Food is such a big part of our lives. It's important for vital nutrients, healthy growth, and good energy for our bodies.
But what happens when our eating habits are no longer supporting our optimal sense of wellbeing?
Today, we're going to explore the topic of emotional eating with our guest and I know she's going to shed some real light to support the process of getting back to feeling good about our habits of eating well.
Cassie Christopher is a registered dietician and founder of the Stress Less Weight Mastery. She is passionate about helping women love themselves better by healing emotional overeating.
Stay connected with Cassie and find out more about her work with the quick, access links below:
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Midlife. What does it mean to you? I believe that midlife is a place to recognize, reprioritize, and redefine your purpose. It's a place of new beginnings, new personal growth, and new adventures. Midlife is a chance to release your outdated labels and begin designing your second life journey. How? With heart centered experts, tangible tools, and a supportive community. Why? Because if not now, then when? Now, that's real talk. I'm Ericka, your host and curator of Zest. Let's begin building your midlife by design together. If you're enjoying this content, leave a review on apple podcast and share this podcast with someone you care about too, as it truly helps to keep the Zesty energy flowing.
Visit thezestfulmovement.com, where you'll find more resources cultivated for your midlife journey. Cassie Christopher is a registered dietician and founder of the Stress Less Weight Mastery. She is passionate about helping women love themselves better by healing emotional overeating. Food is such a big part of our lives. It's important for vital nutrients, healthy growth, and good energy for our bodies. But what happens when our eating habits are no longer supporting our optimal sense of wellbeing? Today, we're going to explore the topic of emotional eating with our guest. And I know she's going to shed some real light to support the process of getting back to feeling good about our habits of eating well. Cassie, welcome to Midlife by Design.
Thank you so much for having me. I'm so excited to talk to you about this today.
So let's go ahead and jump right in. So I think sometimes on a topic like this, it's helpful for people to know what your back story is, and then maybe some of your good points can help them relate more to some things they may be going through as well.
Oh, definitely. Definitely. And my story, which I'll share in a moment, really revolves around figuring out self care. So I know for sure that's applicable to all of us, especially as we're coming out of the lockdown pandemic life and trying to figure out a new way of being. So for me, I noticed that... And I love how you said eating habits don't support optimal wellbeing. And what I love about that Ericka is, it's so non-judgmental, it's so non-shaming. I might have to steal that.
Oh, you go right ahead. It's all yours. Feel free.
Yeah. That's just, wow. Wow. So for me, I noticed that I was having these eating habits that weren't supporting my optimal wellbeing when I was in graduate school studying nutrition of all things.
Isn't it funny how that happens? Like we're going to get the knowledge and then it's so hard for us to apply it ourselves when we're in the moment of it, so that's so funny.
A hundred percent. And for me what was happening, is I was so stressed out. For whatever reason, grad school for nutrition, which sounds like it should be fun for all my nerds out there, was like a stress pressure cooker.
Because the thing is, is only like 50% of graduates get to become registered dieticians. And there's not enough jobs and spaces in yada yada.
That's so stressful.
So I'm in this pressure cooker, and my way of coping, I soon learned, was chocolate bars.
Okay. The good old chocolate's kryptonite, huh?
Yes. So just about every day, I'd end up in the school little shop buying artisanal dark chocolate bars. And I thought, "Well, they're dark chocolate. So that's healthy for me, right." And they're snobby, so got to be doing something here. And shout out to Theo's, a local Seattle company, that has amazing chocolate if anyone's looking for a new fix. But probably not helpful for the concept of this conversation should. So there I am noticing that I'm struggling with these bars. And everything I was learning in school was in that, "Cut it out, eliminate it," mentality. This was the time when elimination diets were becoming popular, carbs were becoming the devil.
And so I was like, "Okay, if I want to be successful, I need to stop eating everything that tastes good." And I just found I couldn't do it. No matter what I learned or what new tactic or strategy I tried, or what gym shoes I had and that was wearing them or whatever, I kept going back to the chocolate because things were so stressful. And I didn't actually have other ways to manage or cope with the stress and all of the feelings. Feelings of inadequacy, feelings of, "Who am I, what do I want," grappling with all of this big stuff. And I was using chocolate to numb or avoid having to feel those things. Does that make any sense?
Totally makes sense, and I think it's very relatable because you went to something that was comforting.
And because we could find that connection, "Well, it's dark chocolate and it's fancy chocolate, then it's really a treat and it must be good for me." But then when we see the side effects of that choice, then we out about it, and then we feel like we have to strip ourselves completely of joy. So that really is, I think very relatable. We go in with what we know, we understand that it's not serving us, and then it's almost like we punish ourselves for our choices and then go way the other direction.
Yeah. I love that, stripping ourselves of joy, because honestly what I was learning in school, the traditional diet practices. And what I haven't said is I gained 20 pounds in two years as a result of all of this chocolate. Maybe you read that between the lines. And everything I was learning was all about, "Well, cut it out. Well, don't have it." Or, "Only have it when you're hungry." It's like, "Okay, well I'm hungry all the time, so I can eat it all the time, right?"
So none of those strategies were working. And honestly, it wasn't for many years until I figured out what was going on. And for me, that final tipping point was when I was a new mom, I'd been practicing dietician for many years at that point. And I was just in another time of stress in my life. Colicky baby, trouble breastfeeding, not sleeping through the night at all. We had just moved. We bought a house that we were renovating and then two and a half days back from maternity leave, the company I was working for closed.
Oh my goodness.
So I was out of the job two and a half days back.
That's a lot of change all in one fair swoop there, for sure. Big changes at that.
And it was another time in my life where I found myself reaching for, in that time it was Ritz crackers and cheese.
So you adapted.
You moved past the chocolate.
Yeah. Yeah. I was like, "Oh, the cheese." And again, it's this justifying. The cheese was a fat and it's good for the breast milk production, right?
I had this nutrition-y justification, if that could be a word. But I got to a point where all of a sudden I was in pain like I'd never been in before in my whole body. I was in so much pain all the time.
And when you say pain, Cassie, what are you speaking to specifically? What were some of those symptoms?
So eventually I discovered that I was having some autoimmune joint issues.
Okay. Okay. And as a young woman at that, you were starting to have those side effects. Okay. Very interesting.
Exactly. Yeah. So a lot of what I was eating, again, these eating habits that don't support optimal wellbeing was very inflammatory.
Sugary and the white, the white kind of carb and the cheese, whatever. So a lot of inflammation happening and then very stressed obviously, unhappy, sleep deprived. And I just was like, "This isn't what I want for myself as a new mom." I had of course, star in my eyes type dreams about what that time in my life would be like, and it wasn't what I wanted. And what I realized was-
Well, could I jump in just one second?
Because what I'm noticing too, and I think this is really powerful, is because you are a nutritionist, you are a dietician, you went to school formally to gain this information. And even with all of your background knowledge, you were still struggling as an individual to do the choices that were best for you in a given moment, especially if it was a stress-filled moment. And so I think that makes it really relatable as an individual that it's okay if we don't understand stuff, because we're not necessarily exposed to what's best for us in a given moment with the knowledge that we have right now.
Thank you so much for stopping and pointing that out, because what I want everyone to hear, throw me under the bus here, use me as an example. In the sense that, "Hey, if somebody with their master's degree in nutrition, these letters after her name that means she knows how to eat well, can't get this figured out, if you are struggling, well then let's have some compassion."
Yes, absolutely. And I really feel like society doesn't give that leeway away for women. Whether you are a student, a graduate student, a new mom, an almost empty nest mom, there's all these standards about what we should be doing, what we should look like, where our energy should be, but then there's not the knowledge to support us to be our healthiest selves. And so I love hearing the honesty from you because it just affirms that it's okay if you don't know. And that's why we're having this conversation, so we can learn a little bit more and be more empowered in the choices we make for ourselves. So thank you for sharing the honesty of your journey.
Oh, of course, this is what I live to do. And of course I'm a chronic oversharer.
That's okay. You're in good company, I love that.
So at that point in life, I think especially the pain probably was a tipping point for me, more than weight gain. I was at the highest weight I'd ever been, just didn't feel good, wasn't having the life I wanted. And I said, "I have to figure this out. No more." And I went on this journey. And for me, the journey was more around self care than it was about food. It was about giving myself permission to engage in care for myself because I am worthy of care, because I'm a human being.
I love that. I honestly just got chills because I love this idea. So I feel like we're so geared towards eating to look a certain way, but we don't really pay attention to how we feel. So even if we get into that number sized outfit or that number on the scale, we're not really tuning into how we feel. So this notion to be empowered to get the knowledge you need so that you can do self care and feel good about yourself through the choices, ooh, that's fantastic. That's a juicy spot to be in.
It is. And I think, still going back to what you said, eating habits don't support optimal wellbeing. And I was there. I wanted to eat the anti-inflammatory stuff so that I wouldn't be in so much pain. I wanted to do the things I knew I could do for myself, but I wasn't scheduled it in or doing the meal press or whatever, doing these strategies I knew that I needed to do. And I think this had always been with me, but something about becoming a mom flipped a switch in a dramatic way that made me believe that, "Okay, I'm a mom now, I have to do everything for the little child."
I remember thinking things like, "Well, I'm home on maternity leave, so I should be able to clean the house. I should be able to work out, care for this baby, take a shower."
You were thinking that you were going to have a bunch of capes in your closet. All of a sudden, right?
I can do it all. I can do it all.
Right. And I should, notice should, should, should here, I should when my husband gets home, be able to let him rest and I keep caring for the baby, because he had a hard day at work. And a mentor of mine, I remember her looking at me like I was insane. Why should your husband get to rest? You didn't get a rest at all.
Exactly. Yeah, I love that message. Powerful message.
Yeah. And what's funny is I was so deluded, I don't know. I was not in a place to receive that. It wasn't until much later that that message sunk in and I'm like, "Yeah, why should I?" And it's interesting because now I'm watching a lot of my clients struggle with this same thing. As the world is reopening and they're getting back together with family and they're having family barbecues or family over, just more family stuff, and they're shifting back into these superwoman roles where they're-
It's just the unrealistic expectation, right?
And for me, being on the other side, so me being almost empty nester, I love this conversation because when I was raising my children, there wasn't this conversation to be like, "Why can't you take a break for yourself?" And so what I discover is that even when you're on the other side of it, it's hard embrace taking care of yourself because we haven't been given the permission to do so. And it's almost like if society doesn't give us the permission, if we don't have a close friend, a mentor, to look us in the eyes to help give us the permission, it's like we can't give it for ourselves.
So I think it's something that I think it's connected to women. Maybe it's innate to us, but I also just feel like no one ever says, "Hey, can I help you with that?" And so we don't ask for that help. So nice that you're doing it in your youth. And I feel like more and more young moms are doing that for themselves. And as an older mom, honestly, it really warms my heart because I think it'll put you in a better position as you get closer towards your children, growing up and doing their own things. So I think it's pretty fabulous.
Thank you. Yes.
And an excellent reminder.
It's been a helpful journey for me. And what I found was the issue was, again, that I didn't believe I had the same level of worthiness as my daughter and my husband to care for myself. And this goes back, Amelia and I can't remember her sister's name, Nagoski, wrote this book called Burnout. And they quote this full philosopher, Kate Manne, I'm getting to the point, but it's a bit of a rabbit trail to get there. So she's a moral philosopher, and she says that in this world, there are human beings and human givers. And human beings are the ones who get to do what they want and live life to the fullest. And human givers, essentially this feminine role that we're talking about, are the people who give up their time, their bodies, their energy, their resources, to serve the human beings.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). And the beauty of what I'm hearing in that statement is there's so much honor in being the human giver. There's honor in serving these people that we love so much that are important to us. But the thing is, if we're ignoring our fatigue, our pain, our sense of wellbeing, then ultimately we're just squashing the light that's within. And listening to you, I'm also hearing that we can shift from being a giver to a being, we just simply have to give ourselves the permission to do so, and honor what our body's actually telling us in the process.
Exactly. And for people like me who are growth minded and love that personal discovery, this can be an amazingly fun process, and of course scary. Because going from a human giver to a human being, you don't know how the human beings are going to react. Are they going to revolt?
And they very well may. They very well may.
They very well may.
Yes. And and that's honestly okay. Because I think going back to you of understanding that, "Listen, I have all of this. I have a master's degree for goodness sakes, but still I'm struggling in my knowledge, I'm struggling in my pain, and I'm not really showing up in a way that I want to honor myself as a mom," maybe even as a role model to your own daughter. So I think it's important that that voice be louder as we transition from the giver to the being. And so with that being said, because I feel like you've really gone down that path becoming more of a being, what would you say are some key things that you did to find that courage and not worry so much about the people you love revolting in this new path?
Yeah. I really did a lot of work around desire.
What do I desire? Is it okay for me to have desires? I grew up in a very conservative, fundamental religious upbringing where desires were suspicious.
They were probably sinful if they came from you. And so this idea that I could want something and it could be good and something I could honor, was something I had to really explore and do some work around. And part of that, it ties back here to the eating, because oftentimes with eating, what we're doing is numbing or avoiding feeling our feelings. And the reason we do that is because it works.
And the immediate sensation works. Is that what you mean?
It works to avoid or numb your emotions. Yes, it works in the moment. And so what happens when you eat, you get a hit of the neurotransmitter dopamine.
And dopamine tickles the reward, the pleasure, the motivation centers of your brain. And when I say motivation, I mean motivating you to do that same thing again, to eat.
The whatever [crosstalk 00:19:15]
It's like a hamster wheel, if you will, you keep going with it. You get a little bit of good stuff and you're like, "Ooh, I need a little bit more of that cheese and crackers."
Exactly. Exactly. And the reason that happens is because on the one hand, the dopamine is working, it's making you feel pleasure, it's making you feel reward. I don't know if anyone else here has that, "Well I deserve a da, da, da, I deserve a reward so I'm going to eat this."
It makes you feel rewarded. That's why you're doing that. But also, if you don't feel your emotion, there's some old phrases that come to mind, the only way out is through. Feeling is healing.
These things are true. That if you don't feel your emotion, you don't feel your stress, you don't feel your insecurity about your worthiness or what have you, then it's going to keep coming back. It's going to get stuck in that emotion. It's going to get stuck in that stress cycle. You're never going to complete it and be out of it. And so when you don't eat, but rather you feel and you process, then it allows that emotion to dissipate and go away normally.
So how could someone distinguish whether or not they are just a hearty eater versus being an emotional eater? What would be the trigger for that? Because sometimes, we can justify it. "Hey, whatever reason, I need these extra things because of X, Y, Z." So how can you distinguish when you're overeating, emotional eating, versus I just enjoy food. What's the difference there?
So even if you just enjoy food, that's still the dopamine giving you pleasure.
Oh, that dopamine. Okay. Okay.
And I want to say this, it's okay to enjoy food.
Thank God. Wonderful, food is delicious.
And we're so fortunate to be in a time that we can enjoy food the way we have the ability to do so. So absolutely, enjoy it.
And it's okay to emotionally eat, because again, it works. There's the trope of breakup with your boyfriend, eat a carton of ice cream.
It only becomes a problem if it's stopping you from having this optimal wellbeing that you mentioned.
But like you say, the things that creep in, the pain that your body was experiencing, what would be some other things? Is it poor sleep? What would be some other things people could point to?
I think oftentimes, the women I work with, so I work with peri and post-menopausal women to help heal emotional eating and lose weight. And if you live in a larger body, you don't have to lose weight, I don't believe you have to work with me. I just want to say that because there's a lot of shame around body size, but that's what I help women do, who would like to lose weight. So oftentimes women come to me and they can't lose weight or they keep gaining weight, even though they feel like they're trying, similar to my story. Blood labs coming back, or chronic disease, so things like diabetes or heart disease, high cholesterol, blood sugar numbers that are just off. Your doctor saying, "You need to change, you need to do something." And you feel like you keep trying-
Yeah. But what do I do? Because honestly, it really is a different journey. So what may have worked in your twenties and thirties, maybe thirties, early forties, and then all of a sudden, it just doesn't make sense more. And you can be doing all those things that may have made you feel great when you were a bit younger, but it just doesn't apply the same way. So that guidance and that new awareness I think is crucial because there's so many changes going on that it's easy to feel desperate and lost. And so I think it's really important to acknowledge that and reach out for the help of an expert, and start moving that in the right direction for you.
I love that. And I want to say something about that and then go back to your question about how do you know if it's emotional? Because I don't think I've answered that. So the point about needing an expert's help, I want to stop there for a minute because oftentimes the women I work with have done every diet under the book to the point where they're like, "I could write a book about diets. I know what to do, I'm just not doing it." And if you are there that you feel like, "I've already had the help of health coaches from X, Y, Z different programs. And I've tried a dietician, I've tried my doctor, and I've tried prescriptions. And nothing has worked, so nothing's going to work." If you're in that place, then I encourage you, feel free to reach out to me for one thing, I'm happy to talk. But also, don't give up if you want to have this optimal health. And get some experts that really know what they're doing.
Absolutely. And I think go ahead and cut to that chase too, because it's just going to get you feeling better sooner. And speaking for my own personal experience of just the aging process, I felt like there's just so many things that feel out of our control because they are. Our children are going to grow up and leave, our parents are going to age and have issues, careers are going to come to an end, all of the things. We're going to get wrinkles, we're going to get gray, it's out of our control. So if we could take something as important as feeling good in our bodies through optimal nutrition, I think that gives you a sense of control back in your life, and it empowers you to be grounded if you will, as life is happening around you. So if we can feel good, then whatever comes our way is so much more manageable. So my little shadow would be like, "Don't suffer longer than you need to, especially when you have real resources that can help you specifically for what's going on in your body."
Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that's such a great point. Even for me, I like to share, when I was figuring this out for myself, I had a therapist, a naturopath, my own registered dietician. I tapped my friend to say, "Hey, can you help me?"
Because I needed a lot of support to get where I am. And so there's no shame in getting help.
But how to know if it's emotional. So oftentimes when you have really strong food cravings, it can be hormonal in the sense, especially in the evening, if you've gone all day without eating or you didn't eat much in the early part of the day and so you're just starving later in the day. So the first thing you could do if you wonder if you're struggling with emotional eating, is just to make sure that you're eating regularly throughout the day. That's going to balance a few key hormones, namely the stress hormone cortisol, ghrelin, appetite hormone, it's going to help balance your blood sugar hormones. And so that's going to take the edge off right away.
Excellent. And that's a very simple, accessible tip. And so when we're eating throughout the day like that, are there certain food combinations that are going to support that better?
Yeah. Making sure every time you eat, you have protein.
Ah, protein. Okay.
Protein's going to help balance that blood sugar. The other thing for people who are wanting to manage their weight is protein boosts metabolism. And so focusing in on getting protein every single time you eat. Some people will find with that little tip that their, especially nighttime eating, is just gone. "Nope, I'm good."
That's amazing. And that's something simple. And so we're cutting short here on time, Cassie, and I feel like we should have two more talks and I don't want you to get cut off here. So I want to wrap up on that tip. So you said eating just a little protein with all of your meals can cut the nighttime cravings. So are there proteins that you feel that are better? Because how do you define that? Is it a plant protein, is it a dairy protein, or is it really an animal protein that supports that the best?
Yeah. To start with, I would say just make it easy on yourself and do what works for you.
Oh, I love it. Yay. Because sometimes we overthink. I just [inaudible 00:27:52] absolutely.
I love that. Keep it easy and do what's best for you. So I love this conversation and I honestly don't want it to come to an in, but the app that we're using is going to cut us off and I don't want to leave people in the dark like that. So before we wrap here, I want to know how can people find out more about you and connect with you so they can get good information that you've already been sharing with us?
Yeah. So two ways. You are welcome to get a free guide to balance your stress hormones, to curb after dinner overeating. Where I go much more in depth around that tip I shared around eating regularly, and even give some ideas about what to eat, if that's helpful.
You can get that at cassiechristopher.net/free. And then the other place is I have a free private Facebook group called the emotional eating in women's wellness community. That if folks are on Facebook, they're welcome to join, there's a lot of free trainings in there and some of the same content that we've been talking about.
That's fantastic. And I'm actually going to add all of that information in the show notes. So if you missed it because you're driving or what have you, when you get into a good safe spot, it'll be there for you, where you can copy a paste and go ahead and join the connection.
So you have to let us know before you go, last question that I'd love to ask, how is it that you define zest in your life?
Mm-hmm (affirmative). For me, it's expansiveness. That's one of my core desired feelings, and so it's feeling open and connected at the same time.
I love that. That's beautiful. And I really do think that's a beautiful way to sum that up, expansiveness. And I will circle back, because as we're going through midlife, I think that's an important reminder. That it's not the end, it's just beginning, and it's about being expansive and taking control back of the things that we can take control over, which is ourself. It's coming back to self, doing what's good for self so that we can be expansive in life. I think that's beautiful. Well, I need to have you back on the show, would there be a moment where you could come back and chat with us on Midlife by Design?
Oh, you know I'd love to.
I would love that. What a fabulous, so much wonderful information. I'm glad that you were able to join us, and thank you so much for being here again. Thank you so much. I appreciate you holding space for these conversations to help you rediscover the essence of who you're capable of becoming, so you can choose to live your life authentically without apology. Want transcripts for this podcast? Visit thezestfulmovement.com where you'll also find more resources cultivated to guide you in reprioritizing and redefining yourself for or designed second life journey on the Zestful Movement blog. You can also become part of community by joining our weekly Essence of Zest newsletter during your visit to this site. Until next time, please do keep it zesty.