Being overweight or obese has already become a global problem with eating dictated by one’s emotion as one of the main reasons. In this episode, Dr. Trish Murray and certified holistic health coach, Laura Folkes, talk about emotional eating and the things we do that sabotage ourselves. Laura shares her weight loss journey, what inspired her to be healthy, and how she is now leading others to a healthier version of themselves. She dives deeper into discussing the different triggers of emotional eating and the common themes that lead people to sabotage their own health. Laura also introduces the acronym NAILED, which are emotions that serve as signals that may lead to emotional eating. Through some examples of clients she has helped, Laura proves that her methods can definitely help stop detrimental eating habit.
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Emotional Eating And The Things We Do To Sabotage Us with Laura Folkes
This is on emotional eating and things that sabotage us. I’m speaking with Laura Folkes from Chicago who is a Certified Holistic Health Coach. Laura, welcome to the show.
Thank you for having me.
I’m going to give you a little introduction here. After working in advertising for thirteen years, Laura was looking to make a change and do something that would have more of an impact, helping people on a personal level to achieve their health and wellness goals. After being overweight from the age of twelve, she lost 60 pounds in 2008 and was able to keep it off. It’s something she never thought would be possible. Going through her own journey is what inspired her to go to the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in 2014 to become a certified holistic health coach. She now works with clients who know what they should be eating but have a hard time sticking with it.
She’s helping them get to the bottom of what’s eating away at their willpower and leading to self-sabotage so they can radically transform their relationship with food. Throughout the process, Laura ensures her clients don’t feel deprived by guiding them to make small incremental changes so the journey is more enjoyable. Laura works with clients privately, conducts workshops, group programs, and does speaking engagements. Laura, that sounds awesome. One of the first questions I like to ask anyone I speak to on my podcast is I like to ask all of my guests, what is your personal story? You alluded to a little bit of it in our intro there, but can you elaborate some more? What led you down the path to becoming a holistic health coach?
Like you had read in my story is that I was overweight most of my life and people say that food is a battle. That was something that rang true for me where I always felt like I would struggle with food and with my weight. I thought that I was big-boned, which is funny since now I wear a size 4.5 ring. I was working in advertising for thirteen years, I had gone about a few different ways to lose some weight. In 2008, I did lose 60 pounds. As I was going through that process, people would come up to me when I was at work or through friends and family members would ask, “How do you keep up your willpower? How do you stay so motivated?”
Basically, I would coach them to help them through their weight loss journeys. When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, when I was trying to figure out outside of advertising what that would look like, it took me about four years. I kept going back to working with people on an informal basis but helping them with their weight loss journeys. I enjoyed doing that. I was living in Australia at the time and was talking to a friend. I was telling her what I was interested in doing and she mentioned health coaching, which I had never heard of before. I looked into it and realized that was exactly what I wanted to do and I’m starting to get my certification.
The interesting thing is that while I was getting my certification, I was still having some issues with my emotional relationship with food. I now had more information than ever but I was doing what I call working the system where I would eat well for a while. I would say screw it and eat whatever I wanted. I have to weigh in and then I would rein it back in. I was going about this process that didn’t make any sense so I started working with my own health coach. Working with her is what helped me to identify and figure what was my issues around food. It has helped to shape how I work with my clients as well.A lot of people eat at night because there has been so much pressure that's built up throughout the day. Click To Tweet
What was it for you that made the difference, working with the health coach, but what were some of the triggers or the issues for you that you needed to work through?
I was bullied when I was in middle school and that was a big trigger for me, which I didn’t realize. I thought that it made me stronger. I never have realized that it had much of an impact. After working with her, it helped me realized that one of the biggest things was not wanting to be misunderstood. Anytime I felt slightly misunderstood, that’s when I would eat and that would be a trigger for me to numb out basically and not feel my feelings around what was coming up. That was one of the biggest themes that came up for me.
There’s been a major study done where they looked at people who had some either emotional trauma, physical trauma in their childhoods, either within their own family and environmental or outside in the school environment like you described. Many of us that undergo things like that end up having more illness as we age, weight problems and the different issues that we’re not able to possibly get a handle on unless we look at those emotional backgrounds or the pain-body sometimes in our lives.
It makes a lot of sense. That’s a lot of what I work with my clients on too is helping them to identify what some of those triggers have been that show up now around how they show up around food in the present day.
You work with people to help them get to the bottom of what’s leading to emotional eating so they can better understand their relationship with food. We typically think of emotional eating as something we do when we’re stressed, sad, happy, etc. How would you describe emotional eating?
The way that I like to think about emotional eating and emotional triggers, in general, is that typically we encounter a bunch of small emotional triggers that we may not realize throughout the day. Looking back to feeling misunderstood, that would be a minnow. That is the analogy that I use. Those little minnows that are nibbling away at our willpower as we go about our days and willpower that can be not only being able to stick with eating healthy. It can also be around being resistant to making other changes that you know would be beneficial for you like going to the gym, working out or any other small habits. Even it could be drinking more water, whatever that small habit is where sometimes we’re resistant to making that change.
I find that a lot of times the reason that people eat food that they know they shouldn’t is that they’re relieving the pressure that’s building up throughout the day. I will share an example of what a minnow could look like using a client example. One of my clients was proud of a project that she had done at work. She was in a meeting to review the project with the rest of her team. She didn’t realize it at the moment, but the meeting felt like her team was attacking her and also attacking the work that she had done. Instead of realizing that the feedback was about the project, she was taking it personally, that it meant that she had failed and was inadequate at her job.
As a result, she ended up picking up food on her way home instead of eating some food that she already had prepared and was waiting for her in the refrigerator. This client wanted to lose weight and be healthier overall. She had healthier food available, but she didn’t eat it because there was a deeper emotional vulnerability that was present of feeling inadequate, which was common for her. It was a common theme that would show up for her in various areas of her life. The reason that she turned to the food was that she wasn’t aware of what she was feeling and what her needs were as a result of those feelings.
That’s typical and enlightening for people to hear because many of us do that, this emotional eating or this emotional reaching for things and comfort foods or things like that when we’re feeling upset, off-balance or things like that. It sounds like you’re about helping people. There’s a concept out there called taking the one seat where you look inside or look in the mirror and take the one seat and look at yourself with help. A lot of times, a lot of us need to find the subconscious patterns or the subconscious contracts within ourselves and bring them to consciousness so that we can say, “I realized that about myself now,” or that needs healing or that needs nurturing or whatever it might be. As you bring it to consciousness, you’re able to process it better and able to make decisions about whether you want to change that subconscious belief or that subconscious contract. Would you agree with that?
Definitely because when we are not sure of what’s happening or we don’t have the awareness or the clarity around it, that’s a lot of times when we feel powerless. We feel like we don’t have a choice necessarily because we’re not necessarily aware of what’s happening. As soon as we have the consciousness around it, then we can regain that power and figure out what it is that we need or want or even having the awareness of and being able to label what’s happening, can be super freeing also.
Our subconscious being or our subconscious mind is million times more powerful than our conscious mind until you bring something to consciousness. The conscious mind is a million times more powerful than the subconscious mind. It’s a matter of trying to understand ourselves or find someone that can help us see our subconscious beliefs, our subconscious patterning, and our subconscious perceptions and bring them to consciousness so we can change them. What are some common themes you see that lead to people sabotaging their healthy eating habits?
As we were talking about with the minnows, as they build up throughout the day, pressure also has a tendency to build, which leads to feeling emotional and maybe even physically depleted. When some of these minnows feel like they’re threatening our physical or emotional safety, it gets to a point that when we’re faced with a food that sounds good and may even be like a rebellious choice, we end up not caring or we don’t have the capacity to make the healthy choice. It can show up with not caring. It can show up with feeling like we deserve it. Whatever that looks like for you is the way that can appear. That’s why a lot of people say that a glass of wine or comfort food can calm them because it’s the first opportunity that they have to relieve the pressure from the day.
A lot of people will eat at night. There are some people who eat in the morning or in the middle of the day. It can happen any time of day, but I find a lot of people eat at night and that’s because there has been so much pressure that’s built up throughout the day. If they’re feeling depleted to the point that they’re running on empty, it’s also a literal way to fill themselves up. If they’re feeling like their cup is empty, broken or whatever. I had a client say that to me is that she was feeling so depleted that her cup was broken. Everything was oozing out. She would binge to literally fill herself back up. That can happen too as a result.
I see people also many times and I’ve done this myself in my life, in the absence of when you’re feeling tired, like you say the pressure, the exhaustion, whether it be from a busy day, whether it be from the stress of a busy day or something that’s thrown you off your balance. The idea that you’re tired and you think that food is going to be able to re-energize and give you the fuel you need. A lot of times because we’re stressed or fatigued, we grab for the high carbohydrates or the starchy foods, the grains and things that get converted to glucose, which may give us a short time burst of energy. In the long run, increase our insulin and cause us within an hour to be still hungry and fatigued again. What strategies or tools do you help people use when they are in a pattern of self-sabotaging in order to relieve the pressure you’re referring to?The subconscious mind is a million times more powerful than the conscious mind. Click To Tweet
Based on the minnows that I explained, I don’t believe that people lose willpower or discipline because there are all those emotional triggers that are basically coming up. It’s not willpower. It’s not that there’s something wrong with us that we’re not able to control. It’s more of there are these external things that are happening to us that are leading to us feeling like we’re depleted and therefore don’t have the disciplinary willpower. The first thing we need to do is understand what’s leading us to not be able to eat in alignment with our goals. As we talked about, sometimes by having the awareness of what we’re feeling can help so that we don’t feel so powerless. We can check in on what we need in this situation, which can be challenging when we haven’t been in tune with our needs for a while, which has a tendency to happen for quite a few people.
When someone feels like they’re saying, “Screw it,” or “I deserve it,” or if they’re in what I call mental gymnastics around food, thinking about food a lot or if they’re on automatic pilot and are bingeing without thinking about it, those are all signs that the minnows or emotional triggers are present. They’re on the scene and something has come up throughout the day. To help identify what’s happening, I like to use the acronym NAILED. When someone recognizes that they’re in this pattern, they can ask themselves, “What NAILED emotion is generating my stressful thoughts and unaligned eating?” Based on that question, what NAILED stands for is are they feeling Needy, Anxious, Inadequate, Lonely, Exposed or Depleted? All of those emotions are a signal that there’s a real need that isn’t being met. Once they identify what they’re feeling, they can always work backward to see if they can determine the situation that led to them feeling that way.
It may not be obvious right away. If it helps, they can always write it out to process and digest what’s coming up for them. Sometimes I find that the act of labeling the emotion, create some safety and help so that it doesn’t feel all-consuming. As we were talking about, even bringing the awareness and getting it into the conscious, can be helpful to process it. Not everybody likes to journal, but a lot of my clients do find that journaling does help when needed basically when there’s a reason to do it.
That breaks down of course to an acronym and you said NAILED. Can you run through each letter again for our audience?
N is Needy, A is anxious, I is feeling Inadequate, L for Lonely, E is exposed and D is Depleted or as we were talking about feeling tired.
Acronyms are great because people can then put it, wrap their heads around it and it’s straightforward. They can click through this, get to identify their triggers or their minnows. I was going to ask you that is, “How do you help people identify their minnows or their triggers?” It sounds like this acronym you’ve developed around NAILED is what helps them say, “It’s not that I feel needy, but I do sometimes.” I cannot resonate with that concept of at times feeling inadequate and because of X, Y or Z. Is that what you find happens?
It does. It’s a process and takes a little bit of time too because people aren’t always in touch with what’s happening especially it can be a new way of looking at things and even exploring things. If we’re used to being in these patterns and sometimes they feel like, “This is the way I am.” When we can take a step back and break it down, it can be helpful. They don’t always see these things happening right away either and may not always recognize when they’re feeling inadequate, lonely or exposed. A lot of times they do notice when they’re feeling depleted, but a lot of the other ones sometimes can be challenging for them to see. It’s helpful for us to talk through it. A lot of times what we’ll do is when we go into a session and we’re talking about a time where they may be binged, they ordered pizza or they were eating out of alignment with what their goals are, we’ll work backward and look back at what was happening. They will be able to catch it sooner and sooner in the future when they’re in those situations again.
I come from a place of the environment and the idea that our environment, whether that be toxins, whether that be stress, whether that be foods, whether that be a chronic infection could possibly aggravate or keep us in the places of what you’re talking about with the feelings of loneliness or anxiety. Do you find that there’s a connection there? They go hand in hand is what I’m getting at is if you start to clean up your environment, you notice improvements in our emotions. You’re better able to take a conscious look at your emotions and your subconscious concepts and patterns. The more you’re consistent, you’re able to work your way through that. Would you agree with those connections of our environment as well as our internal processing?
It’s interesting because it’s the chicken or the egg. Sometimes when I work with my clients through the emotional work and figuring out these minnows and figuring out what their needs are and stuff, they naturally want to change their environment as well. Whether that is decluttering or simplifying things. It can be interesting because of their environment shifts as their emotional health shifts. It can go either way. Sometimes they do need to change their environment first before the emotional stuff is addressed also.
I gave a webinar on what’s called the elimination diet made simple. Right now at my clinic, there’s a group of folks that are going through a three-week elimination diet followed by the re-challenging process to identify food triggers. I interviewed a few of them. One of the women has been a patient around the clinic and been a member of my Discover Health Membership Group for a number of years. She has a long history of chronic depression. I live in the mountains of New Hampshire and it gets cold and shorter days and everything. She said to me though that in the three weeks she’s been doing the elimination diet and she wanted to do the elimination diet again because she’s done it in the past. She lost her track. She had gotten off track. She felt taking the class would establish the structure, the environment and the support she needed. She’s been on the elimination diet for three weeks. The number one thing she said to me is how much better her mood has been. She feels so much better. The idea here is the idea of the chicken or the egg. Do you come at it from working on your emotions? As we’ve been talking about your minnows, the NAILED concept first and also feel ready to work on your environment or do you work on your environment that helps you be able to shift and look better at your minnows and your pressure points?
Even with that patient that you’re talking about, it could be that maybe she has a food sensitivity or something too that could be affecting her mood or one thing that we haven’t covered is even making sure that people are getting the right mix of foods too. If that’s out of balance, it makes it harder to balance your mood and the emotional aspects too.
She’s gluten-free to begin with, but dairy and sugar she was saying were things that where she had gotten off track. She was having a hard time finding her way back. The idea of the support and the structure helped her be successful. Exactly as you say, many people are so hypersensitive to our environment. That’s what I talk about in my book, make a dent in chronic disease. Your guide to living pain-free through functional medicine. I talk about the immune system. I educate people on how it works, but I’m not talking in a scientific, high medical language that people can understand. I explained it in very basic concepts. I talk about the environment and the idea of trying to identify your food triggers through an elimination diet. The idea of what mix of foods are best for you and making sure people eat all the colors of the rainbow, for example. Can you share some results that your clients have experienced as a result of working with you?
The results that my clients experience vary since it’s dependent on what’s going on in their life at the time. People come to me at all different stages of all different things that are happening. One way I explain the work I do is that I use food as a window into what’s happening in my client’s life. Typically when someone’s getting out of alignment with their goals, it’s a sign that the minnows are showing up and that they may not be aware of their needs like we’ve talked about. Once we can identify their needs, they start to experience relief and rewarding experiences in various aspects of their life. I’ll share two examples of two different clients. One of my clients, when we first started working together, she was waking up consistently at 3:00 in the morning and would be up for the rest of the day so she could not sleep.
Through our time working together, she ended up starting to sleep through the night and said that overall she was feeling like she got a lot of her life back. She said she was happier. She was able to appreciate herself more. She also found more balance with her job and in her marriage. She came to me originally, not even about the sleep, but that was one of the things that had come up in our initial consultation. She came to me about wanting to be healthier overall, have more energy and weight loss was a piece of it, but it was not the main thing that she was coming to me for. By looking at the food, that’s all of the results that she got from that.When we are not sure of what's happening, a lot of times that's when we feel powerless. Click To Tweet
Another one of my clients, she has a tendency to not eat when she gets overwhelmed. She was also in an all or nothing mindset. Through working together, she realized that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. She was able to find more of the middle ground. She came to me originally because her doctor had put her on a low-FODMAP diet for her IBS. She wasn’t able to stick with it and she wasn’t sure why. That’s where she was starting to feel like, how do I not have willpower and discipline when I’m so accomplished in all these other areas of my life. Through our time working together, she left a toxic job. She made a career change.
Overall, she was feeling less hopeless about her health and food choices because she had so many flare-ups with her stomach that it almost scared her. It created a lot of anxiety to not know when she was going to feel well, not know what was causing it or how long the flare-up was going to last. As a result of working together, she was able to speak up for her needs and her anxiety decreased overall because she wasn’t ruminating over things as much in her mind. She was able to bring out more of that conscious and start to recognize more of what she was feeling and digest and process that.
What about another client?
Those were two different ones. One who was waking up in 3:00 in the morning and the other one was with the digestive issues.
You’ve said they changed from one stressful job, was it?
When we first started working together, the second one who has the IBS, she was in such a stressful job. It was almost like an abusive relationship. She got the courage to figure out what it was that she needed and realized that this job wasn’t serving her. She decided to take the step to move on from that, took a break from work and focus on her health for a few months. She decided to make a career change at that time as well.
It seems like you’re coming at it with folks from more of the emotional issues in their lives, the stress of their lives, the subconscious beliefs and the subconscious contracts that we develop in our beings and what effect that has on our ability to give permission to be able to be successful.
Also on top of that, how all of that shows up around food. It’s all goes hand in hand.
What’s the easiest thing we reach for throughout the day that’s culturally acceptable? A lot of the times the negative foods, the Standard American Diet, and we all know that stands for SAD as an acronym, those are the acceptable things. We reached for that more than we would even reach for other things. Laura, thank you so much. Is there any particular last words or message that you would like to leave people with?
The only thing is if anybody is interested in learning more about what I do or my approach, they can check me out on my website at LauraBFolkes.com. I’m also on Instagram and Facebook and all those other places to connect with. I would love to connect with anybody who’s out there.
Do you work with people all over or do you work with people mostly locally?
I do virtual sessions. If anybody’s in Chicago, I do see them in person if they would like to. Otherwise, we do virtual sessions as well. I can work with anybody all around the world.
Thanks so much for your participation. I hope that everybody out there has gotten a sense of emotional eating and the things that can sabotage us.
Thanks for having me.
- Laura Folkes
- Institute for Integrative Nutrition
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About Laura Folkes
The Breaking Point: When I graduated college I was the heaviest I had ever been and my doctor told me that we needed to do something about my weight but I told her I was burnt out and tired of “working at it.” My fat weeks turned to months. I felt terrible and yet couldn’t get motivated because I was overwhelmed with all the work I believed I needed to do.
Time to Make a Change: My doctor encouraged me to take a medicine to stop overeating. Looking back it was the easy way out and I now know it was not the healthiest option, but it did kick-start my weight loss journey by helping me lose 30 pounds (13 kgs)*. Then at the age of 25 I was diagnosed with high cholesterol and could either go on medicine for the rest of my life or change my diet. I chose the latter option and lost another 15 pounds (7 kgs)*.
I Wasn’t Going Back: In early 2006 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, had my thyroid removed and lost my grandmother all within the first 5 months of the year. Needless to say, it was a stressful time in my life and afterwards I found myself 5 pounds (2.2 kgs) heavier again. But I decided I wasn’t going back to where I started. So in January 2007 my friend encouraged me to sign up for a leading weight loss program. Originally I was skeptical but I went in ready for a lifestyle change instead of another diet. To my surprise I quickly lost 10 pounds (4.5 kgs) and was only about 10 pounds (4.5 kgs) from my goal weight.* Suddenly I was energized and finally felt that I could be a U.S. size 4!! I never thought that was possible but I was wrong! I hit my goal weight in 2008 and have kept it off since.*
Working the System: Even though I was maintaining my weight I still had ups and downs, which I call ‘working the system.’ I continuously found myself eating healthy for a while, followed by eating whatever I wanted for a week or two. I would gain a couple pounds but since I knew what I needed to do, when I started eating healthy again I would lose the weight. It turned into a vicious cycle where I felt I was constantly consumed by thoughts around food and needing to control my weight.
It’s Not Just About The Food:After losing the weight I decided I wanted to help others on their personal journeys so I went back to school to become a Health Coach. While studying I started exploring what was really leading me to ‘work the system’ as described above. I learned it wasn’t just about the food but also what the food represented in my life. This self-exploration led me to discover that I love digging deeper to find out why we crave certain foods and how to overcome the cravings. When you know this from the start the path is more motivating and not as overwhelming.
Putting it to practice:I decided to leave my corporate job in advertising after 13 years to pursue my passion. In December 2014 I graduated from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and became a Certified Holistic Health Coach. I am now working with clients globally and love working with people who are open and ready to try a different approach.