Food & Fitness

Feeling like a fraud

I’m a health columnist and health blogger. Friends and strangers come to me asking for nutrition and fitness advice. I routinely set up health challenges and read health books and articles of all varieties on a regular basis. Yet: I still struggle with my emotional attachments to food.

Three and a half weeks ago, I started Operation Lose Five Pounds. Over the course of those three and a half weeks, I have successfully lost and gained the same 1-2 lbs. I’m at the same place where I started nearly a month ago. In some ways it just makes me feel like a fraud.

Naturally, this is really frustrating. The good side of it is that I haven’t gained anything since the start of this challenge, at least! I’ve been having some difficulty in pinpointing my exact problems with why I can’t seem to lose the five pounds. I know that I’m still eating for maintenance rather than loss, but for some reason it’s incredibly tough to cut back- I haven’t been able to figure out if it’s because I’ve “forgotten” what it’s like to be in weight-loss mode, or if there’s something deeper.

Last Friday, my nutritionist Nicole and I met up to discuss the book that we’re writing. She was telling me that most of her clients experience a cycle in which they have to alter their internal attachments to food, and then they are able to address lifestyle and social changes. When she said this, it occurred to me that in comparison to most of her clients, I’ve done it all backwards.

When I first began my healthy journey several years ago, I was care-free enough to not have any strange attachments to food or any exercise addictions. It was fairly easy to lose weight, because the simplicity of burn more calories than you consume was straight-forward enough for me to accomplish. Fast forward about five years and I’ve experienced a whole lot more of reality, which means that I’ve (somewhat ;)) ventured outside of the safe bubble I grew up in to get my knees scraped a few times. I wouldn’t trade the burnt fingers and scratches for anything, but it also means that things are no longer quite so simple as they used to be.

I didn’t have to address any internal issues several years ago because I didn’t have any internal issues. All I had to tackle was adjusting my social interactions (for example, making better choices at restaurants, meeting friends at the gym instead of over drinks, etc etc). These days, I’m great at maneuvering my way through a social event, but my internal issues haven’t been completely dealt with.

I don’t believe that there is one right way to go about doing anything. However, I think that if I can really pinpoint all of my hidden underlying issues related to food, then I will be able to have a healthy relationship with food and successfully accomplish Operation Lose Five Pounds. I’m going to be trying a few different approaches to achieve a sort of double-pronged “attack” on my issues: I figure that the more things that I try (one by one, that is; not all at the same time!), the better equipped I will be to dealing with the issues.

Nicole has me “talking” to my food when I’m able. The idea with this exercise is that if I talk to my meal after I’ve prepared it, about anything that I just wouldn’t talk to other people about, then I will be able to eat the meal without any emotional attachment to it. The food will cease being an escape or an outlet, and it will be reduced to nourishing goodness.

I’ve been doing this for a little while now, and I do find that it is helpful. Sometimes it’s just gibberish that I spout out; other times I only talk for a minute or so. But somehow, it’s a release. No matter how weird it sounds, it works for me, and that’s what’s important!

I have also borrowed a hypnosis CD by bestselling author Paul McKenna from a friend. I’m looking forward to trying that, as it’s something I have never done before.

Do you have emotional attachments to food? How do you deal with them? Have any of you tried hypnosis? How is Operation Lose Five Pounds working for you? Let me know your thoughts on any and all of this!


  1. fd

    my initial thought was the same as Miz’s. Something similar where I talked to myself or wrote something down, and then could MAKE my meal would seem more instinctively right for me.

    I would add that I do have emotional attachments to food. I quite enjoy alot of them. Mostly they’re around companionship and discussion and pleasure and aesthetics. The emotional attachments where I eat to forget the fact that I’m bored or sad or anxious I’m trying to get rid of. So far, acknowledging the feelings and then eating anyway if the craving doesn’t go, but something healthier than I was hankering for seems to be my only way through it. Usually though acknowledging the feelings does help to avoid the overeating or eating for the hell of it eating.

  2. sophia

    Sagan, you’re not a fraud…just a real honest and sincere human being with human issues. Food is certainly tied to our emotions a lot. I don’t think it’s possible to entirely uproot food from our emotions, but we can always turn it around into something positive instead.

    “Talking” to your food…hmm…that is very interesting. I’ve never thought about that before.

  3. Andrea@WellnessNotes

    You are working through some issues and there should be no time limit attached to it. So if it takes you a bit longer to lose the few pounds that’s okay.

    I like the idea of talking to your food. It seems like a great way to get the emotions “out of the way” before you even start eating. I started to use food for all sorts of things when I went through a very stressful period in my life. I still have to be careful when I’m stressed…

  4. JavaChick

    Interesting idea…Feels like something to think about.

    I found your post interesting because people often make comments indicating that they think I am a healthy eater and it always surprises me. I think this is because I tend to focus on the negatives – all my bad habits, what I perceive as my failures – rather than focusing on what I do right. I wonder what would happen if we were to focus on our positive habits, rather than our negative ones?

  5. Emergefit

    Okay, straight up and please forgive me, but I speak as an educated person, who has been in the fitness industry for a few decades: The largest issue (in my opinion) you need to work through is the idea that 5 pounds should be such a priority, relative to the rest of your life. The human condition gets torn, and I mean torn apart by prioritizing small weight-loss goals in such a large way. This is not a question of obesity, reduced stress on the knees, or reduced blood pressure. Five pounds will not impact those things. I completely respect what you are trying to do, and I (might) even understand the reasons why. That said, are the 5 pounds really worth this kind of attention? Will not be insulted at all with a direct and honest response — I look forward to it.

  6. Sagan Morrow

    Miz- To each his/her own, right?

    fd- YES. Acknowledging feelings DOES make a big difference.

    Sophia & Javachick- Turning the negative thinking around helps a lot. The power of positive!

    Andrea- It’s funny how a simple thing like talking to food can be useful… even when I’m not stressed out or feeling emotional or something, I think that there COULD still be underlying emotions, so talking even when things are positive is a good idea.

    Emergefit- Really good point and THANK YOU so much for your honesty in that. I think you’re right, that if it’s a struggle and all then it’s NOT worth the attention. And in comparison to just about anything else, 5 lbs doesn’t matter AT ALL. I think what concerns me is the idea that it’s so easy for a few pounds to become 10 to become 20 to become 30 and so on and so forth… and also the concern that it’s really the emotional attachment that needs to be sorted out. Like I said at the beginning of this Operation, I don’t mind the actual number on the scale so much as long as I FEEL healthy and good. But I know that my mindset isn’t quite 100% at a healthy place- so that’s why I’m trying to change my mindset at the same time. But you’re quite right. No, a few pounds doesn’t really matter. It’s not a priority in life. HEALTH is definitely a priority, but because I’m within a healthy weight range, WEIGHT LOSS does not need to be a priority. And perhaps I have been confusing the two a little bit. Thanks for this šŸ™‚

  7. Lori

    Great, honest post and an interesting approach. We all have to do what works for us and sometimes it pays off to get creative. Most of my life has been a recognition of food issues and dealing with them. I’m in a good place right now, but I constantly discover triggers. Taking a step back and calming myself (usually in quiet reflection) so I can truly think things through is the best approach for me.

  8. Dr. J

    I’m going to go the practical route on this. If you feel that you would look better and feel better five pounds lighter than increase your activity level and get there. I don’t know what you are doing, but with summer here there is plenty of day to work with. If you have stopped running, maybe start your day with a run, or if you are, take a walk in the evening. There will always be issues and things to understand. Sometimes thinking too much does not help, when just doing it is what is needed.

    You’ve heard of paralysis by analysis. Well, that only effects people who are smart enough to be too analytical. Don’t complicate simplicity.

  9. Holly

    I have always wanted to try hypnosis!

    I do struggle with emotional attachments to food. I think it’s hard because food has been my outlet, my “drug” of choice for so long. Bad day? That’s what cookies are for. Stressed out? Well, bring on the ice cream! It’s hard when I have used it as a coping mechanism for over 10 years.

    I’m trying to really deal with my issues head on – easier said than done, I know. I’ve thought about getting into meditation…something to calm my mind. Can’t hurt, right??

  10. Sagan Morrow

    You’re all fantastic šŸ™‚

    Lori- It’s the same thing for me! I’m in a really good place right now, but new triggers keep coming up. It’s tricksy.

    Dr. J- Excellent point. And you’re right- I probably am over-complicating it.

    Holly- It can’t hurt, and it might help! Let me know how the meditation goes for you if you try it; I’d love to hear about your experience with it.

  11. mary

    We all know food and emotions are intertwined tightly. Nightly dinners could either be joyous times full of laughter and love or horror filled times of fighting and name calling. Whenever someone comes over, we feed them, whether we like them or not (think family holiday dinners) For some people, punishment was going to bed without dinner, or at least dessert. The kitchen is the gathering place, at least in my home, kids and their friends sitting on the counters joking and talking while I prepare the food. Like Holly said, what makes you feel better at the end of a rough day than ice cream or cake or cookies?
    We need to TRY to separate our feelings and thoughts from our food (I am speaking as much to myself, who has been unable to lose the “final 50” of my 100 pounds). So in comparison, your 5 seems small to me, but it is just as important to you.
    I also agree with Dr. J about overcomplicating things, but sometimes we need a push to do that. It would be so simple to go for a walk, but it is equally simple not to. It would be simple to not eat that second helping, but it is equally simple to eat it.
    That is where the dreaded word WILLPOWER comes in. I personally have none. I know this and accept it about myself. I am not happy, but am still working on it. Everyday is work, whether it is 5 or 50 pounds.
    I will be praying for you that your issues resolve themselves. Sorry for the length, but your post really touched me and brought up issues with myself.

  12. Sagan Morrow

    Mary- I’m really glad that this post helped you out and I truly love it when comments are so thoughtfully written out. My bloghome is your bloghome; you are more than welcome to write as much as you like! And AHA yes about how it is equally simple to go for a walk or to NOT go for a walk. It is equally simple to eat a bowl of popcorn or to NOT eat a bowl of popcorn. We’re works in progress, and that is a beautiful thing indeed.

    Also, yes, the kitchen does seem to be the gathering place… in my condo, my front door actually opens right INTO the kitchen. No way of avoiding it in a studio suite!

  13. Eleanor @ Make Friends With Food

    I’m with Diane on this! For me, focusing on my emotional issues didn’t do me one bit of good in helping control my eating behavior. Finally, I just made up my mind to forget about those five or ten pounds and instead concentrate on eating as healthy as possible. Ironically, after I did that, the extra weight came off without even trying. And then I had the energy to tackle my other problems. It might seem like a backward way to go about it, but it worked for me!

  14. asithi

    Prior to writing my health blog, I rarely notice any emotional attachment to food. But somewhere in the past three years, I find that when I am munching on sweets and when people notice it, my automatic response is that I am feeling anxious. I don’t know if I am complicating my eating habits, but it sure seems like I am giving myself an excuse to eat at times. When this happens, I know that I am over-analyzing things. I think by giving too much attention to eating, I might be indirectly making it more important than it needs to be in my life.

  15. Sagan Morrow

    Diane- I guess we each gotta do our own thing!

    Eleanor- I think that’s a really excellent idea šŸ™‚

    Asithi- You hit on something really big right there. Sometimes our efforts of being healthy can spiral into something UNHEALTHY. Worth taking a step back from it all, for sure.

  16. Shannon

    i think you’d be a fraud if you said it was just that easy šŸ™‚ i’m not sure about the whole talking to my food thing, but i do have some issues with food that i’m trying to deal with, that i know are more emotional that anything! good things to think about!

  17. Geosomin

    Hmmm…I know have had 8 lbs that keep wandering off a few at a time and coming back, so I don’t think I am the one to offer any advice, except just keep at it.
    I don’t think I could do the talk to my food thing – food is the problem for me. I like it. A lot. If I spoke to it I think I’d give it more attention than I already do…which really is a lot. šŸ™‚
    Is it evil of me to feel reassured that you, a fitness diet person also struggles a bit with losing a few pounds? If anything it encourages me to keep at it!

  18. The Candid RD

    What an interesting post. I have many questions and comments. First, when you say it’s tough for you to cut back on your calories, is it because you are hungry and can’t imagine eating any less? Or is it really because you are eating for other reasons, other than hunger? From what you are saying it must be that you are eating for other reasons, aside from hunger. Have you read INtuitive Eating? That’s the eating/living approach I live by, and the one I preach to my clients. For me it has really helped tame my own emotional eating (mainly boredom). Before eating ANYTHING I ask myself, “Gina, are you really hungry?” If the answer is no, I try to evaluate what’s causing me to head for the fridge (boredom? sadness? stress?). I fI am hungry, I eat, but then stop before I get full. This method has really helped me.

    Good luck with your hypnosis. I have never tried it but I’m curious about it and I’d like to hear how it works for you! I wish you the best.

  19. Jamie Walker

    I think we all have emotional attachments to food to some extent. I know I definitely do. I exercise and eat healthy most of the time…but the moment I slip AKA this weekend, I slip enough tto really get annoyed with myself…I was in a wedding on Sunday, drank too much and then literally just ate crap all day yesterday and have continued today. I was just too hungover to function…and therefore, use food as my escape. Whoops.

  20. Pubsgal

    First of all, NO WAY are you a fraud! Like Shannon said, I’d only think that if you’d said it was easy! šŸ™‚

    The “talking to your food” is an interesting concept. I tend to “dine al desko” pretty often, so I think my coworkers would think I was a nutter if I did that. But I’m willing to find a nice spot outside to try this, because I’ve never heard of this idea and it intrigues me. My initial response was similar to Miz’s, but given your result, I’m willing to give it a go.

    Regarding emotional eating, stress and boredom really trigger me. I’ve gotten to the point where I can ask the question, “Pubsgal, are you really hungry?” I can now often articulate the reason: “Oh, daaaang, I’m so booooored!” or “Ugh, my family is driving me batsh*t crazy right now!” However, I still struggle with alternatives. What do you do when you know why you want to eat for reasons other than hunger, but you still go for that food anyway?

  21. clare

    this speaks to me too sagan. i was in the same boat…weight loss was calories in/out, and all was well, until i started resenting restriction and making myself restrict more and more because i wasnt clean enough, bla bla bla. anyways, now there are a lot of attachments and i definitely try to NOT beat myself up about them because eating enough and healthy is more important to me than worrying about eating what i want vs what might be more socially “acceptable” or some other issue that might arise regarding food. thats my story right now.

    anyways, my best advice is dont get down on yourself. allow yourself to have attatchments, and know that cravings and attatchments are natural and normal and when you are just aware of them, then you decide what to do with them. which you are by practicing your food conversation! you are doing great sagan, this is really positive!

    i can’t say either way about hypnosis. ive only seen it in a “funny” light, at a hypnosis show where they had some guy barking like a dog, and another doing a rooster crow on certain commands. stuff like that. if i start seeing such random outbursts in your blog here…i may get worried. lol!

  22. Sagan Morrow

    Shannon- Once we’ve tackled emotions, we’re capable of tackling a whole lot more!

    Geosomin- Tehe not evil at all! Am glad to be of assistance šŸ˜‰

    Gina- I get hungry, but then I also just really have difficulty in cutting back because my brain doesn’t want to NOT eat… I’m working on the intuitive eating type of thing, but I think that even then it’s still largely dependent on if you’re willing to listen to yourself. And sometimes, even though I KNOW exactly why I’m eating, it’s still ridiculously hard to stop. So weird.

    Jamie- I think that’s a HUGE component to it all. If we slip up a little bit, we tend to throw the whole day/week out the window!

    Pubsgal- EXACTLY. THAT is the problem that I’m having right now. I KNOW why I’m doing it, but I still can’t seem to stop myself, and that scares me.

    Clare- Ahahaha I’ll be concerned if the hypnosis has that kind of effect, too šŸ˜‰

  23. Heather Eats Almond Butter

    Sagan, you are so not a fraud my friend. We all have our struggles. For 10+ years I did not allow myself so many of the foods I craved. However, now things have totally changed – it only took getting pregnant. šŸ™‚ Not that I would recommend that for you at this point in your life, but I will say that it has been such a freeing experience. I was so sick the first trimester and just ate whatever sounded good in the moment, including peanut M&M’s and Pop-Tarts! Definitely not the healthiest of choices, but again, I just couldn’t eat any of my typical favorites. I was NEVER good at “everything in moderation”, but I believe there really is something to it. I think a lot of us health food bloggers get caught up in the idea of eating the best we can all the time – at least I did to the point of obsessing. I think when we just let go, something clicks. I no longer obsess, and yes, I still try to eat well, but if I want a Snickers bar, then I eat it. Totally new concept for me, and I’m finding my emotional attachments to food are getting weaker and weaker. Really, it’s like a whole new world…and I want to stay!

  24. Sagan Morrow

    Charlotte- Someday… we WILL get there.

    Heather- I think I’ll pass on the pregnancy šŸ˜‰ But thank you for sharing all of that- I think that you’re definitely right that sometimes we get caught up in it all and it just becomes TOO MUCH. Our bodies appreciate it when we LISTEN to them and have the Snickers or whatever rather than overload on “healthy” foods. You’ve really nailed it.

  25. Crystal Henson


    This is my first visit and comment to your blog, and I will definitely be coming back for more. Thoroughly enjoy your insights and the breadth of information you offer.

    As a teenager, I had amassed 240 lbs on my 5’7 frame. Looking back, I’d agree that the majority of my weight was directly tied to emotional eating. I don’t believe there is as much focus on the role emotions play with food choices / eating habits. Your blog described this phenomenon exactly.

    After high school, I was able to shed the majority of the weight and at my healthiest, I weighed around 160 lbs. Not thin, but muscular and happy. Emotions, bad habits, and 10 years of work/social events centered around food encouraged around 40 lbs to slowly creep back on my body.

    Its only been recently (lets say the past 18-24 months) that I’ve realized that there is a larger issue with my relationship with food. It’s the sum of all parts. It’s exercise, food choice and – ultimately – the conscious/unconscious attachment we all have to eating.

    Some say eating is most enjoyable thing you can do with your clothes on, and sometimes I agree. (Especially when Italian deserts are involved.) Ultimately, however, it’s the feeling of peace within that trumps any external temptation. It’s difficult to have that “zen” moment, but – Sagan – I’m sure you’ll triumph with continued hard work and perseverance.

    Good luck.

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