Solutions for Emotional Eating for Midlife Women:
Do You Have Permission to Listen to your Body?
I am a Menopause Wellness Educator and Dean of Varsity Menopause. I have integrated
an educational background in psychology with a fitness and coaching career for over 30 years,
empowering midlife women to achieve clarity and confidence beyond their wildest dreams
through a series of online courses that address body confidence and emotional regulation through
research-based journaling and other techniques.
Over 30 years ago I lost four clothing sizes without dieting and have imperfectly eaten the
amount of food that sustains this body size ever since through pregnancy, menopause, divorce and
all the things life throws us. I know a lot about emotional eating! I’m also a grateful, recovering
1. What is it?
2. Why do people do it?
3. What you can do about emotional eating in midlife?
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL EATING
We’re talking emotional health and emotional regulation here. We’re not talking about
diets. If you are in midlife and were hoping for a diet, I encourage you to stay with me for several
simple solutions that might surprise you.
First, let’s define emotional or stress eating or for some, emotional or stress restricting.
I’ll focus on emotional eating, because I have way more experience with that. I probably have not
missed a meal in decades.
I’m talking about when you eat as a result of strong feelings or stress or anxiety or feelings
about other things going on in your life.
Typical signs you’re an emotional eater.
You begin the day with healthy eating intentions, then out of nowhere, donuts call you and
several donuts later, you don’t know what hit you!
You probably don’t wake up saying, “I think I will face plant in Cheez-it today”… but the next
thing you know, there you are.
When it comes to eating, you often feel unexpectedly out of control.
You are continually preoccupied with eating and/or what you look like, to the point where in the
case of some women, you sabotage yourself and feel the pattern keeps you from reaching your
true potential in life.
You eat when you aren’t hungry
You feel physically uncomfortable after eating sometimes
Or you may always make nutritious choices, but you eat beyond the point
of being full, just to “take the edge off”
You may have done some of these behaviors for years. Or in some cases, this has just
started with the onset of your hormonal shift.
WHY DO PEOPLE EAT EMOTIONALLY?
As a menopause wellness educator, the top 3 challenges I hear are weight gain, anxiety,
and depression and those 3 can be totally inter-related. Weight gain is the symptom, it’s not an
actual source; meaning it’s not a thing. There is something that is actually leading to weight gain;
let’s dive into that.
If you’ve got a lot of chaos and anxiety in your life, or you are depressed, eating may be
your go-to for self-soothing. You may know all about the value of proper nutrition, but let’s face
it non-nutritious food is legal, it’s relatively inexpensive, and Megastuff Oreos are way quicker
than preparing a salad!
So food is everywhere, and if you’re in the midst of hormonal shift, it’s possible there is
even more chaos than usual for you such as night sweats, mood swings, dry skin, crying jags…
add the other normal daily stressors to that and well, you definitely need some self-soothing!
Then there’s also a biological or chemical reason you may fall into this habit: when your
body is stressed, the stress hormone, cortisol is released. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks
in with that “fight or flight” response. A somewhat pushy, bossy, and downright mean voice in
your head keeps pushing you. “Not good enough! Don’t rest, keep going! Do more and do it
faster!!!” This perpetuates the cycle of stress and subsequent cortisol release.
At this point, the best solution would be to listen to your body and choose a self-soothing
technique to activate your “Rest and Digest” or (parasympathetic nervous system). I give
examples of how to do that below.
But often instead, we grab a non-nutritional food for that quick hit of dopamine in our
brain. It definitely quiets that pushy, bossy, mean voice. Temporarily. Therefore, if you are
stressed a lot of the time, and eat spontaneously to address it, this can become a pattern.
And if you habitually eat to self-soothe, over time, the result might be weight gain. If you
merely go on an uber strict diet at this point, but don’t address the root of the emotional eating it’s
only a quick fix with temporary results.
Another scenario is this: Some women say, “But my EATING hasn’t changed, yet in peri-
menopause and menopause, my BODY has changed and my clothes don’t fit the same way.
On top of that, if we don’t give ourselves permission to listen to our body, our nervous
system will be unnecessarily stressed and then our body will produce even MORE cortisol and
that can contribute to an increased girth in our waistline.
And remember, you may only be thinking in terms of how you look and how your clothes
fit. When we eat emotionally, we keep our nervous system in that “fight or flight” state too much
of the time, which increases the risk of disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart
disease to name a few. So as we age, it’s about more than just how we look.
It’s been said that menopause is the biological gateway to aging, so it’s really in our best
interest to listen to our bodies and get our nervous system back to that “Rest and Digest” state. So
again, HOW? Thankfully, there is a solution!
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT EMOTIONAL EATING IN MIDLIFE:
(And how do you listen to your body?)
The answer is to work on your Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Emotional Intelligence is the
Lynchpin of self-love and body confidence. What is EQ? How emotionally literate are you? In
other words, how well are you able to identify, express, and feel your feelings? You need to be
able to get quiet and listen to your body to do this. You may say, “But I just can’t get my mind to
First: Remember you are teachable. You can learn to give yourself permission to listen to
your body and choose other methods of self-soothing besides emotional eating. And when you do,
you are going to feel better, sleep better, and age better!
Next: Identify your “WHY”. My WHY is Disease prevention. Family history. My mother
experienced chronic pain and mobility issues from the time I was about 12, which severely
limited her ability to participate in her own life and in my life.
I have other family history that includes fibromyalgia, heart disease, diabetes, not to
mention alcoholism and drug addiction. So this is WHY I am committed to work on my bouts of
emotional eating even though it’s often uncomfortable. And it’s way easier and more fun just to
eat spontaneously. But I want to live my Big Amazing Life to the fullest! And I want to
participate in my son’s life!
Here we go with Solutions — some are obvious, some not so obvious:
GENERAL — Getting in touch with your body 101:
It may sound silly, but say to yourself, “I give you permission to listen to your body to
Improve your EQ: to Learn to Identify, feel, and express your feelings in healthy,
normal, and appropriate ways.”
Putting this out to the universe can lead to replacing emotional eating with new,
Commit to being uncomfortable temporarily and just step back and breathe…
SPECIFIC ways to get back in touch with your body and reduce emotional eating:
Exercise — we know this releases endorphins
Journaling- to get in touch with feelings and/or negative self-talk that may lie beneath
that eating — you can download free research-based journaling exercises in the
freebie center on my website: sallybartlett.com
Affirmations- use these to reset your self-limiting beliefs and access your true
potential to do amazing things
Meditation- to return your nervous system to that healing “rest and digest” state —
you can download free meditation audios specifically for midlife women in the
freebie center on my website: sallybartlett.com
MELT Method- myofascial release technique (A simple self-treatment technique
using small soft balls and a soft foam roller to relieve chronic pain and improve
Because of menopause, I have a condition called CRS (can’t remember sh**), so I came
up with an acronym so it’s easier for me to remember to listen to my body in small increments
every day. It’s called Daily Self-Care P.I.E.S. Every day I make a contract with myself to do 4
things; one in each category: Physically, Intellectually, Emotionally, Spiritually. (today’s
example: rode my bike for 10 minutes, wrote this article, looked my son in eyes, meditated for 1
Identify your “WHY”.
You are teachable.
You can learn to give yourself permission to listen to your body and choose other methods
of self-soothing besides emotional eating. And when you do, you are going to feel better, sleep
better, and age better!
You are so worth this level of extreme self-care. You are here in this world for a reason.
Become willing to sit through discomfort long enough to stay present to find out what that reason
is and DO it! You’ve got this.
Sally Bartlett, AKA The Dean of Varsity Menopause, is an expert menopause coach,
author, speaker, and retreat leader. Through the use of simple, research-based journaling
techniques, she helps midlife women make friends with their body, strengthen their immune
system, and break free from self-limiting beliefs in order to access their undeniable gifts and
passions and share them with the world in a powerful way.
Sally is the author of Dammit… It IS Menopause! Meditations for Women to Achieve Clarity and
Confidence Beyond their Wildest Dreams, a #1 bestseller on Amazon ( https://bit.ly/Dammit1 ).
She also offers online courses for midlife women who are willing to do the inner work and reap
the benefits of a Big Amazing Life.