what's eating you

What’s Eating You?

January 24, 2022

“It’s not just what you are eating… Have you considered what’s eating you?” 

Have you ever been told a story from someone else and you initially believed it? Then upon further information gathering, you realized that the story was wrong or inflated in some way? Moreover, sometimes it can even be hard to accept the new information presented because you believed the first story so strongly!  The power of storytelling and how impactful these stories can be in our lives is not only evident in our external interactions with others but also within our internal dialogue with ourselves.

This illustration highlights the importance of managing the internal stories we tell ourselves and the messages we rehearse in our minds. We are always sending internal messages within our brains that dictate how we live on a daily basis and at times these stories can be destructive to the goals we have for our lives.

Sometimes we tell ourselves messages such as, “I won’t be able to do this!” or “this won’t work out for me” or “I will never lose this weight”.

These negative messages become ingrained in our minds and can have major negative implications on our behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. Fortunately, we also have the power to change this internal negative self-talk and develop a new internal narrative that can motivate us and pushes us towards achieving our personal goals.

Everything we say to ourselves should consistently be messages that promote empowerment, hope, health, esteem, and self-direction. Changing your story could change your life.

Unfortunately, the emotional impact of what we are saying to ourselves that is negative could actually be part of what may be eating you on the inside.

What’s Eating You?

Most individuals who have struggled with obesity and weight management tend to have many experiences with healthcare providers. Often, the common question of What are you eating?” comes up in these conversations. Unfortunately, much of weight management often focuses on the classic behaviors of “eating right and exercising”.

Though this is partially true, often the focus starts and stops at making sure that patients are eating at a caloric intake that aligns with their weight loss goals. Although this is a very good way to address obesity management, this is a common reason why patients are not successful in continued weight maintenance.

The emphasis should not just be what you are eating but also the question of “What’s eating you?”

In such a fast-paced world, it is easy to overlook what is happening on the inside of our minds. The messages we say to ourselves on a daily basis can have a negative impact on our emotions and overall mental health.

This is especially true in weight management and obesity. This is also the reason that traditional dieting often fails. Traditional dieting often focuses on the behavioral aspect of weight loss but doesn’t take into account the cognitive and emotional underpinnings that often guide our behaviors. There are many psychological issues connected to weight management and obesity.  

Four Emotions That Are Core to Emotional Eating and Weight Loss Management

There are four distinct emotions that help to form the core of emotional/mindless eating and poor weight loss management. These four are as follows:

  1. Fear – “I am scared that I will never lose this weight and be successful with this?”
  2. Guilt – “I should not have done that or I should not have eaten that”
  3. Anxiety – “What if I am unsuccessful?”
  4. Shame – “I don’t like what I see and I am embarrassed of myself”

These feelings are the primary triggers for poor eating and long-term poor weight loss outcomes. Each one of these feelings can contribute to poor self-esteem, low self-worth, guilt, doubt, and low motivation.  When we deny our strong emotions, they often grow stronger and gain more strength. Moreover, when we are not digging deep to the core of what is going on emotionally on the inside of our mental bodies, it makes it very difficult to change our external behaviors.

Losing Weight and Lifestyle Changes

We all should be emotionally ready and have the support needed to make lifestyle and behavioral changes that we want to make in our lives. Losing weight is one of the hardest goals to accomplish because it requires physical, emotional, and mental stability.

Often, the focus is simply on the physical changes, and the emotional and mental adjustments are pushed aside. Denied emotions often show themselves in many unpleasant ways, including food cravings, physical aches or illnesses, depression, anxiety, phobias, and sleep disorders.

Often in our day-to-day lives, we are running around constantly without taking out time to reflect on what we are thinking and how we are feeling. Our days can be filled with work obligations, parenting, household management, family, appointments, etc. While completing these obligations can be integral to our daily lives, we often make little time to stop and think about our own thoughts and emotions.

As we continue to navigate life without considering our emotions, we can slowly get overwhelmed. Additionally, with all of our hustle and bustle, it is hard for many of us to stop and take some time out to do anything. This physical and emotional fatigue can lead to stress, resentment, depression, weight gain, and unhealthy habits.

You Are The Priority

Each day, take out 5 minutes to simply check-in with yourself and take a quick time-out to assess how you are feeling and what you are thinking on the insider.

You should never be too busy for YOU!

Ask yourself questions as if you are checking in on your “best friend” (WHICH IS YOU!). Your body and mind need you and depend on you for everything! Make sure that you are taking time out for yourself and you make it a priority. There are many things in life that are important, but remember that you are THE PRIORITY! Ask yourself, what’s eating you today?

Dr. Clinton S. Bolton works as part of the interdisciplinary care team for bariatric patients at Rex-UNC Hospital

what's eating you
Clinton Bolton


Dr. Clinton S. Bolton has been providing mental health services since 2006. He works as part of the interdisciplinary care team for bariatric patients at Rex-UNC Hospital in Raleigh, NC. He provides pre-operative counseling, post-operative counseling, and support group sessions for patients of bariatric surgery as well as other patients needing mental health treatment.