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Nashville personal trainer and nutritionist Dan DeFigio is a specialist in Emotional Eating and Sugar Addiction. Below is a transcription of a presentation where the nutrition coach gives you tips for healthier eating, and teaches you how to overcome emotional eating:

Presentation on Healthy Eating vs Unhealthy Eating

My name is Dan DeFigio. I am a certified Nutrition Coach, personal trainer,  and Health Coach in Nashville, Tennessee, and I did a presentation for your company a year or two ago. And apparently people liked it. So, they said, please come back and do some more. So here we are. 😁

Today I’m going to talk about healthy eating. And I’m also going to talk about unhealthy eating, because that is a big problem for a lot of people. So, I want to give you guys some strategies about that.

So, let me get to the screen share, because I have a PowerPoint. What I will do is go through some of the points that I want to cover today, feel free to interrupt me at any time, because we have a small group. So, just unmute yourself and jump in if you’ve got a question. Or if you need me to explain something better, or anything like that. At the end, we’ll have time for like open floor questions on anything else you guys want to talk about.

So, healthy eating, everyone sort of has a basic idea about that. But I’m going to talk about some of the specifics and the nuts and bolts of what that actually includes.

As far as the unhealthy eating piece of it, that’s a big umbrella. Whether you call it stress eating or sugar addiction, or emotional eating urges, binging, all the yo-yo dieting, people do the on-again, off-again, kind of stuff that all goes in the umbrella, as far as I’m concerned of unhealthy eating.

First healthy eating: There are a few pillars and principles, foundations, as it were, of how to eat smart. So, if you’re taking notes, please not while you’re driving. But if you are taking notes, you can write some of these down.

Number one, a big piece of the coaching process that I use is you’re going to do better when you eat real food instead of processed food. There are a lot of like convenience, allegedly healthy meals, you know, your Lean Cuisines, your frozen stuff, that sort of thing. They may be low in calories, but those kinds of things are often just loaded with chemicals, artificial sweeteners and colors, all kinds of stuff that really isn’t good for you. So, the less processed you eat, the better.

Ideally, clean proteins, lots of vegetables and fruits, stuff that comes out of the ground. If it’s got legs or dirt on it, you’re doing good, you know, that’s a good way to describe it. So real food instead of fake food is your primary goal.

Anytime you’ve got a choice between something that’s a real — a whole, natural food versus something that comes in a package — go with the real food instead, you’ll do better that way.


#2) Vegetables are your primary carbohydrates. Some people are surprised to know that vegetables and fruits are carbohydrates. They tend to think of carbs just as the starches — you know your breads, your rice, your pasta, that kind of stuff — but vegetables and fruits are carbohydrate sources also, and they should be your primary source.

Vegetables, in general, are so high in nutrients and fiber, and so low in calories that you can hardly ever make a bad pick when it comes to that. So, if you focus on getting vegetables as your primary carbohydrate source, that will be a really good way to upgrade your healthy nutrition overall.

I just told you that vegetables, the non-starchy vegetables, are pretty much unlimited as far as how much you can eat just because they’re so low in calories and so high in nutrients. It’s not quite the same for the starchy vegetables like your potatoes. They are higher in calories, but in general, with non-starchy vegetables you never really have to worry about portions.

Fruit is a little bit of a different story because fruit is also very high in nutrients and high in fiber, but it typically has more calories than your non-starchy vegetables. So, you do want to be a little bit careful with your fruit portions. Two or three servings a day is a good recommendation for starters. And a serving is a piece of fruit like an apple, or a banana, or a cup if it’s chunked up pineapple or berries or something like that.

I think a lot of times folks can get into trouble, especially late at night after work, because one of the things that I help people with is the late-night sugar cravings, and one of the good tools you can use is sort of us a healthier upgrade.

So, if you have a sweet craving at eight or nine o’clock at night, going for strawberries, for example, or cherries, if you like those are a better choice than ice cream. You still get the sweet sensation, but you get a better version of that food. So, that’s a technique that you can use.

But you do have to be careful of the portions, it’s really easy to put in your head, like oh, fruit is healthy, it’s good for you. And so, you eat a gallon of it. And that’s just too many calories and too much sugar. So, do keep in mind the portions on the front.

This last little bullet point that I have here is try to get at least one plant source that’s a vegetable or a fruit every time you eat. That’s a really good principle. Every time you sit down to eat, make sure you got some kind of a plant in the mix there.

Any questions about that? Everybody happy? Somebody give me a thumbs up.

So, with vegetables and fruits, something else that is an easy upgrade for healthy eating is eating a big variety of different kinds of plants. There are little chemicals and substances in plants called phytonutrients (that’s your dollar word for the day). And these are these compounds in plants, there are thousands of them that we are discovering, and they are all have various functions in our physiology and they’re all good for us.


So one of the things that I get a kick out of is like every year or two, there’s new whiz-bang superfood that comes out in the news, you know, blueberries or acai, or one year it was broccoli and that’s the Wonder food. And you know, it’s not like these things aren’t good for you. But it’s not like one particular plant is the end-all- be-all despite what multilevel marketing people will tell you when they’re trying to sell you their product that has it in it, all the plant material is good for you.

So, like all the vegetables and all the fruits have valuable nutrition contained in them. So, variety is a key.

One of the ways to get variety is to make sure you mix up the colors. To make a very broad generalization, different colors in nature equal different nutrients. So, the more variety of colors that you get in your diet, the more variety of nutrients you’re going to get via these different phytonutrients.

So, you should aim over time to go all over the color wheel — red foods, orange foods, yellow foods, green foods, blue and purple foods, white foods even like onions you know, white onion that those are there are compounds in all the different colors that are good for you.

So, do your best to not get locked into just a handful of vegetables and fruits that you like and you kind of get comfortable with or get bored with. There are all kinds of cool foods out there to eat. So, experiment a little bit. Make it fun.

Foundation #3 for healthy eating is water should be your primary beverage. There’s nothing wrong with coffee. There’s nothing wrong with tea as long as it doesn’t have a lot of additives (a lot of these bottled teas are loaded with sugar and other chemicals). So, I go back to the real food versus fake food concept.

But water should be your primary beverage. I think it’s too easy for people to get a lot of either extra chemicals from some of the energy drinks that are loaded up with caffeine and artificial colors and flavors and that sort of thing. Or a ton of extra calories that don’t really have any nutrition value like your giant Starbucks Frappuccino moco-choco-chinos. If you look at what they’re putting in there, some of those things have 800 calories in them and are just loaded with 100 grams of sugar, just a ridiculous amount of sugar and some of those drinks. So, coffee as a concept is not necessarily really a problem, but don’t put a lot of junk in there. Ideally, water would be the thing that you drink, mostly throughout the day.

Oh, here’s a little hint too, a lot of folks who have a history of drinking a lot of very flavored drinks, all these energy drinks and sweetened drinks and things like that, as they start to try to wean themselves off of that. A good tool is to take real water, regular water and just flavor it with a little bit of fresh citrus like lemon or lime, or oranges or strawberries, you know, whatever you’d like to dunk in there for flavor. If you need something flavored, if the jump from diet coke to plain water is too much of a jump for you then go to water that’s flavored with fruit or citrus or something.


So, foundation #4, the combination of protein and carbohydrates. This is important because for body fat control, a lot of folks eat way too many carbohydrates and not nearly enough protein. So, we want to get that closer to balanced. It’ll also help stabilize your blood sugar, which helps to prevent those big spikes and drops of blood sugar and energy throughout the day, you know, the mid-afternoon crash after a heavy carb lunch is something that’ll drain your energy.

It is also important to stabilize your blood sugar to help prevent diabetes, because one of the things that causes diabetes long-term is a lot of those high sugar spikes. So, we don’t want to have that.

Long term, a good foundation is getting a habit of having a protein source and some kind of a plant a vegetable or a fruit. Every time that you sit down to eat, that’s your foundation food. And then depending on where you are and what’s going on, you may decide to add something into that mix. You know, if you want to add a starch, like some rice or a piece of bread, or you know half a piece of cake for dessert, something like that. Those should be add-ons. The real nuts and bolts of your healthy nutrition is the protein source and some kind of plant material. Protein and plant — I’ll preach it to the day I die. It’s important. Any questions? Very cool. Okay, moving on.

“I will forever think of something with legs, something with dirt now.”

Okay, not all protein has to have legs like fish, for example, no legs, or eggs. Eggs come from something with legs, I guess. But I’m glad you like it. It’s just it’s just one way to, to think about it.

Foundation #5 portions! The amount of food that you eat matters. Calories are not the only thing when it comes to keeping your weight under control. But calories do matter. So, how much food you are eating is a big piece of whether you are losing weight or gaining weight or staying the same.

I have to watch this one myself personally, because, you know, I do a good job with selecting healthy foods. So, my choices are good. I just like to eat a lot of food. So I have to watch out for how much that I actually eat so that’s a thing for some folks, too.

On the beating sugar addiction website, I have an article that has some portion guidelines, as far as what is a serving of this, and how big of a serving of protein are supposed to have that kind of stuff. So, I have that all laid out.

But my point here is that you need to be intentional with the portions that you that you do set out. We have a tendency in this society to use all sorts of external cues, unconscious cues, that tell us to either keep eating or we’re done.

For example, many of us were raised to, you know, finish everything that’s on your plate, no matter what, whether you’re hungry or not. That’s just what you eat. So, like how much you eat is not based on whether you’re hungry or not. It’s based on what’s on your plate. And we can get into trouble that way.

Especially if you go to restaurants nowadays, they give you two or three servings of food at a restaurant. Oh, here’s a quick restaurant tip even though this isn’t officially part of today’s presentation, if you do find that when you eat out a lot, they bring you way too much food on a regular basis, just ask the waiter to bring a to-go box when they bring your dinner and put half of it in the box before you even start eating your entree. I promise you’ll never miss the extra food. And you will have something yummy to have for lunch or dinner the next day. So, that’s an easy way to avoid overeating at restaurants just put half of whatever they give you in a box to go before you even start.

One more point for intentionality around portions: Make it hard to get seconds, make it an effort, make it an effort to have to go get seconds. If you are having dinner at the family dinner table. Don’t put the serving dishes out on the table. Keep them in the kitchen.

So, you plate up the food, intentional portions, and sit down and eat that. And then if you want to have something else, you have to get up and go get it. As opposed to having a dish of more food just sitting in front of you one scoop away. That’ll help portion control.

Foundation #6: Planning. If you want to consistently eat healthy on an ongoing basis, you have to plan your food in advance.

Some people like to plan out a week at a time. They take Sunday as their prep and shop day. That’s fine. I do mine for the following day. So, before I go to sleep every night, I know what I’m going to eat for every meal the next day. That’s how I do mine. It doesn’t matter how you plan; it just matters that you plan. You have to have some idea of what you’re going to eat and approximately when you want to set yourself up for success. To make healthy eating easy.

If you leave yourself at the mercy of whatever’s lying around in the break room, or whatever you can grab fast at a drive-thru on the way home at 7:30 pm when you’re starving, you are going to have a very hard time making smart healthy decisions on a regular basis.

So, if you bring a healthy lunch to work, or if you know you’re going to go out for lunch, or are going to go out for dinner, have an idea in your head in advance about what you’re going to do how you’re going to feed yourself next time. It literally only takes two minutes. When you practice it a little bit, it takes about two minutes to plan your food for the next day.

So, don’t tell me you don’t have time to plan because it really is not a time-sink. And it makes a huge difference in how easy or difficult it is to make decisions about how you’re feeding yourself.

So, make life easy on yourself plan ahead, set yourself up have healthy food handy in the refrigerator at home. Take stuff with you to work that you know you want to be eating instead of you know donuts and cookies that people are bringing in that you don’t want to be eating. Make it easy, it’s hard enough life is hard enough to don’t We don’t need to add donuts and bacon to that on purpose.

Planning is so important because it’s one of the only ways to be proactive instead of reactive. The biggest problem that I see overall, like a big overarching problem, in that I see from folks in my nutrition coaching practice is being reactive. Whether that is oh my God, I didn’t plan anything to eat, I’m starving what am I going to grab? that’s being reactive, or stress eating emotional eating of, hey, I’m having a hard time therefore, I’m going to eat these cookies because I’ve had a bad day and that will make my day better.

So, all of those kinds of reactive issues are generally — I think I could put that as the number one obstacle to nutrition and health for folks. So, what we want to do is to try to be proactive, do things on purpose, instead of being reactive.

When you plan you can make healthy choices. You have your portions controlled, and it’s easy to have a good variety. We talked about that earlier.

So, all three of those things are really easy when you take two minutes to plan ahead. If you don’t do that, then you get into trouble because you make poor choices. You get impulsive. You use these external cues, like we talked about how much food is in front of you, or I’m going to keep eating the French fries until they’re all gone. It doesn’t matter if I’ve had enough fries or not. Impulsive things to eat. Have you ever heard of that “seefood diet”, s-e-e food, as in “I see food and I eat it”.

And I’ll remind you also that the convenience foods stuff that you can grab quick, very often is low nutrition, highly processed stuff. And not to say that you can’t get healthy food quick because it is out there. That’s one of the things that has gotten a little bit better over the last 10 or 15 years, there are some places that can get you something reasonably healthy to go or at a drive-thru. Even McDonald’s and Wendy’s have salads now, you know, so you can at least get a vegetable out of the out deal if you’re in a pinch.

The last piece of the foundation that I have is to be purposeful with the stuff that you know is not very good for you. You know desserts and sugars, alcohol, if you like French fries, or chicken nuggets or fried foods like that, all the things that we know in our head are not really good for us.

The approach I take with teaching nutrition is there is nothing that is totally off limits. And nothing is forbidden, because I don’t think that we ought to approach it like that. But you do have to be intentional and purposeful about when you have these foods that are either actively bad for you like the fried food, or foods that are you know, high in calories and low in nutrients aren’t really bad for you, per se but not great for as far as nutrition — like pizza, or some of the snack chips and pretzels and things like that. They’re not actively hurtful. But they’re not the best picks.

So, like you have to be intentional about when you decide you’re going to do this. One of the things that I suggest is don’t put stuff in the house that you know you don’t really want to eat. If you have your pantry loaded up with cookies and sweets and candy and things that you know, you don’t really want to eat, or you shouldn’t be eating, every time you open the pantry and you see it you have to make a Yes or No decision. And that’s making life really hard on yourself.

Same goes for like a candy bowl out at work on your desk or in the break room or something like that. Every time you walk by that you have this visual stimulus and you have to say, oh, do I want to eat that? Or do I not want to eat that. So, make life easy on yourself. And don’t put things in your house that you know you don’t want to eat.

I like ice cream, for example. That is my go-to junk food when I decide to get ice cream and I really want some then I’m going to go get some. I have to go out and I get it. I don’t keep it stocked in the freezer all the time so that every time I open up the freezer, it’s looking at me, I have it set, you know it’s elsewhere.

So, if I really want some – which is fine when you really want some – go get it, but don’t make it easy to do it every day because that becomes a problem. So, bad stuff on purpose. That’s the dumbed down version.

The last piece that I want to touch on is dealing with emotional eating. Emotional eating is an umbrella term for all of these reactive and impulsive eating urges that we have: sugar cravings, stress eating all the all those kinds of emotional reactive things that we turn to food for. A big piece of my coaching is about that. I’m actually the guy who wrote Beating Sugar Addiction For Dummies. So, I literally wrote the book on sugar addiction.

A big piece of my day-to-day coaching with people is around the psychology of food and emotional eating and stress eating issues.


So, getting a handle on that is very important on an ongoing basis because, if you have sort of a standard, relatively healthy diet, but every time something difficult or emotional happens in your life, then you shoot yourself in the foot with piles and piles of bad food, long term you’re not helping yourself.

So, these kinds of — what shall we call them – “episodes” that folks will go through on a regular basis. If you lose control of how you feed yourself every time something emotional or difficult or stressful happens, you’re going to have a hard time, nutrition-wise and health-wise. So, it’s really important to get a handle on emotional eating and stress eating impulses, if that’s a thing for you.

healthy eating vs unhealthy eating

Physical hunger vs Emotional hunger

How do you know? Well, any reactive eating from an emotional standpoint is a problem. I made this can you see this little column I’ve got here on the left side, when you’re actually hungry physically, it comes on gradually comes and goes.

When you’re hungry, any you know, you’re open to different kinds of foods. You notice that, oh, I’m hungry, because I feel it in my stomach. It’s where you feel it. Maybe you notice your blood sugar’s getting low, something like that.

Physical hunger can wait. It’s not urgent. When your hunger physically, you’re using your grown-up brain that says, okay, I’m going to make a decision. And I’m aware of what I’m eating. And you stop eating when you’ve had enough. And then when you are done, it’s like, oh, that was good. I am no longer hungry. So, that is what we want. On the left column.

On the right column is the emotional version of that. And it comes on not gradually, but it comes on very suddenly and very reactively. Oh, I’m stressed out, I’m having an emotional reaction. I want that doughnut. It’s an impulse. And there’s usually a craving for something specific, you know, like sugar, or whatever your comfort food is.

These kinds of things are triggered from emotions and feelings, not from actual hunger. There is an urgency to it, it’s like it’s going to happen right now. There’s not a when I get home, I’m going to have my cookie. It’s like right now, because I’m upset, I’m going to have this cookie. There is always automatic and impulsive stuff. There are not deliberate choices. It’s subconscious and we’ll talk about that in just a couple of minutes.

Whether you’re full or not, has no effect on what you are doing. When it’s emotional eating, you’re just doing it because it’s completely detached from your hunger physiology. And unfortunately, when you are finished with the comfort food binge, then you typically feel bad about it, you feel guilty. There’s shame, there’s guilt, there’s bloat there is misery as opposed to being satisfied.

So, is my goal to make sure everybody stays over here on the left on the healthy side of hunger, and not the emotional side of eating?

Why do we do this? We all know that a mixed green salad is better for us than a box of donuts. But we don’t do it. Why? Here’s why. If you’re taking notes, these are the two things to write down.

Number one, we use food as a substitute for something that we are seeking emotionally. Sometimes we use other things besides food, I mean, the whole foundation of alcoholism or drug abuse or whatever is this, you know. So, food is just one of the many substances that we use as a substitute for something emotional. Here’s a real common scenario.


Let’s say you’re having a terrible day at work. You’re all stressed out you’re behind and you’ve got deadlines you’re not going to make, and your boss is yelling at you, kids sick at home. It’s just been terrible, terrible day. And then you reach for the donuts because you’re stressing.

So, in the I’m stressed out at work situation What you’re probably seeking from an emotional standpoint is some feeling of peacefulness or being calm, or being in control, perhaps. And we pretend that eating a donut is going to help us become peaceful or give us control.

And food can’t give you that. So, I brought this, I put this little graphic together, that shows that, like, we have this trigger, I’m upset, I’m feeling whatever it is, that is uncomfortable that you’re feeling whether you’re feeling anxious, or fearful, or depressed or angry, or whatever the uncomfortable emotion is, we have this habit of stuffing food when we, when we have that.

What we’re feeling goes unnoticed, what we really want is unnoticed, and what we should do to break this cycle instead is we have the trigger, I’m upset, I’m stressed out, then we have just a one second, pause us pause there for just a second and evaluate, okay, that’s your red flag?

Well, I really want to reach for the donut because I’ve had a crappy day. So, give me one or two seconds just to sit and think about what is it that I really want here. Because what you really want is not junk food. What you really want is something from an emotional standpoint. And the cool thing about doing this right here, my friends, is that you don’t have to come up with the answer. Just the act of inserting this one or two second pause between the trigger and what you do is enough to break that unconscious habit.

And now we are in the grown-up part of our brain. For your neurology nerds, it’s called the prefrontal cortex, where we actually make decisions in a grown-up place, we put our grownup pants on and make decisions. And then you can decide what you’re going to do because you’re not being reactive. You’re being purposeful.

So, this is your big takeaway for stress eating and emotional eating. This right here, this little graphic is what you want to do when you are when you get triggered, instead of just jumping to the behavior mindlessly insert that one or two second pause, and just take a little inventory and say, hmm, I’m really upset. What do I really want here. And you don’t like I said, you don’t have to have to answer. That’s the cool thing about this.

Reason number two, for emotional eating and stress reactive eating is the easy one, and it’s a simple distraction. As humans, we go through a variety of emotions all day, every day. And a lot of them don’t feel very good. Sometimes we get upset, we get depressed, we get guilty and ashamed, we get lonely, we get bored, we get angry, we get fearful. It’s like all these different emotions that we have throughout the day, that don’t feel very good.

So, the part of our brain that drives until we learn how to do something different, is going to do just about anything to get us to feel better and not feel those uncomfortable feelings. So, a lot of times food or sometimes other substances like alcohol, or drugs, or gambling or whatever, is just a distraction, it gives you something else to focus on for two minutes.

So, if you are home by yourself, and you’re feeling lonely, and unlovable and having a terrible night, and you dive into the gallon of ice cream, your brain is like cool, I’m gonna think about this ice cream for the next two or three minutes instead of how bad I’m feeling. So, it’s just a simple distraction.

So, the way that you get around the distraction piece of it, is you come up with a couple things that are healthier distractions, things that you enjoy doing or things that will engage your mind a little bit. That will give you that break that your limbic system is seeking, as far as you know, giving yourself a break from feeling the bad feelings, the difficult feelings.

So, if you only have food in your toolbox, every time you feel bad, then you’re very, very limited in your distraction because then you’re down to well do I eat this food or do I try to willpower myself through and not do this?

What I try to encourage folks to do for starters is expand your toolbox. So, you have several tools that are not food, that are not bad for you as your distraction. Maybe you’d like to read, maybe you’d like to take a walk, maybe you play with the dog, maybe you’d like to, I don’t know, write something or if you’re creative, you know, compose something, do some journaling, people like to, you know, connect with their friends, either call them up on the phone, or send them a Facebook message or whatever, there’s a gazillion things you can do to entertain yourself that don’t involve eating food.

So, make yourself a short list of three or four things. Even if you only have one other thing. And you do it every other time, let’s say that you’re your one thing is reading, and you’d like that. So, you got food and reading as your two distractions. So, if you do reading every other time, you’ve already cut your stress eating in half, just from that one extra tool that you do every other time. So, it’s a big upgrade to do.

Even every out, like I said, even 50% of the time, it’s a big upgrade. So do whatever you can do, whenever you can do it.

If you want help with this stuff, oh, and by the way, I got some free stuff on the website, go to I’ve got guidebooks and handouts that are there for free for how to beat sugar cravings and how to manage stress eating and some stuff we talked about. I’ve got it written up in a little, little book. So, get that for free.

And if you need assistance with any of this kind of stuff, by all means, let me know. I’m here to I’m here to help. So, at that is the that is the prepared material that I have for you. So, I’m ready to open up the floor to any questions or clarifications or complaints or whatever you guys want to want to talk about. I’m here for you. Hit me

“I definitely do not have any complaints.”

Well, that’s nice.

Nobody got anything? Anybody want to ask about anything? The NFL playoffs – want to talk football? Automotive repair? What else we got? All right.

Well, it was a joy getting a chance to talk with you folks. Again. It was it’s nice to be here. You’ve got my contact information. The easiest thing to do if you need me for anything, go to the website. That’s headquarters for me.

So, there you can just drop me a note or voicemail or an email or whatever. And we’ll talk if you need help with any of this stuff.

“Thank you so much for coming today.”

I hope you have a splendid rest of the week. Thanks for bringing me in again.

About the healthy eating presenter:

Dan DeFigio is a well-know personal trainer in Nashville. He is a nutrition coach, a certified health coach, and a national authority on emotional eating. Drop us a note if you’d like to talk about options for nutrition coaching for weight loss – especially if you struggle with stress eating or emotional eating!