Interview: Freeman Michaels

by mortylefkoe on February 10, 2012

Morty: Hey, Freeman. How are you this afternoon?
Freeman: Good, Morty. How about you?

Morty: I’m doing good.  Thank you so much for taking the time to tell my audience a little bit about your take on eating disorders, on what you consider emotional eating to be, and some ideas you have for a possible solution. Just tell me a little bit of your background, your name first. Your full name is Freeman Michaels. And then a little about your background. How come you’re an eating expert? What are your credentials in this area?

Freeman: You know it’s interesting. I have formal credentials, but I think that the more informal credentials are actually most of what I draw from so I’ll talk about both.

Morty: OK.

Freeman: I have over a hundred pound swing in my adult life from my low weight to my high weight. And I’ve hit sort of every point of course in between, and some of those points I’ve hit many times. I was a soap opera star in the middle ninety’s. It might ring a bell; my name Freeman Michaels. I played the role, Drake Belson in The Young and Restless.

And I was about a hundred seventy pounds at time and that was really under weight. I was starving myself. And I was trying to stay thin for the camera. And then I ballooned to about two hundred and seventy five, two hundred and eighty pounds at my highest weight when my partner I were managing about a half billion dollars in real estate development projects.

I was really stressing out, over eating, drinking too much, especially as the market started coming apart in mid-2007. I landed in hospital with chest pains and they thought I was having heart attack. I wasn’t! But it was time to take a look at my patterns of behavior and really go to work.

Now I have a master’s degree in Spiritual Psychology from University of Santa Monica, and I have been around personal growth work for about twenty years. For me, that was going to be the right approach. I wasn’t going to go on another diet. I did plenty of that. Diets are way of depriving ourselves.

I know you’re friends with Geneen Roth. I love her book by the way, Women, Food, and God, which really does a beautiful job with illustrating how we get into these negative patterns where we’re reaffirming the negative self-image. One of the things I see, Morty, that’s really important is you can never get to a positive outcome from a negative prospective. In other words, when you look in the mirror and you don’t like yourself, if that is the foundation for trying to, in essence, love yourself and make positive choices, it’s not going to work.

I did that for years and it always meant depriving myself, punishing myself, and then binging and over-indulging. That’s sort of the way that I worked for a long time on my unconscious patterns. When I started work on, there’s going to be a different way to do this, I started to look at people such as Geenen, who at that time didn’t have Women, Food, and God. She had Emotional Eating, which is a beautiful book, but it wasn’t enough.

I had to put that and other modalities I’d worked with together and begin to really look in what’s going to work for me.

Morty: Let me stop you one second to get you to define some basics. This is very interesting but how would you define emotional eating? What is your take on that as an issue?

Freeman: So for many of us, food is the way that we learn to cope with stress, anxiety, feelings, and so it’s often triggered. It’s triggered by some event that occurs that linked to some part of our own experience where we go into this adaptive patterns. These patterns have been learned usually at a very young age, which means in a particular way, they’re locked in a developmental stage that we never really grew beyond.

In fact I’ll reference your work, because I think one of the things, Morty,  you do a beautiful job of is you help people to dimensionalize the beliefs, help them see these often irrational, often again they’re very judgmental, they’re very developmental, see them dimensionally so that they can unwind  them and debunk them in many ways because a lot of things that are running the show were these sort of taped loops in the back of our heads. These unconscious ways that we learn to think at very young ages are still the director of our choices is ten, twenty, thirty, forty years later.

Morty: Hmm.

Freeman: It’s really important to be able to unwind that patterned thinking, which of course is also patterned behavior. In order to do that, there has to be a process of awareness that is founded in compassion. Compassion allows us to see clearly.

When we judge, we narrow our perception. That’s that fight or flight mechanism. When we’re judging something, it’s a defensive way of approaching things. Compassion allows us to open up and take a look at the world in a different way. When we do that, we begin to see it more dimensionally.

We start to realize, “Oh, that was a place in my history but that was very appropriate.” With that, we can again begin to unwind it and then we have to go somewhere with it. It’s not enough…

Morty: Again, just one sec. Before we get into the solution, I call that emotional eating and many other people do because the basic issue is eating when you’re not hungry but for emotional reasons. Would you use that term or is there another choice? Is that the way you see it or would use another term?

Some people I’ve interviewed say, “I don’t consider it emotional eating. I consider it an addiction, something totally different.” How would you describe what we’re talking about here?

Freeman: I’m going to saying both. It’s habitualized patterns. Most often they’re unconscious patterns. When we start to recognize, you open Pandora’s Box because the feelings piece is really tricky. When we talk about food and feelings, one of the things that most people don’t recognize is that feelings are separate from the sort of emotional ride that we go on with feelings that’s really perpetuated by stories. So the feelings…

Morty: So you’re distinguishing between feelings and emotions?
Freeman: I am…
Morty: Because what’s the difference between feelings and emotions?

Freeman: When you watch children, children go from happy to sad very quickly. I’m speaking of very young children. As they get older, that’s not true. You and I had a wonderful conversation—several actually—about parenting, and your wife, of course, I had as well. There’s an important piece about parenting here and it relates to parenting the part of us that learned the unconscious eating patterns as well.

When my kids come to me and they’re upset, I don’t ask them what happened. I ask them, “What do you need?” When I do that, I get underneath the issue and I allow them to express their feelings without attaching it to a story of “Someone did something to me or I’m upset because…” We want to unwind that “I’m upset because” stuff.

We want to allow for feelings to be more dynamic as opposed to attached to a story as opposed to attached to a pattern. See, emotional patterns are like scripts. Once we get into an emotional pattern, we will project it on to all manner, person, and circumstances. We get people to play the roles we need to get the scripts going.

We want to interrupt that script. We want to interrupt that emotional ride. Recognize their feelings coming out, and then have somewhere to go with it. That’s the big key. That’s where we’re get into the solution.

Morty: What do you mean by an emotional pattern? I’m still not clear what you mean the difference between the feeling and emotion. I know what I mean by it. I’m not sure what the dictionary says but I’m not clear what specifically is the difference? How would you define an emotion and a feeling? That seems to be crucial to your approach to eating.

Freeman: It is. Well ok. Emotional patterns and emotional scripts—these are ways that we attach feelings to reasons or we attach them to events from a past and we ride them into behaviors that may or may not be at our best interest, okay? When we allow ourselves to be a feeling human being, we just allow feelings to come up! They often pop or they float away.

It’s the part of us that attaches them to something that then perpetuates the pattern. We want to allow for feelings without calling them something. We just allow them to come up and be more dynamic! Let me describe it in terms of how we moved to self-care practices and pattered interruption practices.

Morty: Could you just give an example of a feeling and an emotional pattern?

Freeman: Well it’s that sentence. “I’m upset because.” If we’re starting to feel, let’s call it “upset,” it could be a fear-based upset like “Ooh, I’m scared something’s going to happen” then we can go into all manner of future fantasizing of a negative outcome, negative possibility. Our heart rate rises and then we’re all frazzled. The truth is nothing’s actually occurred.

Morty: Hmmm.

Freeman: The chances of that exact potentiality playing out is probably quite slim. We fixate on it.  We increase the chances of it playing out. We recognize we just went on a ride. All that happened is we had an experience of fear come up or anxiety come up. The big trick is to be okay with the part of us that gets scared and to have some place to go, self-soothing practices, self-care practices, patterned interruption practices.

This is what I help people with so that when they experience a trigger, they don’t go on the ride. They go “Wow!” as quickly as they can become aware that they had been triggered. This has to do with really having a relationship with ourselves and having a relationship with our bodies.

For a lot of us, and I’ll raise my hand on this one, I went to my head to be safe. To get back on my body and to feel myself in my body is a challenge. Life created practices to ground myself to stay rooted to my body to check in with my stomach especially around eating.

There’s a lot of practices about how I want to be in a relationship with food that then gets expressed as what we call ritualized practices around eating. I even like the word sacred. If I can make them sacred, if I can ritualize my experience with eating so that it becomes a way that I’m fueling something, that I want to have more within my life, versus feeding and…

Morty: That sounds good. Give me an example. The way I see it is, which is similar, is that certain emotions act as triggers. They are uncomfortable. We don’t want to feel it. If we are feeling bored or depressed or unloved or anxious, when that comes up, if we eat, that seems to diminish that negative feeling for a while.

I would say that the emotion has become conditioned as a trigger to force us to eat. Now what is your approach then if somebody is having this negative feelings.  I would say they’re conditioned, but how would you describe it? ,What do you do to get people to not eat when they’re having feelings that are sort of driving them to eat? What approach do you use?

Freeman: Part of the inquiry is recognizing when these experiences, these emotional conditioned triggers tend to occur. We actually want to structure our lives in such a way that we take care of our self on a regular basis that I’m calling a self care practice.

Morty: Hmm…

Freeman: That we have an awareness that allows us to make these choices consistently but that doesn’t mean that we still won’t be triggered. Of course we will. Again, the conscious compassionate observer developing this way of recognizing what’s coming up for us, watching ourselves as we’re moving into what might be an unhealthy habit or pattern and then interrupting it.

Having an outlet, a place to go, a practice whether it’s a clearing best practice or self- soothing practice or “I take it for a walk” practice. If I’m feeling a lot of anxiety, I say, “I’m taking my anxiety for a walk.” And not to the cupboard, by the way. Around the block or something.

There’s a way of interrupting pattern in a very gentle, very compassionate way as opposed to going unconscious and then beating ourselves up for downing a pint of ice cream or a whatever, half a gallon of…

Morty: If I understand you, let me repeat it back and let me know if this is accurate, it sounds what you’re saying that is when we notice that we feel triggered, when there is some belief or conditioning that is moving us to eat, you have practices, other things you can do that will relieve that need to eat that’s other than eating.

Freeman: Absolutely! And there’s a critical component which is that we begin to orient towards what we do want. It’s having a sense of vision. Having a sense of where we want to direct our energy. We have things that really feed us.

Interesting enough, one of the practices is the creative self-expression practice. It’s amazing, Morty. I found this part to be critical. That people have some way of expressing themselves that’s constructive. It helps build a level of self-esteem, of self-love, of self-acceptance that these are outlets because we want to be aware of what we’ve been feeding.

A lot of times, we’ve been feeding a negative impression of ourselves. We have to begin to build off of how we want to be in a relationship with our body and what practices are we going to create to express that. How we want to be in a relationship with food. And what practices we’re going to build to express that.

How we want to be in a relationship with exercise. What are the outlets from me? If we can create an imperative, that imperative is that sense of sole purpose. That’s spelled both ways. S-O-U-L and S-O-L-E.

That then begins to direct choices. That is very empowering. We want to feed that. We don’t want to feed the negative self-perception.

Morty: And how do people find out about these different practices? Have you written these down on some form?

Freeman: I gave you a copy of my books. There’s a two-hundred-and-fifty page book. There’s also a hundred-and-twenty-five page workbook and then there’s my program. Folks are interested in this, they can go to eatingreport.com/wellbeing. Again, that’s eatingreport.com/wellbeing.

They can look at all of the materials involved in my program, my program itself. It’s a nine week program. There’s some wonderful bonus people. Morty, you’re going to be one of our bonus people talking specifically about beliefs to help them really approach this in a different way, a substantive way that’s not a diet. That’s not about deprivation.

It’s about making positive choices towards the life you do want to lead and cleaning up all the bits of pieces of beliefs, of patterning that get in the way of going where you want to go.

Morty: Oh great! What’s the name of the book if somebody wants to take a look on at your book along the way? Where can they find the book?

Freeman: It’s called Weight Release: A Liberating Journey and of course it’s available at Amazon.

Morty: Weight Release: A Liberating Journey by Freeman Michaels and obviously that’s at Amazon or any other big bookstore. They can start with that. Now what’s the workbook? Where does that fit in?

Freeman: The workbook is only through the program. When people do my program, there’s a workbook that accompanies it and we take them through in nine weeks. That’s beginning to end, from start to finish. We go through a bunch of exercises that help reveal some of the programs and patterns that are underneath, get them up to the surface in a very compassionate, loving way and they find constructive ways to meet those beliefs and ideas head on and then begin to develop practices that give us more constructive outlets.

Morty: OK. Very good! Anything else? I think we got a pretty good sense for my audience. Is there anything else specifically you’d like to say about your take on emotional eating, over-eating, and your approach to it or how it compares to other people?  What’s the difference between your system and the many other systems that are out there that you know about?

Freeman: I think that when people find another system, the critical question is “Is it a compassionate program? Is it bigger than just the patterns?” If it’s just about food and exercise, it’s going to be a miss because this is deeper than that. There’s a tremendous opportunity in looking at our relationship with food, our relationship with exercise that allows us to grow and transform and that’s the bigger offer.

Again whether it’s my program or someone else’s program, that’s the critical component versus going towards deprivation trying to fix it or solve it.

Morty: It sounds like there’s a spiritual component to this?
Freeman: Absolutely!

Morty: Good. Again, people can find information about your program at eatingreport.com/wellbeing. Wellbeing is one word. Your book is available obviously on Amazon.  Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate your sitting in and giving us this background.

I hope people check out your program and your book. There’s a lot of very useful information in the interview itself. It’s great having you and look forward to talk to you real soon.

Freeman: All right. Take care now.

 

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex February 10, 2012 at 10:15 am

This guy sounded pretty interesting to me until you started asking him for specifics and he didn’t answer the questions and he just kept yapping about a whole bunch of aimless crap. I had the occurring that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and that his program is not as useful as the Lefkoe de-conditioning technique.

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Carol Solomon February 10, 2012 at 12:26 pm

I think Freeman’s work is valuable, in that he is correct. Geneen’s work is brilliant, but many people need a more structured practical solution. I think that is what Freeman is trying to provide with the program, workbook, etc.

I understand what he is saying about the difference between a trigger feeling, the emotional ride it can take you on, and the need to interrupt the pattern. Interesting point!

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