Dr. Andrew Siegel on Helping People Who Can’t Stop Eating

Morty: Hi this is Morty Lefkoe with our podcast on emotional eating for this week. I’m very happy to have as our guest Dr. Andrew Siegel, who is a physician and educator. He’s going to talk to us about all of the different ways in which a healthy lifestyle can be useful for those of us who just can’t stop eating. You might discover some interesting ideas that you haven’t had before on how you can do that.

He’s written at least one book that I know of called Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food. So let’s get right on with our talk to Dr. Siegel and see if he has some ideas for people with an emotional eating problem.

Andrew, Maybe you can help us come up with some ideas. And thank you for being here.

Andrew: Thanks. Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

Morty: I noticed you’re casual tonight. You just came back from your long day at work and you got comfortable. I’m glad you did that. So let’s just have a little conversation. Where do you live and operate from?

Andrew: I live in Richwood, New Jersey. Right outside New York City.

Morty: Okay, very good. I’m actually going to be there in a couple of weeks. I used to live in New York and I now live in San Francisco. I’m going to go back for a week and become a real tourist. So I’m looking forward to getting back there.

Andrew: Fantastic.

Morty: So how did you get interested? You’re a doctor and you say you’re a surgeon, an educator. How did you go from being a general practitioner and a surgeon to getting involved and interested in the area of emotional eating?

Andrew: Well I’m actually a urologist and one of my passions is preventative medicine, preventative health, wellness. For years, I’ve recognized the importance of healthy eating, exercise and other measures that can be taken to avoid the doctor and avoid the hospital. That is really how I got interested in eating, longevity, and general health.

I realized that one-third of my patients are overweight, one-third of my patients are obese, and one third are of a healthy weight. It’s not just my patients, it’s a rampant and highly prevalent problem in the United States.

I also recognized, when being introspective, that I am an emotional eater. I’m healthy as can be–I exercise daily, I’m a good eater. But I recognized that here I am, a very healthy person who’s a practitioner of wellness and preventative health measures and yet under many circumstances I find myself eating when not actually hungry.

If that’s the case, then what’s happening to these people who are overweight or obese? Actually, when you break eating down, there are three general reasons why somebody brings food to mouth. One of course is genuine hunger. Another is circumstances that are often beyond our control–you’re at work and there’s a tray of donuts out, you’re at a religious celebration, you’re out to dinner with friends, et cetera. And the third is emotional eating. And I think it’s huge.

In my own situation, I often find that if I’m extremely stressed, extremely fatigued, I seek solace and comfort through foods. Even though I’m genuinely hungry, I find sometimes as well that if I’m put in a situation where I’m not particularly satisfied, happy or fulfilled, I will come home late at night and seek fulfillment through filling my stomach.

Morty: Yes, that’s how it works. Okay.

Andrew: It’s basically maladaptive. In my case I’ll come to work, I’ll exercise, I’m generally a really quite healthy eater. But I realize that if that’s the case with a healthy, fit person, then what’s happening with the average person? One who’s not nutritionally conscientious, who’s not a daily exerciser? In a world where stresses predominate and get worse every day?

So that’s really what got me interested in the situation. So what I started doing was casually asking some of my patients a simple question. It’s: “Under what circumstances do you eat when you’re not genuinely hungry?”

And I started tallying this information. I wanted to know what they ate, what the circumstances were, if the eating satisfied their need and soothed them afterwards, and what were the ramifications afterwards. Did they feel guilt, did they feel satisfied, etc.

I planned on interviewing about hundred people. It wasn’t just patients. It was friends and family. Anybody I came in contact with. All races, all religions, all ages, all weights–skinny, heavy, obese.

Morty: And what were the triggers you found?

Andrew: I think the largest trigger is stress. Stress, anxiety. Depression. Sadness. Unhappiness. Boredom. Fugue. Fatigue. Remarkably consistent. It’s mostly negative emotions that drive maladaptive eating behaviors.

Interestingly enough, negative emotions tend to be quelled with unhealthy foods. Negative foods. Don’t get me wrong, on occasion happiness and positive emotions drive reward eating. “I’m going to celebrate with an ice cream, I’m going to treat myself to this.” So any range of emotions can demand eating in some form or another.

Morty: In my work I’ve discovered that there were what I call triggers and rewards. The triggers are negative feelings like nervousness, boredom, loneliness, depression, stress, et cetera. The ones you’ve mentioned, I’ve actually found out about twenty-one or twenty-two.

In addition to that, you can also be conditioned with rewards. When you want to celebrate–when you want to give yourself pleasure, when you want to reward yourself–you can actually be conditioned to want to eat for reward. Just as well you can be conditioned to need to eat to deal with negative feelings.

So I’ve got pretty much the same experience as you do. I’m just sort of tracking along to see if you’ve got something different than me. So far we have found the same thing that there are triggers to deal with negative feelings and we also are conditioned to eat to achieve, to attain positive feelings.

Andrew: No question about that.

Morty: So where did you go from there? So now you’ve got all this information and you found out what the triggers were. What did you do then?

Andrew: I basically put this information together and I wrote a book about essentially what drives us to eat when we’re not hungry.

Listen, although I’m very interested in psychology–I’m a psychology minor in college–I am not a psychologist. I’m not a psychiatrist. I do not do therapy with individual patients. I just have a profound interest in wellness and health and I think this is an important subcomponent of it.

I’m very interested in nutrition. Exercise as well. And I’m very very interested in why we eat when we’re not hungry in a non-emotional basis because I think that’s a huge problem as well.

Morty: Do you actually find that? Because the one thing you’ve said so far, it’s a minor disagreement. But when you say there are three things when we eat: when we’re genuinely hungry, when there’s emotional eating, and circumstances.

Because I have found that people who eat because the food is there at parties etc. do not do that if there’s not an emotional component. That people who are in that third of normal eaters do not eat just because they’re at the party and there’s food. If they’re not hungry and there’s a big buffet, they’ll have a little bit and as soon as they’re full they’ll stop. Whereas emotional eaters will continue eating.

So I don’t know that circumstances as such would have a normal eater eating. If there’s food around and you’re not hungry, if there’s not some emotional thing going on, I’m not sure that circumstances as such would have you eat. Maybe, but that’s not my experience.

People who say that to me, if I look and say “What are you feeling when you eat?” There’s some belief, there’s something there. For example, “If I don’t eat it now, it won’t be there later” and “The way to be accepted is to be doing what everybody else is doing.”

But there is some belief or trigger that’s involved when somebody’s eating when there’s food around. They’re not just eating just because there’s food. Because many people do not just eat because there’s food.

Andrew: I fully agree with you that if you are an emotional eater and you’re put in a situation where you’ve got ready access and exposure to food then you are going to be the one likely to consume. But by the same token, if I’m sitting there on break at the surgery center and there’s a plateful of bagels or donuts out there, it is–I call it temptation eating, opportunistic eating, social eating, habit eating. I think those are all factors that come into play.

I am not saying I abuse the situation. I have a bite or two. But I do think in America there’s a lot of eating that goes around by the water cooler in offices. You might be right, that underlying that, there are emotional reasons for this.

Morty: Well, you have actually done a survey of over a hundred people so let me ask you. Did the people who say that they don’t gain weight, that their eating is normally healthy, that they do not consider themselves emotional eaters, who basically have all the signposts for normal healthy eating–did those people also eat just because there was food around?

Andrew: Yes, largely so. And I truly feel that we are all at some level emotional eaters. We bring our emotions to every situation which we are involved in. I think that humans literally bring their emotions to the table and some have much better control than others do.

I basically think that on a most primal level locating back to infancy, there was a time when we were frightened infants bursting with emotions and fears. And we were soothed and sought solace by breastfeeding by our mother, by oral pacification. And I think what happens is we grow old, we grow older, but deep inside there is still this sense of oral stimulation as a means of providing relief from anxiety, worries, tension, and pressure that lives on.

Morty: That could very well be. That very well may be true for everybody. I’ve never asked people who don’t come to me with an emotional eating problem the kind of survey that you did. So I find people who are obviously emotional eaters. And their emotional eating is part of their circumstantial eating.

It’d be interesting for me to start asking my friends who basically say food is no big deal for them, that only when they are hungry and they never eat when they’re not hungry: “What do you do when you’re at a buffet or a party and there’s food around and you’re not hungry? Do you just say ‘I’m not hungry’ or do you eat some of it anyway?”

It’d be interesting for me to do some research myself and see if there’s such a thing as circumstantial eating apart from emotional eating. That very well may be, I will check that out. I thank you for raising that.

Andrew: I’ll give you another example. Something that I call accessory eating. Which in my terms is eating that is linked to activities. Almost Pavlovian association. For example, going to the movies and getting popcorn and soda and candy. Or just sitting down at night and watching television. And turning on the television and having a compelling need to eat something, whether you’re hungry or not. Almost a conditioned response. I think that it’s an entirely common phenomenon.

The other thing I wanted to mention too is that in surveying a hundred people or so, there are people who are emotional non-eaters as well. I failed to mention that. People who deal with stress by avoiding eating. And then there are those who are over-consumers. It’s very interesting, the wide range of how we metabolize our feelings.

Morty: Yes. So in your practice, you do not then treat emotional eating. You wrote a book about it. You have some ideas on it. But you actually don’t work with people to help them with emotional eating. The only way you’re trying to help people is via your book, not with your practice. Is that correct?

Andrew: That is largely true. But when I see any patient, I really try to treat them as an integral whole and I deal with weight issues and eating issues. I will send people to the nutritionist, I would refer people to a psychologist. When I think that condition arises, I do a plot of nutrition and exercise and some aspects of emotional eating. I try to do what I can do.

But once again, I am not a therapist and the thrust is the book.

Morty: Well that’s fascinating because everybody that I’ve interviewed so far have sort of been a private practitioner or an author who still has some sort of course or private practice or working with some institution. So far you are the only person who has actually written a book about it almost like as a hobby, as an interest, as a contribution you wanted to make to people because of the extent of the problem. Even though it’s not something you worked on yourself.

So hopefully we could get some people to take a look at your book. The book is called: Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food and it’s by Andrew Siegel. S-I-E-G-E-L MD.

You can get some information about what Andrew’s come up with in terms of what did he discover in his interviews with a hundred people, and from his practice with people where he talks to people about their general well-being, their nutrition, their general health, their exercise et cetera. So it sounds like this book is going to have a lot of very interesting information even though Andrew doesn’t work with people directly. You only get to see him if you’ve got a problem with urology. Other than that, you’re going to have to find somebody else.

But it probably is very worthwhile to take a look at the book. I’ve got a bunch of books on eating and I can’t catch up with all of them. But given what you’ve said so far, it’s real small. It’s only a hundred and twenty-eight pages so I think I’m going to try and get through it myself and take a look. It sounds like you’ve got some really interesting ideas in there.

Andrew: Thank you Morty.

Morty: Anything else you’d like to say to our audience about what you consider the solution to be? You say you don’t work with people yourself, you refer them to therapists and so on. But given what you’ve identified as the problem, do you have any specific ideas if you were just giving advice before somebody saw a therapist? What would your basic advice be? Your basic solution to the problem of emotional eating?

Andrew: Well I find that a lot of emotional eating–and also circumstantial eating–tends to be mindless eating. You lose focus, you’re not paying attention. You’re in another world. So I always think that first and foremost, making an effort to be mindful is extremely helpful. Try and understand or ask yourself these questions: “Why am I eating?” “What am I eating?” “How am I eating?” “When am I eating?” These are all significant questions.

When somebody suffers from these issues, the use of a pen and paper–a diary if you will–can be extremely helpful. Essentially writing down what you eat, why you’re eating. And if it’s not for genuine hunger, is it satisfying the emotional hunger? What are the ramifications afterwards? If it’s stress, is your stress relieved? Are you more stressed afterwards?

I’ve found that a good majority of people who are stress eaters for example end up with a secondary stress based upon the overeating from the initial stress.

Morty: Yes. People feel guilty when they do not want to eat and say “I’m not going to do it again” and then they end up doing it. You then end up with more negative feelings when you’re done as a result of having eaten. I see that all the time.

Andrew: What I’m trying to say is that I think being aware, being conscious, being mindful, trying to understand the introspective is first and foremost. There are whole hosts of behavioral tactics and strategies that I think can be employed also. I think I have twenty or twenty-five or thirty in the book. Little things.

One thing for example, I call “Vaccination and Inoculation”. Which means you’re in the office. It’s somebody’s birthday party and they’re going to carve up an ice-cream cake. And they carve it into eight big pieces. Well you’re trying to lose weight, you’re overweight, you’re stressed, you’re tired, you’re at work. You want to be social and join everybody. You don’t want to look like an anti-social pariah. So “Vaccination and Inoculation” is have a little piece. Have a vaccination. Have an inoculation. So you don’t end up with a disease. The obesity disease. Things like that.

There are a whole host of minor things that can be done. If you can’t deal with the situation fully on a mindful basis, you can at least try to re-engineer your environment in such a way that you are less likely to succumb to mindless eating, emotional eating, etc.

Other good management protocols are, for example, if you are stressed and you find yourself going to the refrigerator and you must eat here. Take what you want but the rest of it as I’ve just mentioned, eat something else. Have something healthier. Teach yourself to enjoy eating a piece of fruit. Another possibility is instead of eating to quell emotional hunger, use an alternative activity. Exercise for one. It releases the same dopamine and opiates in the brain that eating a Cinnabon does, for example.

Morty: Well it sounds as if this is very exciting. You’ve got a whole bunch of techniques that might be very useful to a lot of people. So again, it’s Promiscuous Eating by Dr. Andrew Siegel. S-I-E-G-E-L. Let’s see if we can get some of our listeners and the people reading the transcript of this to check it out.

Thank you so much for giving us a few minutes of your time at the end of a busy day at the office. I will let you know when this thing is up but I think a lot of our readers are going to find this really fascinating.

Thank you Andrew, I really appreciate it.

Andrew: Absolutely my pleasure. Thank you.

Interview with Meryl Beck – How to Stop Binge Eating

MORTY: Hi, this is Morty Lefkoe. I am very pleased today to have as our guest, Meryl Beck. Meryl Beck is a licensed counselor. She specializes in twelve-step recovering and eating disorders and actually created her own successful outpatient Food Abuse Treatment Week. She also uses energy techniques, which I’m really interested in finding out more about, and she has a book, Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating. She tells her story of binge eating and she gives us her ideas on the source of the problem and what can be done to stop it.

Today, we’re going to have a conversation and see if Meryl can give us all some of her wisdom and see if maybe something we hear can make a difference for us.

Meryl, thank you so much for being here with us.

MERYL: Thanks, Morty! It’s my pleasure.

MORTY: If you won’t mind starting out telling us just a little bit about your background, and how you got interested in the field of emotional eating. That might be a good way to get started.

MERYL: Well, I write about it because I have both personal and professional experience with it.  At very young age I discovered I could use food to numb feelings that were uncomfortable. What happened was I started using food as if it were a drug. I became a binge-eater and I actually had a binge-eating disorder even though I didn’t realize that I actually had an eating disorder for many years, probably from the first thirty years of my life.

MORTY: When you say binge eating, do you mean bulimia?

MERYL: No. Binge eating does not have a vomiting component to it.

MORTY: I got it. Okay. It’s binge eating but just eating.

MERYL: Right. Uncontrollable eating, urges to eat. I was the secret-eater. I was a public dieter and a binge-eater in private. I just felt so much shame around that because nobody knew who I really was, or what I was really doing with my life, especially in terms of food.

When I was a kid, I was only about 12 years old, I saw the teleplay “Days of Wine and Roses.” It tells a story of a man who was really in the deep trenches of alcoholism, and how it’s ruining his life, and how he gets helped with Alcoholics Anonymous.

I’m only in elementary school. At that time, in my own brain, I said to myself, “Wow, I wish there was a place like that for me because I must be a foodaholic. Once I start eating, I can’t stop.”

Fast forward, I’m 29, almost 30 years old, a friend says to me, “Oh, I went to this program. It’s a 12-step recovery program like Alcoholics Anonymous, but it’s about food.” I went, “Ah, there really is such a place?” That became my first step in learning how to deal with my food addiction or my food compulsion.

Some people do emotional eating and it’s not a food addiction for them. For me, it was because I really did use food the same way the alcoholic uses alcohol, the drug addict uses his drugs. It was a way of comforting me, and taking away pain, and anesthetizing myself, and making the world disappear for a moment. But, because of that, it was such a vicious cycle. So, I’d feel bad about something and I’d eat over it. Then, I’d have guilt and shame and remorse, and because I had all those yucky feelings, I got to eat some more. And then, I feel more guilt and more shame and remorse.

One of the things I do is I teach how to break that cycle. That’s what I do in the book and that’s what I’ve done with my work.

For me, the first step was getting into 12-step recovery. I know there’s a lot of people who are listening or that are reading this, that have tried 12-step recovery, and it wasn’t for them. And, that’s fine. You don’t have to go that route. It was just my way of doing it.

MORTY: What was the difference between your version of the 12-step recovery and the 12-step that you took yourself?

MERYL: I’m not quite sure I’m understanding because it’s not my version of 12-step recovery. I went to different meetings because there’s Overeaters Anonymous meetings, and Food Addicts Anonymous, and Co-dependency Anonymous… There’s lots of different 12-Steps that are all based on the original 12-steps of AA.

MORTY: Okay.

MERYL: The steps are basically the same. The first one is different because it depends on whether you’re working with food or alcohol and drugs, or sex, or whatever the addiction is. But, they’re the same 12 steps. They’re just modified for whatever the individual’s particular addiction or problem is.

MORTY: Okay. You basically use the 12-step program that you took yourself as a patient many years ago.

MERYL: Right.

MORTY: That’s what you teach today.

MERYL: Right, and that’s what I started with, and I wasn’t a patient because it’s a fellowship, and it’s very anonymous that’s why I worked it out in public and say I was a member of a particular 12-step program. I just say in general, the 12-step recovery programs that I went to. I did go to many different ones.

What that taught me is I learned a lot of things there. I had physical recovery. It has taught me what a portion size was. I had no idea that eating a one-pound rib steak for dinner was a larger portion that most people wouldn’t need.

I learned that, I learned what portion sizes were.  Then my daughte,r who was a young little girl, and I would go out in the store and buy a steak, a three-quarter pound rib steak, and she and I would split it, and that was fine. So, I learned portion sizes.

I learned about emotions. I grew up in a “looking good” family and we were a very positive family. That sounds great, but when you’re in a very positive family, sometimes there’s no room for the feelings that aren’t positive. If I felt sadness or anger, or any of those feelings that were feeling yucky, I knew that it wasn’t okay to talk about it, so I pushed it down with food.

When I went to the 12-step recovery meetings, I discovered what feelings were all about, and I had no labels for them. I would sit on the back of the room and I’d say to someone, “I’m feeling something and I don’t know what it is.” That person might say, “Well, describe what’s going on in your life,” and I did, and I’ve been able to label the feeling for myself. Oh, that’s jealousy. Oh, that’s grief. Oh, that’s sadness, or whatever the feeling was because I didn’t have the labels. That was the emotional recovery.

The third really big piece is that I had spiritual recovery as a result of going to 12-step meetings because for me, growing up, I always had a belief in God. The God I believed in was a God that punishes you. I knew that this God was keeping track of all my bads. My bads, thank you very much, were not all very big bads. I didn’t really hurt anybody outright, or kill anybody or anything.

But, I did a lot of judgments and there were judgments in my head. So, I might say to somebody, “Wow, that’s a beautiful dress!” And in my head I add something. In my head, I go, “Where did they get that? In the bargain basement?”

I was doing all these judging and acting. I got two faces on. I had my public face and the internal thoughts were very different, and the God that I believed in was keeping track. He was the Santa Claus, “who knows when you’ve been good or bad, so be good for goodness sakes.” This God, in my belief, was keeping track. “Oh, another bad, mark it down. Oh, another bad, mark it down.”

I really believed that someday, all these bads, I would be punished for. The punishment was really, really terrifying for me. Deep inside I thought something would happen to one of my children, that I would get up one morning and find out that they had an incurable illness because that’s how God would punish me because I saw myself as being such a fraud, and I deserved that kind of punishment.

It’s a huge turning point for me when I was able to open up to–and I couldn’t say “God” for many, many years–I said, “Higher Power,” and to learn that this Higher Power, this God from my understanding, loves me no matter what. I didn’t have to be good to earn the love. It was huge for me.

The illness is mental, physical, and emotional, and spiritual. I had recovery in all areas.

MORTY: Here’s the question I’ve always had about 12-steps, so maybe I can get an answer for me and other people with a similar question. Does the problem actually go away, or do you learn how to cope with, deal with, or manage the problem?

MERYL: A person who is in 12-steps will get up and identify themselves and say, “I am a recovered compulsive overeater. I am an alcoholic. I am recovered binge-eater.” Sometimes, they’ll use the word “recovered,” sometimes, they don’t. But, they continue to identify with that because the belief is that if we go back to the old behaviors, or we can have a slip and it’ll take us back to the old behaviors, so the problem is not gone. We have a reprieve on a daily basis. We take it one day at a time, and sometimes, one minute at a time.

MORTY: I believe that the source of binge eating is triggers and beliefs. With the 12 step programs the triggers and beliefs are still there, urging you to eat, you’ve just found a way to overcome the urges.

MERYL: Right. I gave up sugar for six weeks for the whole summer once, and nothing changed. But, some people do and when they get off the substance that they’re really addicted to, their life will change because they’re no longer eating that. Sometimes, it’s not about the beliefs, the underlying beliefs. Sometimes, it really is physiological and sometimes, it is biochemical.

I do agree though. A lot of times, it’s about the underlying beliefs. The underlying beliefs come because as children, we try to make sense of the world. So that, when the event happens, and we all know that very often when parents get divorced, and the children are young, the child will say to himself or herself, “I have been a bad little girl, or bad little boy back when that happened.” So, they personalize it, and make it their fault.

In my case, my dad started to travel when I was four, and the little girl that I was couldn’t understand why he would leave me. So, the way I made sense of it was, “I must not be enough. I’m not good enough or he wouldn’t be travelling like he is.”

That was a belief that I held for years and years and years, and therefore it attracted to me people that would affirm that belief, who would say, “Yes, you’re not very good,” and they would be critical. “You’re not enough.” I understand exactly if you’re saying about the underlying beliefs because we have to take a look at what’s going on, and what’s driving our train, and the train that we are particularly riding in, is what the taste is right to the food.

MORTY: Yes. Basically then, it’s not a question of eliminating the compulsive need to eat. You basically have found a way through the 12-Step program to enable people to cope with the urges, with the need to binge eat, to emotionally eat, and to be able to refrain through the support system.

MERYL: Yes and no, because if you take a look at my book, it’s divided into 21 days. Each day, there’s a different tool and a different assignment, and it begins with having people write their eating history. Because so many of us, we’re in denial. We’re not even conscious of what we’re eating. We have no idea that there is an issue.

What just came into my mind is an image of my cousin and I, something they photographed.  We each have our hands ready to eat a whole pie, and I remember the picture, but I also remember that I wished I could really do it, that I wasn’t just posing for a photo.

With that kind of memory, I would have written that in an eating history, that I wasn’t eating it, but it was a, “wish I could eat it.” The other thing would have been in my eating history was when I was eating something that gave me a lot of pleasure. For instance, for me, I was very conditioned that ice cream would give me pleasure. That started when I had my tonsils out at age six. So that, that conditioning, and that need for ice cream was there for a long time.

As a little kid, we would sometimes go get an ice cream at a local place in the neighborhood, and I remember ordering a mint chocolate with ice cream cone and that was my favorite. But, instead of getting the pleasure, I was already into sadness, because I knew in a minute it would be gone.

MORTY: Oh, boy.

MERYL: Yes. All those kinds of things would be in my eating history. I would start getting “Aha moments” because we can’t really fix things that we’re not aware of. We have to bring them to consciousness.

When people start out by using my book, that’s the first place for starters, becoming conscious of some of the ways we’re using food, becoming conscious of, why is our eating out of balance? That continues because the next day, people will rise, start eating and writing in their food mood journals, and for most people, there’s a huge disconnect. I have no idea why I just grabbed all those potato chips. I have no idea. Then, little by little, they go, “Oh yes, that’s when my daughter talked back to me, and I ran and grab the potato chips.” They see that there’s a stimulus in a response. They see that there’s a condition to their eating. Then, they start getting an awareness around that, because later on, I’ll teach the tool on how to break that.

MORTY: What are some of the tools you use? You say you use energy techniques. How does that fit in?

MERYL: Energy psychology, are you familiar with it?

MORTY: A little bit. I’ve done some reading.

MERYL: Okay. Energy psychology is a fairly new field, and it is based on oriental medicine. EFT is one of the important ones, the so-called Emotional Freedom Technique. It’s using acupressure techniques to release physical and emotional pain, and also the food cravings.

We tap on points and they’re the same points that acupuncturists have used for thousands of years to let go of pain and discomfort, to get our energy running smoothly again, so that it is not blocked. Instead of using needles we just tap on these acupressure points.

I learned how to do this in the end of the 1990s. It’s made a huge difference in my life and in the lives of people I work with, it’s mostly women, but some men, because instead of having anxiety reaching for the food, if I’m feeling anxious, I know that I can do the tapping and the food won’t be a big issue anymore because I won’t eat it and then, I will feel okay.

MORTY: Are you able to stop, not through willpower, but because you stop the desire to binge eat?

MERYL: Right because you can use it, now I could tell you. What we do is when I teach it, we use a scale of 0 as in you’re not feeling or not craving it, 10 is having intense craving. If you’re already at a 9 or 10, you’re not going to want to stop and do the tapping. You have to catch it at an earlier stage before this binge is such a huge compulsion where there’s no stopping it, like this train that’s already on a track that’s going 100 miles an hour. You better stop at when it’s 50 miles an hour, you can cope with it. We can tap away the craving. But, where it gets too big, we won’t be able to do that.

It’s also the awareness of paying attention to, when you start having the craving, what’s going on? Is there a feeling… you tap for the feeling, and if not, you can tap directly for the craving.

EFT, I mentioned, was Gary Craig’s method that’s done by thousands and thousands worldwide, and there’s lot of researches being done with that now. There’s a similar technique that I use and talk about in my book called, RITT, Rapidly Integrated Transformation Technique, that my colleague rapid trainer, Macy and I put together. We did this because our clients loved this tapping that the angry 12-step recovery folks, they wanted to find a spiritual component. So, that’s what we do with this one. We ask the God, or Light, or Higher Power, constantly with us to release the cravings or to release the feelings.

MORTY: You basically created your own integration of 12-step and energy and EFT.

MERYL: Right. Yes, well, it’s not really integration of 12-step, but it does bring in the spiritual component.

MORTY: Yes, I get you, the spiritual element and 12-step.

MERYL: Correct. I wanted your listeners and readers to know that I describe both EFT and RITT in a free eBook that they can get by going out to my website, which is called http://stopeatingyourheartout.com. All they do is sign up and they get the free eBook. It’s called, Acupressure Techniques for Weight Control, but it can be used for lots of things besides weight control.

MORTY: Let’s do that again. It’s stopeatingyourheartout.com (without any spaces).


MORTY: You can get Meryl’s free eBook, and you can order obviously her Stop Eating Your Heart Out book, and I assume that there’s other information there, or ways to sign up for information?

MERYL: Correct, correct.

MORTY: Well, thank you so, so much. I really do appreciate you taking the time to talk to our listeners here, and ultimately our readers. This is a whole new approach compared to anything we’ve ever put up here before, and what I find particularly interesting is your ability to add the EFT, which enables people to actually stop the cravings rather than just having to find a way to overcome the cravings, or not give in to the cravings, with support. But, if you can actually stop the cravings at the moment, that’s even better.

MERYL: Right. The other really interesting thing is that the book is written for people with emotional eating, but it can be used for anyone to change or break any habit or behavior. People have already told me that they are using it for procrastination, or to let go of judgments because you could follow. So, instead of writing your eating history, you’re writing your history of judgments.

And so, it can be adapted to change anything in here the person wants, or doesn’t want the person wants to change.

MORTY: Well, this is great. Anybody who is interested in finding out about Meryl’s book, or her free eBook, or other information about the work she does, or the energy technique that she’s devised, which is her own unique approach that integrates the spiritual technique, please go to stopeatingyourheartout.com (no spaces, no underscores, no dashes, just turn that into one word). You will be able to get more information about Meryl.

Thank you so much, Meryl for taking the time, and I am sure that the readers and listeners to this will find your material interesting, and hopefully, a lot of them will pursue it and get some more information.

MERYL: Thank you, Morty. Thanks for all the important work you’re doing.

MORTY: Thank you.

Bill Cashell on Stop Overeating with EFT and Related Techniques

Morty: Hi, this is Morty Lefkoe with another podcast that will help you stop overeating. Today we have a very special guest, Bill Cashell. He’s got an “Emotional Diet” which is a revolutionary new program that focuses on what he considers to be “the real problem” with people who are overweight. Even though he calls it an “Emotional Diet,” it is not actually another diet that forces you to use willpower.

So let’s find out what his ideas are and maybe something he has to say will help those of us who have a  problem with overeating, with emotional eating. Maybe it’s going to help us discover what it’s going to take to stop overeating. So if we can stop overeating perhaps our problems can be solved and maybe Bill can help us solve them.

Welcome Bill and thank you so much for being with us today.

Bill: Well thank you, Morty. Thank you for inviting me.

Morty: Bill Cashell, C-A-S-H-E-L-L, where are you located now?

Bill: Well, I’m located in Omaha, Nebraska right here in the center of the United States.

Morty: That’s exciting. Tell us a little bit if would please on how you got involved in the area of emotional eating. What made you decide to try and help people to stop their overeating problem? How did that all start for you?

Bill: Well Morty, I’ve met so many people with this desperation. That was my inspiration. Because I would have a problem–when I was younger I was so active. That was when I was fourteen or so. I could get away with eating quite a bit. Then I would often eat the wrong kinds of food. But then I kept gaining weight and gaining weight.  I tried diet after diet. And I could stick to it for a few days but then I’d go right back to where I was.

So I started studying other techniques. So I became certified in hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, emotional freedom techniques, a slew of other techniques. What I found was when I combined them all together and started searching for the real cause, then I started having success. Once I had success then I started helping other people by doing seminars and eventually writing a book on it.

Morty: And what was the name of your book?

Bill: The name of the book is called The Emotional Diet: How To Love Your Life More and Food Less.

Morty: And where can people find that?

Bill: You can find it in Amazon, in Barnes and Noble, in some of the bookstores, and also your local library.

Morty: So it’s The Emotional Diet. Tell us a little bit about what you actually do that helps people to stop overeating.

Bill: To put it simply, Morty–it’s like I told a friend of a friend of mine–I said, “I believe anybody who eats more than they need is an emotional eater. At that point she replied, “I’m not an emotional eater, I just love food.” So of course I said, “What’s love?” And she chuckled. “So I guess that’s an emotion!”

There are a couple of different ways that people become emotional eaters. One thing, we form a lot of attachments throughout our lives to food. We create what is called an anchor. You feel good–one of my favorite examples is cake. Often I ask people: “When do you think of cake?” They say “Well, parties, birthdays, celebrations. Things like that.”

So what happens Morty is you see the cake and you’re feeling really good. Then you create the association of feeling really good with eating the cake. You go to another party, another birthday, you feel good and you eat the cake. Pretty soon you walk through a store, you see a cake and bang you have that urge. The real urge is not so much the cake as the feeling underneath that. Because all human behavior is driven by the desire to feel good.

Now that goes even further for people who we tend to think of as emotional eaters. That is people who eat strictly to feel good. And often it’s because they’re feeling bad. So what they’re doing is using food as a substitute. Something to change  their body chemistry. But it really doesn’t solve the root problem. The root cause of why they’re feeling bad in the first place. So when we get to that, to find out what the real issue is and resolve that, then the need to eat to feel better goes away. So there are a couple of different ways to deal with that … I hope I kind of explained it.

Morty: Yes. Well that is pretty much consistent with my own research and my own point of view that the main source of emotional eating is negative feelings. Boredom, feeling unlovable, feeling anxious, feeling angry. So we have negative feelings that we don’t want to experience and we get conditioned to eat as a way of distracting ourselves from the negative feelings or putting a good feeling on top of the negative feeling.

Bill: I agree completely.

Morty: I think there’s also some beliefs involved. But it’s some combination of our beliefs and conditioned triggers.

Bill: Right.

Morty: If that’s the case, what do you do when people are conditioned to eat when they are bored or anxious or feeling unlovable or depressed? What do you do to help people not need to eat in those situations?

Bill: Well, one of the things is creating different anchors as I’ve said. Creating different associations to food and feeling good. And one of the ways is to reframe things. For example, a lot of it has to do with the way we look at food. The way we feel about food.

A good example is this: I sometimes will ask people “Would you sit down and eat a big bowl of flour with a spoon?” and of course they’ll say no. Then I’ll say, “What about a big bowl of sugar and a spoon? Would you eat that?” “Gosh no!” And I’ll ask “Well, what about a  big tub of Crisco and a spoon? Would you eat that?” And of course that’s pretty sickening. And then I say “What if we put them all together and call them donuts? Would you eat that?” All a sudden it’s like a light bulb goes off and they think, “Wow, here are foods I wouldn’t eat by themselves but then we mix them all together then we call them donuts.”

It sort of reframes the way they think of these foods and the way they picture them. I mentioned that to one lady I was working with. A couple of days later people brought donuts to where she worked. Well she had always been a big donut eater, and she said the donuts looked good, they smelled good. But just looking at them she kept getting this image of a big ring of Crisco. And she said, “I just couldn’t bring myself to eat them.”

What was really great Morty was after a little while, everybody who had eaten these donuts were feeling very sluggish, lethargic, and she said she passed up the donuts and she felt great. So that created a new association that passing up the donuts makes her feel good. And eating the donuts was like eating Crisco or sludge. So she created a new association after that. At a simple, basic level like that.

To go further–we have talked about some of the feelings and so forth. If somebody says “I don’t feel lovable. I don’t feel good about myself.” Which is often the case as you well know. Then you say, “Okay, what is the root cause of that?” And that’s when we start getting to the subconscious mind.

One of the things I’ve found is that we can use things like affirmations or self-hypnosis for suggestions to say “Yes, I’m lovable” or “I’m worthwhile” or “I deserve to feel good.” The problem is, the root cause is there’s some experience or there’s something hidden in the subconscious memory or even consciously which prevents them from feeling good. So until you deal with or resolve that issue, using affirmations will really have limited or temporary effects.

Once they find that real cause I like to use something like emotional freedom techniques and things like that which really do focus on the physical feelings, the way they’re stored. Emotions often are stored–especially real strong emotions–are stored not only in our mind but also in our physical body. And that’s why using, for example, talk therapy won’t resolve trauma.

So when we use these other techniques to release those limiting beliefs and those bad memories and neutralize those, then we can follow up with things like affirmations and self-hypnosis and then that can start building stuff. But the first trick is to deal with those limiting beliefs and those bad memories. And that’s where it starts. In the subconscious mind.

Morty: And how do you help people eliminate those negative beliefs? If somebody didn’t get a lot of attention from their parents as children, and concluded “I’m not lovable”, what would you use? Which of your various techniques would be the most effective to get rid of the belief that “I’m not lovable”?

Bill: For a case like that I’d probably start with the emotional freedom techniques. And sometimes combine it–if I’m working one-on-one, the first thing I would do is “Think of a time, a specific event, when you didn’t feel lovable.” Because what you can find often is there could be–they could have a whole childhood full events when they didn’t feel lovable. When they felt rejected and so forth. And so what you find is if they had a lot of events–for some people maybe it’s one or two but it’s such a strong one that it left an impression on your mind–they may not even be aware of that. Maybe their parents didn’t love them or didn’t spend time with them. Whatever it may be, I tell them, “Think of the very strongest memory and tell me about that.”

Now the interesting thing is that the subconscious mind doesn’t keep track of time. We often say, “That happened years ago” or, “I’m way past that.” It doesn’t really matter. When you think back to an event when you were five years old and you still feel some negative feelings about that, it’s still affecting you on a subconscious level.

When I have people and tell them or ask them, “Think of your strongest event and how do you feel about that?” And they’ll come up with feelings like rejection or feeling bad or feeling “I’m not worth it.” And so I say, “Okay.” The way of course with psychotherapy is to–when you have a bad event–is to neutralize it and basically desensitize it by reliving the event with talk therapy, over and over again. That can be slow and that can be painful. And if there’s a lot of trauma involved, if often doesn’t work.

So what I say is, “Let’s go back to that event and tell me what the feeling is first.” Then we use EFT or meridian tapping and release those feelings and get them down. Then I tell them “Let’s watch through the events and neutralize the feelings involved.”

You don’t want to change people’s memories, you only want them tamped down. What you want to do is let go of the feelings associated to the memory. And then you go back and say, “Okay, now once we’ve released those negative associations, let’s now see what we can do to reframe them. So some of the reframing they would go into, say, “What kind of childhood did your parents have?” Maybe they had a similar role model in their parents. So maybe they were doing the best they could. So maybe you can go back and reframe that. Maybe you can forgive them because they didn’t know any better; maybe they had a bad childhood. So you start to see things differently.

If you had several events you may go through these one at a time. What you find is after you’ve done a few of these, by association then you’ll lose emotional charge on the rest of them. Once you’ve lost that, then all a sudden your feelings of “I’m not good enough” and “I’m not worthy” are no longer something you own. They are something that somebody else gave you but now you’ve given it back to them. Then I say, “Now let’s think of highlights in your life when you did wonderful things. When you felt good.” Then you reinforce those. And then that need to feel good for those events when you’re not worthy, goes away. And then you don’t have to have food to replace it.

Morty: Okay so you basically use a little bit of hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy–and that sounded like a lot of NLP you were using with anchoring and reframing–and EFT. So you basically are using a lot of different techniques in your interactions with people.

Bill: Exactly, Morty. I have some hypnotist friends who think that hypnosis is the only way. Some people say EFT is the only way. And what I think is, the more tools you have, the better you’re going to be. Because I find that some people respond better to different things. I also find when you combine them all, then you really have much higher success rates.

Morty: Have you done any measurements? Have you done any follow-ups on a lot of people? Because people can use willpower to stop eating. Very often they use some sort of technique and it looks for the next week or so that the technique has worked because they are no longer emotional eating and they’ve lost a few pounds. But if you check six months later they’re right back where they’ve started.

So have you done any follow-ups three to six, nine months later to see whether the work you’ve done that seemed to be effective at the moment is still effective?

Bill: Yes I have, Morty. When I’ve worked with people individually–again I have a lot of seminars–when I’ve worked with people individually, I always like to do a follow-up a month later then three months, and then six months later just to see how they’re doing. In part the reason for that is of course to keep in touch with them and see if they’ve run into some challenges. In most cases I’ve found they’re doing very very well. Not having a problem. Occasionally I will run into something where something we didn’t see, something unexpected will pop up. I’ll say “Okay, let’s meet up with that.” And once we’ve resolved that then they’re fine. But for the most part, I guess they’ve done pretty well.

One of the things I find too–I sometimes do work with organizations, for example a company may call me to do a seminar there. Now one of the things I like to do after I’ve done a seminar is then I set up a weekly call-in. For time when I call in and they can be there as a group. And the two things that I find that really helps is that the follow-up keeps them going but also the group interaction, the group support is really wonderful. It’s just their getting together as a group, helping support each other.

Morty: In your private sessions, how do your private sessions work? Do you work with people on the phone or on Skype?

Bill: I do occasionally work with them on the phone or by Skype. Most of the time I work with them one on one. But I do–with technology, that’s the great thing because you can work with people any place and any time.

Morty: How do your sessions work? How long, how many sessions do people generally need in order to produce this success rate that you’ve been able to achieve?

Bill: I like to do five sessions. Because I’ve found that seems to be the optimal amount for covering almost everything. And I cover a lot of different things as well. Part of the session has to do again using these techniques. But part of it has to do with retrain your mind issues using cognitive behavioral techniques. Sometimes it’s just education for them, learning different techniques on how to handle things. So I find five sessions as I’ve said to be really really the best.

Morty: How long are your sessions?

Bill: Generally ninety minutes long, and usually the last half hour of that is generally doing hypnosis session.

Morty: So like an hour of EFT or cognitive behavioral or talking and then about a half hour of hypnosis. And then you do five of those. And then a follow up one, three, six months later and you’ve got pretty much a hundred percent success rate.

Bill: Pretty close. And when I say pretty close, occasionally I’ll find–I’ll give you the example of one woman who after three months said,”You know I just haven’t had any change in my weight.” And I said, “Well, let me ask this: First of all, how do you feel?” She said, “I feel terrific, I have energy, I’m exercising. I’m eating all the right foods.” I thought, “Hmm that’s interesting”. And so I said, “Have you gone to a doctor and have been tested? Things like thyroid and so forth?” And she said, “No, but I will do that.”

She did find out that she didn’t have a thyroid problem. So that was a case of where in spite of the fact that she hadn’t lost any weight, she did say that she felt terrific, she was healthier and feeling good.

One of the things that I think is so important is that people look past their weight. One of the things I often tell people is “Don’t put this on your weight. Because your weight, your current weight is the result of your current behavior.” I think that’s why diets fail. Because people are always trying to change their weight. They’ll say “I’m going to lose twenty pounds and then I can go back to eating ice cream and pizza.” And when they change back their whole behavior they go back to where they were.

I always tell people “Forget the weight, hide your scale, don’t even think about that. Focus on changing your behavior. When you do that your weight will take care of itself.”

My whole focus as I’ve said is on behavioral changes.

Morty: If people are interested in getting more information about your program or to contact you for possibly working with you, what’s the best way to find you, Bill?

Bill: The best way Morty, you could go to the website. It’s called www.emotionaldiet.com. There you can find information on the seminars I do and consultations and my book and just about anything else as well as contact information.

Morty: So your book Bill, is The Emotional Diet, which is a discussion of this program and how it works. And if you’re interested in contacting Bill directly or finding out more about his one on one sessions or possible group sessions, you can go to emotional E-M-O-T-I-O-N-A-L emotionaldiet.com.

Thank you so much Bill, this is really fascinating. It’s a somewhat different approach than anything I’ve heard before and I think that the people that are listening to this interview or reading the transcript to this might get some food for thought and people that are trying to stop overeating might get some that they haven’t had before as to a technique or approach that might be more effective than other things they’ve tried.

So thank you so much for your time today and hopefully some of the people will follow up with you and try to get some information from you.

Bill: Thank you so much Morty. I love all the work that you’re doing and all the help that you’re giving the people. I applaud you for that. It’s been great talking to you.

Morty: Have a great day.

Bill: Thanks, you too.