Emotional Eating and the 'habit' of Catastrophising...

Welcome to this week’s video blog where we discuss a common trait in clients with emotional/binge eating – catastrophising, or constantly worrying about what could go wrong. 

The reason why I am using my new card deck at the moment on these videos is because these cards are based on my 12 years’ experience of working with clients with emotional eating and binge eating disorder, or disordered eating generally.
I’m a specialist psychotherapist in that area. And this card deck that I have developed, has 12 years of therapy training and experience of working with clients in it.

Every card has a very specific message on it that is related to a client who is struggling with emotional eating or binge eating disorder. I’m clarifying this because I wouldn’t want anybody to think that pulling cards and talking about them is taking a serious health issue like emotional / binge eating lightly, it truly is not. 

The four energies that we speak about are:

– your mental energy (fire cards)

– your emotional energy (air cards)

– your spiritual energy (water cards)

– your physical energy (earth cards). 

All four of these energies are taken up with maintaining your unhealthy relationship with food. So when it’s being directed towards the wrong areas of your life or the things that you’re worrying about or concerned about because of your relationship with food, you are not able to direct that energy towards the things that you do want to have in your life and you do want to focus on. 

We only have so much energy to go around. That’s why I chose the energies as the theme of the card deck – to help you begin to break that cycle and be able to direct your energy to where it needs to go.

Equally for professionals working with clients – you can use these cards as prompts to work with clients with emotional eating and binge eating disorder because every single card has a theme that is relevant for an adult who has been struggling for any period of time with emotional eating.

Today’s card is a fire card – so we seem to be on a roll with fire cards, we had a fire card last week as well. And it’s a learning card – you can see the L on the card, the cards are all either learning cards, reflect cards or do cards. 

Let’s see what this card has to say to us today.

“Have you ever heard that expression running around like her hair is on fire? But when you have daily things to do and longer term goals to achieve, it is critical that you can think clearly. So if you’re running around “with your hair on fire” – catastrophizing about all the ways that things can go wrong, it’s pretty hard to stay focused. So when your brain starts running away on you, breathe and say  “I clear my mind of unhelpful chatter. This is not helpful to me right now”. Because the question is how often has any catastrophic towards you’ve had actually happened?

This is a very common phenomenon that we see with clients who struggle with emotional eating and binge eating disorder. 

Quite often the relationship with food started a long time ago as a way of self-soothing in reaction to a difficult experience, or it could have been a trauma.

As a result of that experience, what your system has learned is to be very vigilant to any danger or threat. Your cortisol level goes up as your stress level goes up, and then the food you choose to eat gives you a dopamine hit in your brain, which helps to calm you back down again.

What’s important about this is that it is all connected in terms of hyper-vigilance. This is actually interesting that a card came up on this (hyper-vigilance) last week too. So if you didn’t see the video for last week, go back and watch that as well.

When you are constantly hyper vigilant, and catastrophising about what might go wrong, this is where clients get stuck. They don’t make decisions – so they can be very indecisive – finding it very difficult to make a decision because they’re always worrying about all the things that can go wrong. They think “I might fail” or “it might not work out and I’ll get fired if I mess it up”.

They don’t go for the promotion. They don’t go for the extra projects,that they could be on the team for. Others don’t go into relationships, or they don’t want to make a commitment like getting engaged or getting married. 

It’s all because of fear that things might not work out, and your brain is saying “what if it’s not perfect, you’ll get fired”, or “what if they break your heart?”

there's two ways that you can help yourself to manage this a little bit better.

One is to be able to keep your brain at a lower, calmer level. Doing something regularly like meditation, mindfulness, listening to guided visualizations, maybe taking time out to just walk in nature, just giving yourself permission every day to consciously do something that helps you relax. 

Think of your body like a thermometer or barometer, here in Ireland we say, “Oh, she’s up to 90” which means very stressed out.  but if you’re “up to 90” all the time then you’re constantly stressed and agitated. 

Doing something every day that brings that down to 20 or 30, means it’s got it’s got a lot further to go before it tips you over the edge.   Because of course what happens when you’re tipped over the edge is you reach for food! 

The calmer you are and the longer you are able to stay calm, the less likely it is that you’re going to be tipped into that reaction of eating to calm yourself down because you finally went over the top (past 90!).

The second thing is to be able to catch your mind when it is going off into one of its rants, and just being able to say to your brain: “You’re very good at catastrophizing, and I really appreciate that you’re trying to keep me safe. But actually this isn’t helpful right now. And quite often what I’ve noticed is you catastrophize about all these things brain, but they very rarely happen.”

I am going to take a couple of breaths, and calm down, but I’m still going to keep doing what I’m going to do. 

  • I’m still going to apply for the promotion.
  • I’m still going to be on the team. 
  • I’m still going to go out with this girl or this guy.
  • And I’m just going to see what happens. 
it’s just this is about learning that you have a lot more control over what happens up in your mind than you think you do. But it is something that you have to work on. We talked about this last week in the hyper-vigilance video as well. You have to work at slowly changing your brain’s default reactions and being able to introduce a little gap in the auto-reaction and be able to say “hold on a second, I don’t think we need to freak out over this. I don’t think we need to catastrophize about all the ways this can go wrong. This is actually a relatively simple decision. And yes, it may not work out exactly the way I think it’s going to work out. But I’m still going to learn something. I’m still going to maybe have fun. I’m still got to give myself the opportunity to to see what could happen.
This is a big challenge for some of our clients-  to actually go into that unknown, that grey area. But that’s what this is about – allowing yourself to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit and be uncomfortable in the grey area whilst you learn something new. Or give yourself the opportunity to try something different, or enter into a new relationship, or move your relationship on to the next level or whatever it is.  

This is what the fire cardS are about - mental energy

As a professional then if you’re working with clients, this is a great prompt for clients who catastrophize about all the ways that things can go wrong and therefore get stuck or are very indecisive and struggle to move forward. 

This is something that can really help them, explaining what goes on in their brain, and just to work on ways that they can introduce more mindfulness or relaxation and self-care into their day, and then also be able to catch their brain when it’s running away with them.  Just being able to talk it down off that ledge so to speak.

We have a Jack Russell dog, and I tend to think about our Jack Russell quite a bit when I talk about this because Jack Russells get very excited very quickly. They bark and they’re kind of noisy, but all our Jack Russell is doing is trying to keep us safe! That’s what our brains are doing a lot of the time –  just trying to keep us safe. 

Running around with your hair on fire. How is that working for you? How can you take a breath and calm everything down, then just push yourself on and do what you need to do. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and see what can happen. 


Just to finish off today, and I don’t often talk about the services that we offer, but it just is helpful every now and again to remind everybody that we do have a range of services that can help both clients and support practitioners. So whether it’s purchasing the card deck to work through yourself on your own, or our online program which also offers some personalized support, or one to one support from one of our trained practitioners – all these resources   can be found on our website, and I’ve included links below. 

For practitioners we have a 1-day workshop with 6 CE/CPD Credits, and we have our full training which is 36 CE/CPD credits and again, you can find out about these trainings on the website – links below. 

For Clients:

For Professionals: