Molly Shrodes:
That's an awesome plan. I like having some plan options in place there so that you go into it and you know what to do. Now, I'm wondering, how do you approach others in your life that often instigate? For example, somebody who knows, oh, you had a bad day. I bought you were a piece of cake and brought it home for you. How do you communicate with these people and help get across to them that you want to do something else and not cope with food?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Oh, and it's so true. Many people in our lives are well-intentioned. They want to soothe us with food and comfort us. This is a habit that we learn even from being young children. You fall down, your parents says to you, "Here's a cookie," to distract you or to make you feel better. It's really woven into our culture of using food as a reward, as a soother. So it's no surprise that you probably have someone in your life who does this. I think one of the things that's really important is to recognize, one, that that's happening, and two, to try and help to steer that in a different direction.

Instead of always routinely celebrating with food, you can pick other ways to celebrate important events in your life. We're so traditionally tied to that. And celebratory eating is fine. I mean, that's not so much the issue. It's really rewarding and trying to help people soothe with food. So instead of... like the example with the little kid, they fall down and you want them to feel better, some words are really important, of, "You're okay." Rubbing their back, touch, is really important. This is going to help them internalize their own sense of soothing.

When they fall down and you're not there, the words that come into your mind, they're going to help to talk themselves through it. So we can really role model for the people in our lives around us other ways of coping and soothing. Sometimes we just have to put it out there as an alternative.

Molly Shrodes:
That's awesome. Now, really quickly, I wanted to touch on prolonged stress. We've just been through a lot of stress, kind of collectively here. I wanted to see how has that impacted... I know earlier you mentioned about how the pandemic has impacted a lot of people and caused an uptick in emotional eating. Can you talk a little bit about long-term stress and emotional eating?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Oh, yeah. This has been a year of long-term stress and our bodies are not really wired to endure long periods of stress. Short periods of stress, but not long periods of stress. So if you have been feeling stressed throughout this pandemic, again, not alone, but it's really time to think about other ways to cope and to bring down that cortisol level in healthy ways. It may be one of our best forms of doing that is through exercise and getting some movement into your life.

This is going to help to bring down that cortisol level, as well as eating some of those foods that we talked about to help to boost your immune system and to also to help you to cope with the wear and tear of stress. Stress really does a number on your body, both in the short-term. When somebody has been really stressed, you can really see it in terms of their skin tone, their eyes. You can really see that it takes a toll. But long-term, sometimes we don't see the effects immediately, but down the road. So it's really worth investing in some other ways of coping with your stress level.

And it's hard. It's tough. Like I said, all of our coping mechanisms were really changed. Hopefully, you have been able to do more connection. I think that was probably one of our biggest sources of ongoing stress, is that breach in connection with other people. So hopefully, the less isolation, more connection, more movement is going to pay off. I'm really hopeful and optimistic. I've seen people who have been really entrenched during the pandemic form new habits and actually use some of their new routines in a healthy way.

One of my favorite techniques in psychology is around what's known as habit stacking. Habit stacking is using a pre-existing routine in your life to get another routine going. For example, I have a client who really wanted to add exercise into his life, but was having a hard time doing that. We all say we want to exercise more, but just couldn't get it going. So we use this technique of habit stacking. One of his habits that he does every single day is to make coffee in the morning. Makes coffee same time, same place. Very routine, could do it asleep because it's so ingrained into his life.

Right after that, added onto it seven minutes of exercise. So coffee, then exercise. What this does is it helps you to get into routine and establish that new routine without a lot of effort. Think about for yourself, if you have some kind of routine in your life that you automatically do when you want to get exercise going, try attaching that exercise onto it. For example, if you get the mail every day at the same time, maybe after you get the mail, maybe you go for a walk down the street. We have lots of different routines that we do.

We brush our teeth every day, same time. We don't really think about it, it's not an emotional decision. We just do it out of routine. So find a habit that you have and stack a healthy new habit right on top of it.

Molly Shrodes:
That's awesome. I'm noticing there's a lot of introspection going on with this entire topic. Do people struggle with that, looking inside and figuring out all of this about themselves?

Dr. Susan Albers:
They do. I mean, partly it's because it's so part of our culture to eat. And we have lots of different kinds of eatings, celebratory eating. Eating is something we do every day, and so it can become very routine. If we don't take a moment to pause and to tune in and to think about it, then we can fall into a lot of habits, not even really realize that we're engaging in emotional eating. That's one of the first things that I have my clients do, is to do some observation and look at some of the mindless eating habits that they have in their life, emotional eating habits.

And they're always surprised when they put a little bit of a spotlight on themselves of how often they're engaging in a lot of routine behaviors. One of the things I find really interesting about comfort foods is that when you look at cross-culturally, comfort foods are not all the same. Comfort doesn't come inherently in the food. It really comes from our emotional connection to that food and the meaning towards it. If you go to let's say Japan... In United States, a high number of people label chocolate as a comfort food.

Go to Japan, that is not the same. There are other foods that are labeled as comfort foods, miso soup and things like that. So really, comfort foods take a cross-cultural perspective. Also, they're impacted by economics. For example, macaroni and cheese is something that many people find is a comfort food. They associate it with their childhood. But there was a study that was done in Canada that looked at macaroni and cheese and they found that it was kind of economically dependent that macaroni and cheese is something that's often donated to shelters.

So for a group of people, macaroni and cheese was not a comfort food. It's something that they ate all the time because it was easily accessible. So I would encourage people to think about the comfort foods that are part of their lives. Why did they evolve as a comfort food? What role did they play? And what emotional context do they have for you? That emotional part of the brain, the amygdala, encodes all of our emotional memories and our connection. So when you're eating a comfort food, we look at your brain, that amygdala would be lighting up.

It is thinking about not the food, but the emotion that's connected to it, your childhood, your association with it. I was just watching a TV program, Friends, and in this program, the characters were eating ice cream and they were talking about a breakup. We often see in media and different sources that when you connecting, when you break up with someone, you eat ice cream, that that's even in our culture, in our TV programs, in our perspective. So we have a lot of emotion connected with certain kinds of foods, such as ice cream, it's a break up food, or it provides a certain emotion. So if you are gravitating towards certain foods over and over again, think about what emotion that particular food means to you.

Molly Shrodes:
Oh man, there's so many, right? As we wrap up, I just want to take a moment to talk about privacy and people not wanting to always talk about it because there can be that link of shamefulness and feeling insecure about all of this. Why is it important to talk about emotional eating and seek help if you want it?

Dr. Susan Albers:
Yes. I'm so glad we're talking about this topic today. Unfortunately, what I see in the work that I do is that there is a lot of shame or guilt or hiding, secrecy around eating issues. It's often a red flag of needing some sort of treatment assistance if there is a real secret component to it. So bringing this to light, talking about it with other people, can really bring to light that, one, many people struggle with emotional eating, that it is a difficult thing in our world, particularly when it feels like it has taken on a life of its own, when it's become out of control or problematic or associated with shame or guilt.

That's when we know that some kind of treatment can be of assistance. So you can start by speaking with your doctor or with a therapist, a psychologist, who can help you unravel that connection between food and mood and know the circumstances, the feelings, how it's being prompted, as we spoke about before, if there are any medical issues that are prompting it, and help you to come up with a plan of how to address it. The good news about emotional eating is that it's something that can be treated and you can work through it. And really, I've seen a lot of success with my patients.

Molly Shrodes:
Thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your insights, Dr. Albers.

Dr. Susan Albers:
Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Molly Shrodes:
If you would like to schedule an appointment with Cleveland Clinic Center for Behavioral Health, please visit clevelandclinic.org/behavioralhealth, or call 216-636-5860.

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Health Essentials
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Health Essentials

Tune in for practical health advice from Cleveland Clinic experts. What's really the healthiest diet for you? How can you safely recover after a heart attack? Can you boost your immune system?

Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit, multispecialty academic medical center that's recognized in the U.S. and throughout the world for its expertise and care. Our experts offer trusted advice on health, wellness and nutrition for the whole family.

Our podcasts are for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as medical advice. They are not designed to replace a physician's medical assessment and medical judgment. Always consult first with your physician about anything related to your personal health.

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