Weigh This Instead!

Life After Emotional & Binge Eating

Listening Without Judgment

Binge Eating Recovery Coach Ellen ShumanI was having my hair highlighted recently. My colorist rents one of those tiny salon spaces with just two chairs. The colorist introduced me to her other client and told this woman what I do for a living.

Then, as a captive audience in hair foils, I listened to this other client give me her opinion about why people eat too much and what they “simply” need to do to “gain control”. People just need to “…use a little discipline”, she said in numerous ways…

My ego, my patience, and my emotional regulation skills were put to the test.

She had that air of all-knowing-ness that in the past I would have assumed was because she was “naturally thin”, had no understanding about eating disorders, no empathy, and very little emotional intelligence. (No judgment on my part, huh?)

I tried my best to calmly explain that, often, it’s NOT that simple. I attempted to educate about emotional and binge eating; how some people overuse food to self-soothe and avoid uncomfortable feelings, people, tasks, etc. I might as well have been trying to get through to the chair she was sitting on. So, I just stopped talking.

At first, I felt dismissed, frustrated, angry, and trapped. My internal dialog went something like this, “Hey, I’m the expert; the researcher, the founder of an eating disorder program; a coach with decades of experience in this field and you don’t have a clue. Why aren’t you listening to me?”

Then, I stepped back and observed my own thoughts and feelings. I quieted my ego, my judgments, my need to be right. I decided to just be present; to listen to her with my heart…not easy, as this is a loaded subject for me… and, at that moment, I didn’t like the woman. But here’s what I heard.

I heard her talk about her own very rigid food and exercise rules. Then, she started talking about depression; saying “women need to fend for themselves, pull themselves up by their own bootstraps”.  Then, she went on to say”…depression is all about women in a man’s world, in the wrong job”. A few minutes later I asked her what she did for a living. She spoke openly and honestly about how frustrated she is with the male power base in her corporate job and about all the politics at work.

Now, I was truly hearing her story. This woman was actually sharing her own defenses, her own pain, how she used rigid food and exercise rules; “weight control”, to manage her own depression, dissatisfaction, and disappointment with her career!  In truth, what I was sharing about emotional eating challenged her survival strategies. So, of course what I had to say was of no interest. My insights were not welcome; likely they were even threatening to her…at this moment in time.

Looking back, I’m so glad I stopped trying to get her to “hear” me. I learned something very important. She wasn’t interested in what I had to say. Not everybody is or will be :-).  She was in her own pain. She just wanted to talk about her own pain…

Knowing that… and removing myself from the equation, was very freeing…

I wished her well!


I’m Ellen Shuman and like everyone reading this post, I am a work in progress! I am also a pioneer in the field of binge eating disorder treatment; a Coach who specializes in helping people overcome binge eating, binge eating disorder, emotional eating, compulsive eating, and food addiction. I am the founder of A Weigh Out  Life Coaching & Members’ Circle, Acoria Binge Eating Disorder Treatment (1993-present), and a Past President of the Binge Eating Disorder Association (2011/2012),  ellen@aweighout.com, 513-321-4242.


  1. Thanks for such an honest example of truly unselfish listening. Turning a frustration around…Just being able to listen without judgment is huge! People so need to share their story. You entered her world. Something I have been learning lately is meeting people where they are at and then journeying with them to get where they need to be. You do that so well every day with your clients.

  2. I think this is how most of us interact with each other on a daily basis. We each have our vantage points and there is where we anchor. At times I can do what you did, Ms. Shuman; at other times, not so much. It’s really about how I am feeling about myself and that can be a roller coaster at times.

  3. Ellen Shuman, Emotional Eating Recovery Coach; A Weigh Out says

    I know exactly what you mean about the emotional rollercoaster! For me, that’s where learning how to get and stay more mindfull has made such a difference in my emotional life. With practice, these days I am much less vulnerabe to those emotional ups and downs that used to feel out of my control.I just didn’t know it could be any other way…

  4. How insightful of you to be able to stop and put yourself where she may be. You are right on…upon getting some of her story it was clear to me that her eating and health habits was a part of her life where she didn’t have to deal with her corporate bosses and she had full control. I get it. I love what you do. Thanks.

  5. Ellen Shuman, Emotional Eating Recovery Coach; A Weigh Out says

    Thanks, Donna. Happy New Year! Ellen

  6. marilyn mcintosh says

    Thanks Ellen. After an emotional locking of horns with my husband last night I realize upon reading about your experience that I often react very emotionally to things he says related to family. When if I took the time to hear his story behind his “blurts” I would likely understand the hurt driving them. So this type of mindful listening is not just for encounters with strangers. Thanks for lighting the path that I will walk this morning. Happy New Year. Ellen, Marilyn

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