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Eating Psychology to Improve Health

Guest Bio: Emily LaVoie
Emily LaVoie was born and raised in Kankakee, IL, and graduated from Illinois State University with degrees in Psychology & Communications.

She has been employed by Riverside Health Fitness Center for eight years and is certified as a Personal Trainer, Post-Cancer Exercise Specialist, Functional Medicine Wellness Coach, is registered as a 200-hour Yoga Alliance Instructor, & is a graduate of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating. Emily has overcome her own challenges with food and body image and has compassion and understanding for those who are still struggling.
    Eating Psychology to Improve Health
    Emily LaVoie, an Eating Psychology Coach shares how the psychology behind food and eating can help improve your overall health.

    Carl Maronich (Host):  This is the Well Within Reach Podcast and today, we are talking to Emily LaVoie. Emily is an Eating Psychology Coach. Emily, welcome to the podcast.

    Emily LaVoie (Guest):  Hi Carl.

    Host:  How are you?

    Emily:  I’m good.

    Host:  Good. Eating psychology. That’s sounds like an interesting topic, a healthy topic that I’m guessing you are going to tell us is not just about weightloss but has other elements to it as well about being healthy and how you can do that. How you can stay on track with healthy eating is what comes to my mind. Maybe there’s a lot more to it than that. So, I’m anxious to hear about all that because I need a lot of help when it comes to eating and eating healthier. So, this is going to be great, a great podcast for me to be a part of. But before we dive into all that information, let’s talk a little bit about you and your background. How did you get to become an eating psychology coach?

    Emily:  Oh, thanks for asking and thanks for having me. A little bit about me, I started out in the fitness world as a personal trainer and a group fitness teacher and I was passionate about helping people but behind the scenes, I also was struggling myself and I realized right away that personal training and fitness wasn’t enough to help people the way that I wanted to be able to help people. And it also wasn’t enough for me to essentially be perfect. I was struggling with perfectionism, so I got into nutrition and then again, realized that that wasn’t exactly helping people or myself the way that I wanted to ultimately.

    People kept reporting back to me that kind of saying like I know what I should eat, I just am really struggling to make myself do it or I know what I should eat but… whatever their reason was. And just like we all do, all the time, I’m scrolling through Facebook one day and I see an advertisement for the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, become an eating psychology coach and just seeing those two words together eating and psychology; I thought to myself immediately, not only is that what I probably need, I felt like a lot of the people that i worked with, that would be something helpful for them as well. So, I made myself an eating psychology coach.

    Host:  Yeah, very good. In starting it as a trainer, a personal trainer, I’m sure as you were kind of saying, you hear a lot of stories about where people – how people got where they are and what they are still struggling with as you said and I having been through this struggle myself still struggling in a lot of ways; having been through some pretty significant weightloss and then regaining the weight unfortunately. I know what it takes as you were saying. You know the things you should be doing, but it’s tough to do them all the time. And to stay focused on doing the right thing and I’m sure that’s where the psychology component of it really comes in.

    Emily:  Correct.

    Host:  So, as a trainer, you were lifting weights and getting people healthy or that’s the goal to get healthier through physical training, right? So, but food is such an important component of our health that it is kind of a natural extension of that work. As you got into eating psychology, what kind of things surprised you about the connection between health and fitness and food and how we think of food?

    Emily:  When we think of health and wellness, there’s a lot of components to it and food is closely tied in, fitness is closely tied in and the message that we get from society or from the media a lot of times is that food and activity or what we eat and our fitness and activity levels dictate our weight and so it’s essentially that model of calories in calories out or eat less and exercise more or burn more calories through fitness and movement. And there is so much more to it than that. There’s so many more layers of health. There’s so many more layers of weightloss and stuff that you wouldn’t even begin to imagine is layered in there. So, it was interesting to peel back the layers like peeling back the layers of the onion in different ways to be able to help different people besides just what it is that we’re putting in our bodies and feeding ourselves and the amount of calories that we are burning.

    Host:  So, the difference between a psychology eating coach, eating psychology coach and a nutritionist. What’s the difference between the two?

    Emily:  The best way for me to explain that is to kind of give a real world example of people. So, somebody who is maybe looking for nutritional help from a nutritionist; they would maybe say to me something along the lines of I don’t know what I should eat. I don’t know what is healthy versus what is not healthy. I’m confused because I read something that said eggs are healthy and then I saw something else on the internet that said eggs are not healthy, don’t eat them. And there’s just a lot of opposing information and I need your help like squaring it away. Please help me, teach me what I should eat more of, teach me what I should eat less of.

    And then once I teach them how to eat, those people who need nutritional help, they can take that knowledge that I taught them and start putting it into practice and put it into practice consistently enough to get the results that they want to get. Somebody who needs more eating psychology coaching, they would say to me something along the lines of yeah, I kind of know what I should eat already but I’m really struggling to do it. I know what is healthy and I know what is unhealthy. I know what I should eat more of. I know what I should eat less of. I just can’t make myself do it. I can’t make myself do it consistently enough to get the results that I want.

    They might also say I’ve tried some diets in the past or maybe they say I’ve tried every diet out there and I have lost weight, but I’ve gained it back and I’ve done some you-yo dieting and I call that weight cycling.

    Host:  Stress eating. I’m sure that comes up in your work quite a bit. I know I’m guilty of that a lot. Towards the end of the day, maybe you are a little hungry but there’s a report you got to get done and you are stressing out a little bit. Combine that with a little bit of hunger and you go right for the unhealthy stuff. At least I do, every time. What’s that all about? How can you guide people, or how do you try to guide people through those kinds of things?

    Emily:  So, typically the first time I meet with a eating psychology client; I warn them in advance that at our first appointment I’m going to be asking you a whole bunch of questions. In eating psychology, eventually we talk about nutrition but that first appointment sometimes it spills over into the second appointment as well. I’m going to be asking you questions about everything that’s stressful in life. So I just like to warn people that you know, make me your best friend. I’m going to be asking you questions that you don’t typically talk to a perfect stranger about. Examples would be, I want to know what your childhood was like. I want to know what your relationship with your parents was like when you were a child. What is it like as an adult? Are your parents still alive? What about your relationship with your siblings? How is your relationship with your significant other? How are your finances? Do you like your job? Do you like where you are living? All of those stressful things a lot of times are what are challenges with food are rooted in.

    So, we talk about nutrition in eating psychology, but we also talk about a lot of the other things in life that are stressful.

    Host:  Before we started recording, we talked a little about unwanted eating habits. I can guess at what that might be but talk a little bit about unwanted eating habits and how you work with your clients in that regard.

    Emily:  Yeah, I’ll give you a list of some of the more common unwanted eating habits. One of them definitely is overeating, binge eating is another, emotional eating, stress eating, boredom eating, “food addiction”. A lot of people find themselves turning to food or eating when they are lonely, eating for comfort or eating for pleasure and I can expand on a few of those if you think listeners might be interested.

    So, I’m going to start with binge eating. So, in my opinion, binge eating is defined as somebody who is eating a very large amount of food in a short timeframe. They are taking in a lot of calories. Oftentimes, binge eating is done fast and frantically and there’s a definite feeling of being out of control. Sometimes people go to extreme measures to hide that they are binge eating. So, maybe they wait until other people in the household go to bed. Or maybe they get in their car and go do it and then they kind of secretly dispose of the evidence if you will.

    After somebody binge eats, there’s usually a tremendous amount of guilt that they are feeling associated to the amount of food that they consumed, and they will commonly kind of say like that was the last time that that’s going to happen. Tomorrow is a new day. I’m not going to do that again. And then sometimes they would like try to do damage control the next morning and not eat breakfast or basically eat a lettuce leaf for lunch which kind of keeps them stuck in the cycle where they are then starving because they skipped breakfast and maybe lunch and then they would find themselves like binging again that afternoon or evening and sometimes just pointing out that cycle like yes, if you binge, you should still eat breakfast, you should still eat lunch and then when the afternoon or evening rolls around you won’t be starving to death.

    Host:  Binge eating sounds a lot like it could be tied to food addiction.

    Emily:  Food addiction. I always like to kind of say “addiction” because in my opinion, we are all addicted to food. We have to eat to live. If we weren’t addicted to it; we would die eventually. But we don’t talk about being addicted to air and we all are addicted to air just as much as we are to food. We have to eat to live. We have to breathe to live. But people never feel like oh I breathed too much yesterday; I’m going to hold my breath all day long today to make up for all that extra air I took in. but we do that with food.

    We can feel very addicted to strong substances in food. Some of those would be like sugar, chocolate, caffeine is a strong substance in food, which is different than a drug addiction or an alcohol addiction because we don’t need drugs and alcohol to live. We do need food to live.

    Host:  Yeah, so eating disorders. Again, something that probably comes up in your work as well. How do you assess that or how do those factor in?

    Emily:  That’s a great question. Eating disorders are viewed by the medical community as a diagnosis and life threatening. And yeah, they are usually diagnosed by a physician or a psychologist or a psychiatrist and if they are not corrected at some point, a lot of times, the patient is going to have some negative medical implications as a result of them. And disordered eating is not necessarily viewed by the medical community as a life or death situation. So, there’s disordered eating and then there’s something different than that which I refer to as – sorry, there’s eating disorders and then a little bit different than that is disordered eating and those are some of the unwanted eating habits that I listed.

    Host:  Were there any others of the unwanted eating habits you wanted to kind of call out and talk a little bit about?

    Emily:  I would like to say that a lot of them when you really break down and peel back the layers, a lot of it has to do with eating for comfort and eating for pleasure. And that’s not a bad thing. We do eat for reasons besides hunger. It begins to become a problem when we don’t have enough comfort and pleasure coming into our lives from other avenues and we continuously are looking to food for comfort and pleasure. And that’s the only way we are getting comfort and pleasure.

    Host:  Do you still do coaching, physical coaching.

    Emily:  Personal training?

    Host:  Personal training.

    Emily:  I do still do personal training. A lot of the clients that I work with I have been working with for seven or eight years and they are kind of more so friends now and a lot of the people that I work with also are a little bit handicapped and they just hold a special place in my heart.

    Host:  Sure. Do you do any both for any clients where you are doing some eating coaching as well as physical training?

    Emily:  A few, not very many though. It’s kind of hard to coach people that you have a close relationship with and know a lot about their life already. I feel like a more successful coach when I’m starting from scratch with someone that I don’t know well.

    Host:  Yeah and if someone is interested in looking more into an eating psychology coach, what should they do?

    Emily:  So, I would like to say that anybody who is interested in learning more about eating psychology, everybody gets a free consultation with me and it’s usually 30-60 minutes and I kind of explain the program that we offer. My office is at Riverside Health Fitness Center. It’s in Bourbonnais on Route 45 N. if somebody wants to call the fitness center, they can call me at 815-929-1200 extension 6957. If email is your thing you can reach me through email, it’s This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . I have a Facebook page that I give away a lot of free content on and I’d love for people to follow me and learn more about eating psychology. It’s my first and last name Emily LaVoie-Eating Psychology Coach.

    Host:  And through the Riverside website or the Riverside health fitness center website, are you listed there as well?

    Emily:  Yes. For sure.

    Host:  And maybe I should have asked this question a little bit earlier. But in your mind, when is someone ready?

    Emily:  If someone has ever said out loud or even just thought to themselves, I know what I should eat, I just can’t make myself do it. They don’t have a willpower problem; they don’t have a self-control problem; and they’ve probably been trying to correct their relationship with food for a while on their own unsuccessfully. So, they should reach out to me or another eating psychology coach who can help them if they just feel like they have a challenging relationship with food.

    Host:  Yeah and as you said from earlier, some of the things you ask about; it’s likely rooted in some varied, things they wouldn’t expect their food issues to be rooted in from their childhood or other traumas or other things in life that manifest themselves in their relationship with food.

    Emily:  And sometimes food challenges can be very simple to correct because they are just nutritional imbalances and when we talk about nutrition, and I give them some very simple guidelines and they make some easy changes; some of that like the cravings, struggling with cravings, almost like correct themselves just from making some small tweaks to the nutrition. And then that’s very easy. But some of the other stuff that might be rooted; in maybe experiencing a trauma at some point in their life; that might require a little bit more healing and a little bit longer work together.

    Host:  That would make sense. Emily LaVoie, Eating Psychology Coach, thanks for being with us today.

    Emily:  Thanks for having me Carl.

    Host:  And I want to go have an apple now after this conversation. I’m going to forget about the candy bars and go to an apple.

    Emily:  It doesn’t matter what you eat as long as what you are eating doesn’t cause guilt.

    Host:  Ah, okay. I will take that with me forward. Emily, thanks so much.

    Emily:  My pleasure.