Simple Steps to End Emotional Eating

Transformational speaker and author Tricia Nelson joins JJ in today's podcast to talk about how to break free from the emotional eating trap. Tricia shares her own journey with food addiction, including how she lost 50 pounds and changed her life by identifying and healing the underlying causes of her emotional eating.

Listen to find out how to tell if you have an issue with emotional eating or food addiction, why it's key to go beyond dieting and address the root cause of the problem, plus the simple steps you can take to heal your hunger and put an end to destructive eating for good!

Freebies From Today’s Episode

Get Tricia Nelson’s free quiz to find out where you fall on the emotional eating spectrum

Mentioned in this episode:

How to Make the Most of Every Bite You Eat

Click Here To Read Transcript

ATHE_Transcript_Ep 514_Tricia Nelson
JJ Virgin: [00:00:00] Hey, this is JJ Virgin. Welcome and thanks so much for joining me. This is Ask the Health Expert here. I put the Power of Health in your hands and give you access to the top people in health and wellness. In each episode, I share safe ways to get healthy, lose weight, heal your gut detox and lots more. So if you wanna get healthy and get off the dieting for life merry-go-round, I'll give you strategies that will help you look and feel better fast.
Welcome to today's podcast. So this came up because I had someone asking about this very topic in one of my private Facebook groups. So I was fortunate to be spending time with Tricia Nelson, and I said, oh my gosh, I need to put you on the podcast like [00:01:00] immediately. So let me tell you a little bit about Tricia.
You'll hear this whole story when we start to chat, you'll know what I'm talking about. So Tricia, is a, an emotional eating expert. She is the author of the number one bestselling book, heal Your Hunger. Seven Simple Steps To End Emotional Eating. Now, she's also the host of the popular podcast, the Heal Your Hunger Show.
She has been on nbc, cbs, ktla, Fox Discovery Health, and she is a highly regarded. Speaker and coach. And what makes her so darn good, I think, is because she's got her own heroes journey. She spent 30 years researching the hitting causes of addictive personalities after she lost 50 pounds by identifying and healing the underlying causes of her emotional eating.
And I always love that to me like. You are so much better at what you do when you've experienced it firsthand and gone through that. So that is why I'm super excited to share Tricia Nelson with you today and talk about how to heal your hunger and end emotional eating. [00:02:00] And I just wanna give you a little heads up.
Of course, we have amazing show notes. We always do, and. We also have a link to Tricia's quiz where you will find out if you are an emotional eater or a food addict. So you can grab all of that at Now, before we dive in, here's a little word about one of my favorites.
Tricia Nelson, welcome to this show. I'm so glad you're here with me today. I am
Tricia Nelson: so happy to be here. Thanks for having
JJ Virgin: me. Well, you know, we were just together and I had someone posting on my Facebook page, and for the listeners, I'll tell you what I saw. It was in my Challenge that I'm doing my free challenge to pull the seven most likely food intolerances outta your diet.
And a woman was wrote a little post and I'm just gonna paraphrase it, but it was basically, you know, I'm [00:03:00] supposed to go to a party, I don't fit into any of my clothes. So I'm sitting in the dark eating crackers. And you know, help. What do I do? And I'm like going, Tricia . Tricia, we need you. I'm like, call Tricia.
You need . I
Tricia Nelson: know that woman know you do. I know many versions of her. And I have been, I have been her.
JJ Virgin: Well, and that's why you're so darn good at what you do. So let's start with that. Let's start with where you were what was your journey with emotional eating and how did it Absolutely. How'd you get here?
Tricia Nelson: Yeah. Well, I did. I started really early on. I was totally obsessed with food. I loved to eat. I loved to cook food. I loved to serve it. I love to eat it. Everything food I loved. And you know, for so long, JJ, I thought it was just a love of mine, you know, and, and so it, when my family was going out to dinner, I'd have heart palpitations all day getting excited about it.
And, you know, any special outing we'd have that I knew I could eat a [00:04:00] dessert. I mean, it was just really a big highlight for me and, and I didn't really think there's a whole lot wrong with it. But what I didn't like and wasn't too happy about is the fact that. Fat. Okay. So I grew up with a weight problem.
I was very, you know, people would call me Rollie Pollie or pudgy or whatever. And my mom wanted me to she wanted to buy this clothing line called chubettes. If you can even imagine, what can even imagine what terrible branding that is? , , .
JJ Virgin: I guess that's why we don't know about anymore. It's. I'm like,
Tricia Nelson: I'm like, mom, I have to draw the line at that clothing line.
So basically it was, you know, I hated being fat. I hated this big roll on my tummy that I would scrunch up and I just imagined these terrible things like cutting it off or, or joining the army. So they'd force me to go through bootcamp or getting some disease where I'd automatically lose weight and wouldn't have to try.
So like these crazy, outlandish ideas because I hated being fat. And that's really where I. Search for [00:05:00] answers and weight loss solutions. And I did pills and potions and lotions and you know, therapy and 12 step programs and self-help books. I mean, you name it, I tried it and nothing. I tried, worked, and for any length of time, and I really got to a place where I felt hopeless.
I felt like, well, I'm a goner, you know, I mean, I'm gonna spend my entire life going up and down the scale, which was my pattern. I was like a, a yo-yo dieter. And what happened was I found a solution and that was I was, I was basically shown how to face and heal the underlying causes of my drive to eat. And this is what really, you know, turned the corner.
Help me turn the corner, is that I finally addressed emotional eating and that, you know, if I'm not emotionally eating, I'm not, you know, stuffing myself with ooey gooey chewy foods. Not, you know, eating at all times in the night. And that's what really changed everything for me. And it just began this whole new journey of healing that's been going on for close to 30 years [00:06:00] now.
And by the grace of God, I've been in a thin body ever since I was 50 pounds overweight at one time. But now,
JJ Virgin: no, I can't. I can't imagine you that way. At all. Yeah, I know.
Tricia Nelson: Thank goodness. .
JJ Virgin: Yeah, it just, it's crazy. So you've definitely can heal it. That's the good news. Absolutely. And you know, I look at, so there's emotional eaters and you know, where I, I was like telling you this the other day and I'm going, I'm just gonna tell her to put the crackers down, which, you know, , and you know, there's, Food addicts?
Like how do you know what, like whether this is your issue?
Tricia Nelson: Yeah. Well I think that it's, first of all, I do have a quiz, which I totally recommend to people, which
JJ Virgin: literally we will be giving this out for sure. So just everybody knows. Why don't you talk a little bit about the quiz? It's
I was gonna tell everyone at the end that they get it, but we, I know, but this is, we'll let em
Tricia Nelson: down. I wanna tell 'em about it because this will actually help them identify like where they are on the spectrum, because it's basically a spectrum, whether you're an emotional [00:07:00] eater or a food addict, or somewhere in between.
You know, jj, I feel like everybody's an emotional eater to some degree. I mean, I think we're just wired. I think God made us to like food and to have an emotional attachment to. So, you know, we are, we have obsessed, but, but some people take it too far. And so it's a spectrum and it's just a matter of how far somebody goes with it.
On the high end of the spectrum is food addiction. So yeah, so they take the quiz, they'll get a personalized score to recognize where they are on that spectrum and, and really then they know what to do about it. And so it's really important to, for people to realize that. What they're looking for is consequences to their eating.
So some people are naturally skinny, they've got the skinny gene and they don't get fat, but they're, they're emotional eaters. Well, it may bother them and it may not, but some people, you know, and, and for some do, some many people come to me who have like, Five pounds to lose and they're more upset, more upset about the five pounds than somebody is about a [00:08:00] hundred pounds.
So it's a very personalized thing, you know, and what gets to somebody? Some people just are very annoyed by the fact that they're thinking about food 24 7. You know, if they're at work, they know exactly what items are in the the vending machine. So it's an obsession. But for other people, there are major consequences.
And if they have a weight issue, You've covered a lot of that, you know what that is? I mean, the heart disease, diabetes, you know just legs chafing, I mean all the different encumbrances of carrying around extra weight. So but for some people who don't have a lot of weight to lose, it is just the fact that they are obsessed.
They're thinking about food 24 7. They may spend a lot of time at the gym to try to offset their binging. So there are many ways that. Eating behavior can affect their lives. And chances are if somebody is really driven to eat, like they have that compulsion and that craving to overeat and it drives into the kitchen, even though it's not mealtime, chances [00:09:00] are it's emotionally driven.
And so I'd say that most people who are chronically struggling with food and weight are emotional eaters, at least, if not outright food addicts.
JJ Virgin: You talked a lot about emotional eating, but emotional eating, I mean, and then actual physical hunger. How do you like, how do you know? The difference,
Tricia Nelson: What I tell people, and for one thing, they, they are so similar.
Like I myself get, get, you know, spoofed sometimes by, you know, feeling like I, I'm really hungry, but I'm not. It's emotional hunger and one of the things that can help people to really determine. Which is, which is if they have a regular eating schedule for instance, I recommend three meals a day and, and not eating in between so that people can, not as a diet but really as a way of getting more in touch with what their emotions are and, and whether those are driving their hunger.
And so, for instance, if I've eaten breakfast at 7:00 AM [00:10:00] you know, I'm gonna be pretty hungry by 12, but if it's only, you know, nine o'clock in the morning, and I'm just like talking myself into eating a pastry or something in the, you know, in the workroom at, at, at, at the work. I'm not, I don't work in an office, but
JJ Virgin: let's, let's go.
You don't work in an office and you don't need
Tricia Nelson: pastries, , you know, I was kinda, it was sort of a hypothetical that I was using myself for, but, but anyway, the point is, if, if I'm myself into eating at all and it's nine o'clock in the morning because I'm on a schedule of eating, I can, I can talk to myself and say, now, Tricia, you're not really hungry.
You had breakfast two hours ago. And it helps me like sort of realize that this is emotional hunger and this is what I teach people, is that you have to get in touch with, you know, what's going on inside. And oftentimes, if I have a. Phone call to make I'm nervous about, or some project that's big and luminous.
You know, I mean, it's a big project that I don't wanna do. I mean, I'm going to start, you know, thinking maybe it's time to eat. And I teach people that you have to really get in touch with that and [00:11:00] see, hey, fear can mask itself as hunger in a, you know, very, very easily. And so it's really, you know, I think people who are emotional eaters have such a knee jerk reaction to emotions.
Any kind. It could be happy emotions, not just negative emotions. And they're just in that pattern of eating, and that's what we have to stop. And sometimes our regular schedule of eating can help you sort of realize in between meals, hey, these are just feelings. It's not real hunger.
JJ Virgin: Right. This is huge.
All right. This is huge. So there's one thing is that you can, you have setting regular meal times, what, what are some other tactics? And I know you have your book Heal Your Hunger, that has seven simple steps to end emotional eating now. But give, give us a couple other things that someone listening right now who's kind of tortured, right?
Can start putting into place to start building a framework to help them get
Tricia Nelson: through this. Well, what I really want people to do is start their day getting centered. Okay? Because this is so much of the time [00:12:00] we are reacting to stress in our lives with eating, you know, and, and just brings down your, you know your stress level.
It kicks up your serotonin. I mean, we're so used to using food to medicate stress, and what I tell people is you have to start your day. Centered because, and especially emotional eaters are very often we tend to be people pleasers. We tend to be reacting to life instead of responding to life. You know, from outside stimuli is, is how we're kind of being directed.
And so if somebody's spending time in the morning, it could be 10 minutes, it could be half an hour. It could be meditation, it could be prayer, it could be writing in your journal. If you're doing these things one or some of these things, you're starting to get centered. And what's happening is you, I.
It's something you develop, obviously, but you have to get in touch with who you are and what you know, what you think about things, how you feel about things. And you also have to start asking important questions. Where can I carve away stress from my life? And so these are things they aren't immediate, but these are things that I recommend people do is start, you know, [00:13:00] addressing that stress because it's, it's a major, if not the the number one source of emotional eating.
So I think that's really important. And, and if somebody is in the moment having a craving or feeling like I've just got to eat, you know, step away, like step, take a timeout, go for a 10 minute walk and start asking Yourself these questions, what's really going on? Cuz it's vital to look at that, you know, cravings don't just happen.
In my experience, they're, you know, 90% caused by emotions or they're physical. You know, if you have sugar in your body, your body's craving more sugar, obviously. But it goes deeper than that. Generally, it's an emotional craving as well, and that's what you have to take a look.
JJ Virgin: So let's talk about diets because we know that the failure rate of diets is just ridiculous out there.
Why do you think that is?
Tricia Nelson: Why did 98% of all diets fail? My, my feeling. My experience. My experience with working with hundreds of clients is that people [00:14:00] are addressing, you know, they're, they're trying to deal with the symptom and not the real problem. You know, overweight is a symptom of overeating and it overeating is a symptom of what's eating me.
And so it's really vital that I start taking a look at that. And it's so seductive to think if I go on a diet, I'm just gonna take care of this problem once and for all. And. You know, person with weight to lose dreams about being thin. I know I did and, and it's like, if only I were thin, I'd be happy. Well, most people who have been on a diet have had the experience of, you know, losing the weight and then realizing, oh my God, I do not, you know, I do not feel happy.
And this is not fixed. Every problem in my life, and. It's such an illusion that it will, and so it's just so important that people realize that the weight is really covering up so many emotions. And when I lost weight, I mean, I had the experience of losing about 40 pounds and having that [00:15:00] depression set in.
I mean, first when you're losing weight, you know, it's very. People are making comments. You look so great, you're buying new clothes. I mean, I was wearing like three new outfits a day. I was so crazed. And, and, and that's great for a while. And what that, what that losing weight does is it replaces the, the overeating.
And so you get the, you get a high from it, but that high wears off. And after a while people stop commenting and your clothes are just, they're not new anymore. And then, and then you're left with the emotions. And what's happened is all those emotions that were stuffed down with so many years of overeating come bubbling to the surface.
And before you know it, this is what happened for me, is I got depressed. And this is a while back when, you know, depression, they weren't popping prozacs like candy, you know? And, and I just didn't know what was wrong with me and what I didn't realize it was. All, all that I had buried with food was all of a sudden in my face and I didn't have the tools to deal with it.
And so of course went right back to overeating again. And that to me is why 98% of all diets fail is [00:16:00] people do not have the tools in place to be able to handle being thin and not having their coverup, which is food and fat.
JJ Virgin: So I always think that the first thing you have to do is know your starting point.
So I love that you've put together a quiz to help people figure out if this is their issue. So will you like walk us through this again? And by the way, if you're listening, you can get this at It'll all be in the show notes too, but like walk us through what they're gonna learn
Tricia Nelson: through taking this quiz?
So when you take the quiz, which is basically, are you emotional eater? Food addict. That's what you're gonna find out. And you're, you're, it's, it's, it could be one or the other, or it could be in the middle, like you're, you're, and what's the difference? So the difference is consequences. So if you have any ability to pull back, you know, you've gained five pounds, you're like, oh, I don't like how my pants are fitting.
I think I'm gonna scale back. And you have the ability to scale back. You [00:17:00] may be an emotional eater, but you're probably not a food about addict because you have the ability to scale back. You have some level of control and self-monitoring. Whereas a food addict is somebody that once they start to eat or overeat or eat the ooey, gooey, chewy foods, they cannot stop.
And it turns into this very. Ugly, violent binge. Okay. Where they might even go out in the middle of the night. They might even risk their lives be driving to, you know, a drive through in an unsafe part of town or an all night, you know, restaurant or a shopping center, whatever, literally to get their fix.
And I've done this and, and it's just, It's bad news bears, it lasts all night and it could last for weeks, if not years. Somebody could be doing well for a while and then they, they eat one thing off of their diet or after off of their plan, and they could be all the way, you know, going to the races and for, for who knows how long.
So it's really, it's in the ability to. Pull back and have [00:18:00] some some level of control. And it's also the consequences. Does it affect your job? Does it affect your relationship? You know, does it affect your health? You know, how bad and severe are the consequences?
JJ Virgin: All right, perfect. So everyone, I want to encourage you to take this test cuz then, you know, knowing the information then I know you have a process to be able to guide them through how to heal it.
And I think that's the key thing cuz it, you know, feels like for a lot of people and I know just. Coaching so many people in weight loss over the last 30 years is you end up feeling like you're in prison. It's just, it's, it's like a bad hobby that you can never get away from and it's always on your thoughts.
And so if we can help them break free. Yay. So let's go over to you for a minute. What is one thing you do every day, Tricia, that you feel like makes a big difference in your life?
Tricia Nelson: I would say meditation. And I am like the world's worst meditator. Just gonna say, all right, so it's not like I levitate or chant or do [00:19:00] anything like that, but I have a practice of sitting down and shutting up for about 20 minutes in the morning.
And and I basically do that twice a day. I do it before breakfast, I do it before dinner. And I always tell people, I, I could swear that anybody who does it before dinner is going to eat 200 calories less for dinner if they meditate before dinner. And, and even if somebody doesn't feel like, they can meditate, you could just go to your bedroom and lie down for 10.
Before dinner just to stop that spin from the day. But that's what has made, you know, I do many other things, jj, but I will say that practice, you know, everybody kind of knows meditation's a good thing, but for some reason I've been, you know, thankfully been doing that for close to 30 years and it's, it's, you know, I couldn't live without it.
It's like oxygen for me.
JJ Virgin: Excellent. Yeah, we hear that one. That's, that's one of the most popular comments is meditation. So, and we're all big fans of my girlfriend, Emily Fletcher, [00:20:00] here with her Zeva Meditation. So shout out to her too. And I just wanna thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with everybody.
And again, I'm gonna make that reminder, take the quiz, go to And Tricia, thank you so much for being I, you, for having me. You super appreciate.
This is the time where I answer a listener's question. And today's question is one that I got recently when I was giving a talk and I was talking about the Virgin diet and food intolerance and this. This is one that I can almost guarantee. It's like every time I give a talk, I see the hand coming up in the audience.
I'm like, I know what this person's gonna ask. And sure enough, the question was, jj. I know you want me to pull out gluten and dairy and soy and corn and eggs and peanuts and sugar and artificial sweeteners. Okay. Okay. Okay. I can totally do six of those. So if I pull out all six, can I keep in the cheese? [00:21:00]
That was a heavy sigh if you couldn't hear it. Here's what I've seen about food intolerances is that those foods that you crave are the very foods that are hurting you. In fact, that is a sign of a hidden food intolerance. And the best way for you to visualize this is to think of yourself sitting on seven tax.
How does your butt feel sitting on those seven tacks? Not so bueno, right? So you get up and you say, okay, I'm gonna take six tacks away, and I'll just sit down on one of them. It'll be fine. No, I mean, come on. You listen to that, you go, oh, come on, jj. That's ridiculous. Well, that's what it is when you don't pull out one of those foods.
Now we take you through this challenge in my free challenge at We'll put that in the show notes. And we have you pull out seven foods and here's what I've learned. It's like, it's probably not all seven foods, but it's the food that you don't wanna give up that's always got the issue to it.
And that's why I wanted to include this question in with the emotional or food addict part. Cause I think [00:22:00] we really need to uncover if you've got an emotional issue around food and then also, when you go through the Virgin diet, you can see, am I addicted to a food because of a hidden food intolerance?
And that can help break you through free of that because the ultimate goal here, and you heard it in the interview today as well, is to not be imprisoned by food. To not think that your hobby is dieting. That is not a hobby, is to really go through the healing process. So if you got an emotional eating issue, if you've got a food addiction issue, let's figure out if it's food addiction, if it's a food intolerance.
But take that quiz that Tricia so graciously provided. Take the quiz, figure out what's going on with you so that you can heal that and go out there and live that big life, not burdened by thinking about what you're gonna be eating all the time. Right? Got bigger, better things to be doing. Okay. This is the gratitude portion of the show.
Every week I highlight a review of the week. Just so you know, like I read all of these and so does my team and [00:23:00] they make our week. And today's is from Susan Burlingame; it says great stuff, five stars, excellent books, and great lifestyle podcasts. JJs Virgin's, JJ Virgin's, philosophy of Health, fitness, and Nutrition is spot on.
Thank you Susan. And thank you for all of you who've left these reviews. I really, really appreciate it. I know when people are out there going, what should I listen to that they look and these things matter. So if you've been listening and you go, gosh, I love this. First of all, thank you. Thank you, thank you.
And second of all, could I just like kind of beg, plea, and ask graciously and gratefully for you to leave a review? It helps a bunch. Thank you so much and I will see you next week. Bye-bye.


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