How “Non-eating” Beliefs Cause Emotional Eating

A session with an emotional eating client today made it very clear how beliefs that had nothing directly to do with eating, weight, or food ultimately could lead to an overeating problem.

The client had de-conditioned eating when any one of about 20 triggers were present and she had eliminated about 10 beliefs about eating and food.  And yet she still continued to eat when she wasn’t hungry.

I asked her to look carefully at the moment when she realizes she is no longer hungry (after eating) and tell me what she wants to get from eating more food. What does she really want when she thinks she wants to eat?

Eating to get intimacy

She was quiet for at least two full minutes and then she said, as she started to cry, “Two things.  First eating gives me a sense of being loved and a sense of intimacy.  I feel I need to connect with someone or something.  And, second, eating gives me a sense of security, reassurance, feeling safe and secure, a sense that it’s all okay.

She had told me earlier in the session that she was very unhappy and felt her life was not what she wanted it to be.  She spoke of frequently feeling depressed and anxious.

Can you see that she was eating solely for emotional reasons: to get the sense of love and connection and to get a sense everything is okay—as a way to make herself feel better and to distract herself from the constant feeling that her life is not okay?

So the first thing we did was de-condition eating as the vehicle she used to get a pleasurable distraction from the negative feelings that pervade her life.

At that point she said she could imagine finishing a meal, feeling full, and not still want to eat more—something she had said earlier in the session she couldn’t imagine at all.

“Food doesn’t reject me”

Then we took a look to see why she chose eating to get a sense of intimacy and connection and to get a sense of security, rather than relationships.  A comment she made earlier in the session was the clue: “Food doesn’t reject me.”

When I asked her what she meant by that, she came out with several beliefs without even realizing it: People can’t be trusted.  People will reject me.  My relationships won’t last.  People will abandon me. These beliefs had nothing directly to do with eating and food, but they were responsible for her not being able to have intimate relationships.  At which point eating appeared to be the only alternative.


Given those beliefs, she couldn’t turn to people to get what she needed, and because food seemed to give it to her, eating became a conditioned response whenever she wanted to numb her feelings of unhappiness and feel, instead, connected and secure.

In our next session I plan to help her eliminate these and any other beliefs that prevent her from using people to get the intimacy, connection, and security she needs.  Now that she is no longer conditioned to eat when she has those needs (which is almost all the time), eliminating the beliefs will open up the possibility for intimate relationships.

Then in later sessions we will find and eliminate the beliefs and conditionings that are causing the unhappiness, depression, and anxiety—which is the ultimate source of her emotional eating problem.

For my free eBook, The Secret to Ending Overeating For Good, go to

Copyright © Morty Lefkoe 2011

801 thoughts on “How “Non-eating” Beliefs Cause Emotional Eating”

  1. Wow! I said here with eyes wide open…it’s completely true!!! or better said: i totally agree. Thank you so much for this report. I’m so happy i found you!! Have a wonderful day! 🙂

  2. Well, said and eye opening. Putting into words what I have been feeling but unable to verbalize.

  3. Dear Morty,
    This is exactly, but exactly ME. Please , please get Shelly to read this so she will know to add this stuff to all of the other beliefs/conditionings that I already grapple with.
    I read all your blogs on emotional eating and a lot resonates with me. But this one does say most of it. I do feel that food does not reject me. …. and all of the baggage attached to it.
    Shelly really has to work hard to prise these deeply hidden beliefs and conditionings out of me with a pitch fork if necessary!
    Love and Blessings
    Kiran Patki

    1. Hi Kiran,

      I forwarded your note to Shelly.

      Are you going to attend our Occurring course?

      Love, Morty

  4. Hi Morty,
    I just came across your blog through the photo you’ve included in this post, and I’m really glad I found it! I really like what you wrote. When I insert your photo into my blog, I’ll be sure to attach a link to this post. FYI: In a recent survey by the American Psychological Association (set to be released in February 2013), 44% psychologists say that emotions play a major role in a person’s attempt at weight loss, and inevitably, their eating habits. Sounds like you had a real breakthrough with this client. Good luck in your work!


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