binge eating

Years ago after I quit smoking, I substituted food to soothe my discomfort (as many do). The same way a cigarette break gave me ‘permission’ to rest for ten minutes (which released tension and changed my feeling state), the salty snack or rich piece of chocolate I craved, seemed to make me feel better in a moment of frustration, anger or sadness. The problem was that after satisfying my craving, I didn’t feel better: sometimes I felt worse. I’m sure you can relate. The fix was temporary and what I actually needed was to develop the ability to effectively manage my feelings and understand what I was really craving. (Which I eventually achieved through years of good therapy.)

As a psychotherapist, countless women (and some men) have confided in me about their eating habits. With deep shame and guilt they reveal the heavy secrets they carry about their late-night binges, sometimes consuming up to five thousand calories in a single sitting. Outside of my practice, and especially when I worked as a talent agent for models, women shared their extremely restrictive diets of coffee, diet coke, cigarettes and salads—without dressing. Though, no matter what their diet, everyone seemed to be craving something.

To understand what your cravings look for the feelings underneath them @Terri_Cole {CLICK TO TWEET}

Your eating habits and especially your cravings can hold the key to information about your emotions and your body. One of my favorite quotes from author Geneen Roth is this: “We don’t want to EAT hot fudge sundaes as much as we want our lives to BE hot fudge sundaes.” When you start to recognize that the food you crave is part of a bigger picture you can begin to dive deeper into what it is you actually desire.

It is not uncommon to use food as a way to mood alter when you’re feeling upset, angry or even happy. Food is a huge part of our culture and has always held deep emotional associations. Whether we are mourning a death or celebrating a marriage, food plays a role in how we express and numb our feelings. Food cravings can be indicators that a situation or emotion needs your attention.

This week, I encourage you to check in with yourself before you reach for a cookie or another glass of wine. Take a quick scan of your body and note where you feel what. Get curious about your sensations and feelings. Perhaps you’re feeling stressed about the holidays. Maybe you’re sad and missing a loved one. Or you could just be tired and need a nap. Regardless of how you feel, trying to manage your emotions through food rarely provides the relief and release you’re seeking. What it often leads to is guilt, frustration and stomach aches. You deserve better.

If cravings and food have been something you struggle with, I invite you to learn more from author, speaker and holistic health counselor Alex Jamieson. Alex has been a good friend of mine for years and believe me when I say that when it comes to cravings, she is my go-to guru. If you’re ready to uncover the truth behind your cravings, check out our interview now on my podcast, Hello Freedom. You can subscribe and listen now on iTunes

I’m curious about what you’re craving. In the comments below tell me one food you constantly crave and, after reading this blog, what you think that craving might actually mean. I’m often amazed by your insights so please share. This time of year, more than any other, is a good time to be mindful about what you’re eating and why. (Note: Eating special foods around the holidays simply because they are delicious is a perfect reason to enjoy them in moderation 😉

Have a wonderful week and, for those of you in the U.S., a beautiful Thanksgiving.

As always, take care of you.

Love Love Love,




*image courtesy of sharyn morrow

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  1. Terri, I knew something was wrong, I was eating everything in sight today, didn’t realize why I was so hungry, then I thought I am never this way, what is wrong?

    My Narcisstic Mom is 92 in the hospital and it is weighing on me so. Her caretaker kept telling me to hold Moms hand and I told her No, I was not comfortable with that. Yes it is sad having a Mom like this and seeing anyone dying is sad. I was trying to eat and take away the sadness. Did not even realize what I was doing.

  2. Terri, I’ve been on the never-ending dieting/lifestyle-changing effort forever, it seems…(I’m 38). 🙂

    Anyway, I’m a full-time marketer at a stressful, “Evil Empire” type of company and have two kids (5 and 2). I go from stressful morning dragging kids out of the house, to stressful job all day, to stressful “spirited” kids who act out in the evening to a bottle of wine and then sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. Seriously, it’s Groundhog Day every day.

    Since I have so few minutes or experiences that I’m able to carve out for myself, food and drink are the escapes, the things I look forward to and the reward/treat for dealing with the hardships of every day. I can hop off them for 2-3 weeks at a time, but then I feel so “deprived” that I just eventually cave and submit to these cravings.

    Also, as a sidenote, I’ve learned from Gretchen Rubin that I’m an abstainer, not a moderator. I am not easily successful at moderation (i.e. just one glass of wine or just wine on the weekends or just 2 cookies….)

    Thoughts on how to deal with this? As an avid listener of your podcasts(!), I would love to hear you tackle this in depth! 🙂

    1. Hi, Susan! First off I want to say you’ve got a lot on your plate and to recognize that you are doing just fine, better than fine. Then commend yourself for wanting to do better,person growth is not for sissies! As for abstaining, I suggest filling the food and wine void with something else that feels like a reward or treat. Think bubble baths, your favorite TV show, a mani/pedi or a night out with friends. It is true that sometimes these “treats” may require more time and effort but the shift in how you feel will make it all worth it. Also, I would suggest grabbing a copy of Women, Food and Desire by Alex Jamieson if you haven’t already. When you get a free moment here and there read a page or two, even a paragraph. Having an anchor of wisdom to can help you stay focused on your goal of cutting back on certain things. Please keep me posted and let me know if I can provide any more advice. Lots of love, Terri

      1. I LOVED the podcast episode with Alex J and I subscribe to her blog+podcast now (because of you!), but I haven’t read her book. I will go pick it up now.

        Thanks for the recommendation. 🙂 Your work is invaluable. If you ever make your way to Seattle for any event, please let us all know, as I would be first in line to give you a hug of thanks.


  3. My craving is sweets. Specifically chocolate. I have had eating disorders since I was 19 yrs old. I have been seriously binge eating for the past 10 years, since my husbands death. In a 9 year time span I lost my husband, both parents and both siblings. I can’t seem to cry anymore. My go to is sweets, sweets and more sweets. I think it calms me down, but then all the ick sets in, feeling lousy, feeling guilty, and the whys, why do I do this and why can’t I stop. The holidays are tough and instead of thinking about what I was doing for a loved one 10 years ago or 4 years ago I’ve been trying to concentrate on the fun times and traditions that we had.

    1. Susan, you have been through so much. It makes sense that you would go to food to feel comfort and to perhaps numb out. However, as you said in your comment, the sweets aren’t making you feel any better. I would suggest looking into grief counseling through the American Academy of Grief Counseling or speaking with a professional. It sounds like you are ready and willing to move through your binging and with the help of someone else you can do it. Please know you are not alone. I’m sending you a lot of love this holiday season. – Terri

  4. I always crave carbohydrate type food – whether that is sweet or whether that is a bowl of rice with butter. Interestingly when I was reading this post, something piqued my interest in the back of my brain and I try to pin point why I binge – I think often times it has to do with my feelings not being heard, not being able to express myself completely and just feeling that I have no validation in my feelings. I will absolutely start paying more attention!

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