Managing Alcohol & Emotional Hunger in Midlife with Emma Gilmour
Have you ever paused to ask yourself (especially at the end of a long day) why you reach for that glass of wine or delectable snack? In this episode, psychotherapist and certified alcohol coach, Emma Gilmour will help us uncover the connection between eating and drinking in midlife. It's a casual, heart-to-heart chat that'll change the way you think about your rituals.
If I had to guess, about 30% of the women I work with who are looking to make changes in their relationship with food, also want to change their habits around alcohol. These two aspects are intertwined in ways you might not have considered. Emma Gilmour brings her own journey to the table in this conversation. She had her own midlife awakening at 45 when everything seemed to fall apart. It was then she realized her alcohol consumption was no longer in line with her vision of an integrated life. Emma's journey led her to retrain as a counselor and psychotherapist and to become a "This Naked Mind" Gray Area Alcohol Coach.
One of the most powerful parts of this discussion is when we explore the need to get curious about our emotions- without judgment. Many of us reach for alcohol when we're anxious, stressed, or sad, trying to escape or suppress our emotions. It’s a way of coping, but it can also be a means of running away from those inner voices and true healing.
Do our routines and emotions intersect more than we realize? Can we nurture self-awareness to make lasting changes? Emma will offer us a lot of encouragement and practical tools to help us discover the courage to stay present and practice self-compassion. So pour your tea or grab your walking shoes, and earbuds and join us!
To learn more about Emma and her work, connect with her on her website at www.hoperisingcoaching.com or follow her on Instagram @hoperisingcoaching
🧠 Start getting mindful about your drinking habits with these FREE tools!
Jenn Salib Huber 0:00
Hi, and welcome to the midlife feast, the podcast for women who are hungry for more in this season of life. I'm your host, Dr. Jenn Salib Huber. I'm an intuitive eating dietitian and naturopathic doctor, and I help women manage menopause with old dieting and food rolls. Come to my table. Listen and learn from me. Trusted guest experts in women's health and interviews with women just like you. Each episode brings to the table juicy conversations designed to help you feast on midlife.
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Hi, everyone. Welcome to this week's episode of the midlife feast. I'm really excited for you to listen to my conversation with Mr. Gilmore, who's a psychotherapist and counselor and a certified this naked mind gray gray area alcohol coach and I wanted to have him on because as I say in this interview about 30% or so ballpark of the conversations that I have with women in midlife, who are looking to change their relationship with food, change, why they eat, how they eat, you know, that kind of stuff also involves an element of their relationship with alcohol. And because we know that alcohol has a really big impact on our symptoms, especially around sleep and mood and hot flashes, I thought that it would be helpful to talk to somebody who really kind of specializes in helping women in midlife to change that relationship.
So I think you'll really enjoy this conversation with Emma, because we're talking about the why we're talking about the relationship between alcohol and emotional hunger. And we kind of compare that to food, how it's same and how it's different. And emeter some great tips for getting started on changing your own relationship with alcohol if that's something that you're working towards. Hi, Emma, welcome to the midlife feast.
Emma Gilmour 2:07
Hi, Jen, thank you so much for having me on.
Jenn Salib Huber 2:10
So Emma is coming to us from Australia. And of course, I'm in Europe and the Netherlands and many of my listeners are actually in North America. So this feels like a very international episode. Mo Why don't you tell us a little bit about your work and who you are and kind of how you how you came to do this. This work?
Emma's Personal Journey with Alcohol
Emma Gilmour 2:34
Yeah, right. So my name is Emma, I work with women in midlife who are wanting to change their relationship with alcohol. And I came to do this work because I'm a woman in midlife who wants to change her relationship with alcohol. And so it was really interesting because I had my kind of midlife awakening, about 40 back 45 When I everything kind of imploded, and I had this big like realisation of I was in the wrong place doing the wrong thing. And who even was I kind of thing. And as part of that, I decided to retrain as a counselor and psychotherapist and I think I'd only just started my post grad dip of that, when I had decided that I had, there was my little inner knowing, was telling me that the way that I was using alcohol was was not in line with how I wanted to kind of live as an integrated human being.
And I decided to take a year off drinking. And that led to within a very few weeks, the way that I did that went through that process was so helpful and changed me from somebody who really had their identity kind of really firmly grounded in drinking and was very it's very much part of my my social circle, my you know, the reasons that I like to drink was you know, I like the food element, the whole kind of routine and ritual, the just, you know, the heart and everything about it just seems to be so positive.
It just it seemed to me like a really, really lovely thing. Fun thing, lovely thing, nourishing things, something to do with food, something to do with love to do with sex to do with all kinds of lovely things. And it was only sort of when I got to midlife and I started waking up at three o'clock in the morning having really bad anxiety of course menopause. My perimenopause was coming as well and suddenly alcohol like I'd be drinking. What I used to drink and suddenly it was making me feel so much worse. And so my hangovers getting worse, my ability to drink was was getting much lower, so I wouldn't be able to get drink as much. And I would get very feel a lot worse. But just really the anxiety and the and the low mood, I think from it really impacted me. And so at that point about 2020, I took a year off, decided to take a year off
Jenn Salib Huber 5:31
well timed. Yeah,
Exploring Emotional Hunger and Its Connection to Alcohol
Emma Gilmour 5:32
I know, right. i My God, Riley and, and at the same time, I was studying to be a cancer psychotherapist, and studying to be this naked mind alcohol coach. So I was kind of lucky in 2020, I was off the booze. And I was deep in study. So I just kind of had quite set up quite a nice situation for myself in what was otherwise a really quite horrendous period of time for all of us. Right.
Jenn Salib Huber 5:59
Wow. And I know that so many people are going to relate to what you're saying. Because if I had to estimate, I would say at least a third of the conversations that I have with women in midlife, about food, also involve their relationship with alcohol. So the conversation often starts with, Something's just not working, I need to change how I'm meeting. And I think I need to change my drinking, and I don't know where to start. And it just feels like so overwhelming. So I was really excited to have this conversation.
So I want to talk a little bit about emotional hunger. So my listeners and the people that I work with will recognize and anyone familiar with intuitive eating is, you know, this emotional hunger is this intense desire need craving to eat, for reasons other than physical hunger, primarily. So it's usually a very strong craving, sometimes gets lumped into or often gets lumped into the conversations around emotional eating. And, but as I always say, I prefer to focus on the hunger because that helps us to understand where it's coming from. The response is simply a response to something and we need to figure out what that thing is, right. So what is the connection between emotional hunger and alcohol and drinking?
Parallels Between Food and Alcohol Relationships
Emma Gilmour 7:19
Yeah, right. So I think one of the biggest pieces of work that we do when we're trying to change our relationship with alcohol, is start to practice feeling our emotions, because a lot of the time with, with alcohol use because as women and as human beings in the way that our culture conditions us is often any experience of, you know, particularly foreign neurodiverse folk, but any kind of experience of heightened emotion, or even like being really sad, or being, you know, crying a lot, or, you know, having a big reaction to something emotionally, generally, as children, we were told, you know, to, to kind of just suck it up and get on with it. And not to make too much fuss, and it was kind of very much frowned upon to have a big emotional experience.
And I find that with a lot of people that I work with is often we're trying to avoid an emotion by drinking because that emotion feels really scary and feels like something that we shouldn't have or shouldn't do, or has been made wrong for us. So quite often, when people are experiencing something or experiencing discomfort in some way. Now that might be an elevated emotion. Or it might be a more, you know, a more of a sad, or a more of an anxiety, emotion. But generally, it's to avoid that because in some ways, somewhere in our psyche, we've got the message that having that emotion of being with that motion is scary and wrong. So there's that part of it.
And then there's also as well, that kind of looking for our code to bring a feeling that we don't so often it's escaping the feeling that we don't want to experience. And then the other part is wanting to have a feeling that takes us away from our busy brains or anxiety or wanting to have that sort of feeling of what we what we kind of call the herd which anyone who's ever drunk will or know what I'm talking about. It's very interesting that one of my teachers originally said that that that she that's the body just wanting to be grounded. You know that feeling of like sinking out of our heads and into our, into our bodies, but I know it's something that people when they stopped drinking just feel very, they really miss that kind of feeling of Yeah, being able to or I
Coping Mechanisms, Habits, and Routine
Jenn Salib Huber 10:00
often hear about people who have a ritual around having a drink, having their favorite snack, watching their favorite show, you know, they have an hour in the evening to relax, and they feel like they have to cram it all in and do as much as possible. And the idea of not doing any of those brings in intense, like, FOMO, there's this fear of missing out of like, well, I won't be as happy. If I cut one of these things out, I won't be as relaxed, I won't feel as good.
And an intuitive eating, you know, we talk about practicing not reacting, you know, how can you press pause without it feeling like you're saying no. So that you stay out of the the scarcity mindset, actually, yeah. How do you? So how do you have that conversation? You know, if somebody says, I'm not drinking, because I'm sad, I'm not drinking, because I'm trying to escape this awful situation. It's just part of how I relax. And yet, it's not feeling good anymore, especially the next day, how do you have that conversation with them?
Emma Gilmour 11:02
Yes, so with each of the different kinds of beliefs that we have around our core, like alcohol helps us relax, we'll talk, for example, about what the actual kind of educational part of that is. So you know, that when you have a drink, that it elevates your adrenaline and cortisol, so it really, you know, you end up actually in a in a less relaxed place, by the end of an overnight having had a few drinks, then you started off the night. And so we get some kind of like factual knowledge in there as well. And then we're like, we talk about a case. So if that's what we're using to relax what some, what's a different way that we could, we could give ourselves something that relaxes us, that moves us towards our goal.
And that goal might be that we're not going to, we're not going to drink. But often it's and one of the things I talk a lot about is when we're having a craving, it's really our body, our body has a message for us. And often we're trying to resist that message. And that's when we turn to a coping mechanism, whatever that coping mechanism might be. But it's like, our body has a message. It's trying to say to us, I'm not, I'm not okay. And so it's saying to us, I'm not okay, and so instead of running away from what our body comes in, and tries to save us with wine, or whatever it might be, it's like, I'm gonna save you from the situation, here I am, I've got the wine.
And but actually, it's like, well, actually, thank you very much. Because you've, you know, go, historically, that's been your job, you've come in, you've stopped me feeling, you know, anxious or stressed or whatever. And this time, it's like, well, what are we going to do? How do we it sounds like we're very stressed. It sounds like we're very anxious in that we need to use something in order to help us relax. So one of the things that I find a lot of the time is, is kind of working with that. What if, if our stress if our anxiety had a voice? What would it say? What would what does it want us to hear?
What's the message that it has to us? And then once you hear it, hear it, because often half the time, we just need to be validated, right? We just actually need to listen to ourselves. And so once we've listened to ourselves, and it's like, okay, so So what does it actually need? So what do I actually need in this moment? So if I need to relax, what's going to relax me? And knowing that you've got the knowledge now that our call actually increases the stress hormones in your body? It's like, well, that's clearly not the, you know, that's the That's not the thing. Let's find something else, what else could actually be relaxing? Because often, it's about trying to fit something in because we've only got so much time and it's like, how do we do it? Quick switch?
Why Self-Care and Pleasure Aren't Optional
Jenn Salib Huber 13:55
Yes, yes. And that's the same with food, you know. And so when I'm talking about emotional hunger, especially in that evening piece, I'm often you know, encouraging people to not just look for substitutes, but to really look, you know, starting from when they get up in the morning, are you building in moments of pleasure and self care throughout your day? Or are you saving it all to try and get it done in an hour, you know, because it's like pulling back a slingshot.
You know, if you are holding and holding and holding and holding and holding, and then you get to nine o'clock at night and you expect to get to the other side of that slingshot in an hour. It's going to take a big push, versus if you're just doing these little you know, taking these little steps throughout the day. So really kind of adding to that self care conversation throughout the day. Where is your where's the anxiety coming from? Where's the stress coming from? Where is the where are the moments of pleasure and satisfaction that we can build into the day right because it's Yeah, Have that it's hard to find a switch at nine o'clock, that's not quick.
Because you're dying, you're really done. And it's really hard in the alcohol conversation and midlife and especially for people who are, I know in the thick of perimenopause is so relevant to the most common symptoms that so many people are experiencing, like you mentioned with the anxiety, the sleep hot flashes, night sweats, all of these are changes that are, you know, symptoms that are often influenced, if not caused by type quantity, frequency of alcohol.
So I think that making that connection for people to is helpful because it creates a bit of that intrinsic motivation, you know, and not just external of like restriction and checking off the calendar 30 days, you know, it's kind of like, okay, well, how do you actually feel? Oh, well, I feel so much better, because I'm not having these sleep disruptions, or I'm not having, you know, XYZ. I'd like to talk a little bit about how the conversations around food and alcohol are the same, and also different. So what do you see is the similarities? Because I know you've done some work and training around intuitive eating. So you, I think you have a good, good understanding of how that works. So what do you think are some of the similarities?
Emma Gilmour 16:29
I think, a lot of similarities are from a cultural perspective, that the whole concept of normal and what normal looks like and how it should be, yeah, that's very similar, I think. And a lot of the reason which keep people stuck in drinking, even when they don't want to drink is that kind of idea of, I don't want to be different to how everybody else is. So you know, in a society that, you know, says that drinking is normal, and if you can't drink, like an normal person, which is a made up thing anyway. But if you can't do that, then you know, you're sad somehow that you're, you're a faulty specimen. And similarly, you know, with body image and diet culture, it's, you know, similar sort of thing, it's like, if I'm not this, then I'm not okay, as a human being.
So I think those side of things are very, very aligned. And I think, the work around feeling our feelings, and I think that suppression of self is, is, is pretty huge. From what I can understand, in my studying around, intuitive eating, and around alcohol, and any other coping mechanism as well, that we're using, to keep us safe. That the prevalence of having to suppress our needs to push on through to do the things that we do as women is very, very similar that difficulty around interoceptive awareness is so similar, you know, when I, when I work with human beings around alcohol, and I don't have the same like, it's, it takes me ages, I'm still working, I work all the time to improve my interceptive awareness.
Because naturally, I've suppressed it for so long, I suppressed it through diet culture, I suppressed it through denying my experience of life, becoming a people pleaser, all of these things. And I think for me, those those elements are so so common in both areas, and I think the whole area of restriction, and it not being about restriction and take us restrictions, almost like, that's the fit for me and alcohol. It's like restriction is, is the problem, not the solution. If that makes sense. It's like,
Jenn Salib Huber 19:08
yeah, and we definitely talk about that with food, too, that restriction, craving.
Emma Gilmour 19:13
Create, yeah, restriction is It's resisting, it's almost reduced resisting the feeling that creates the problem, not the feeling itself, or the or the behavior, which is I think those things are very, very similar. But in terms of, of things that are different, you know, like you've, you've said before, and this is the thing, and, you know, we have to eat, like you said, it's like we have to eat whereas with drinking, one of the easier ways I'm saying to do it, like I think, you know, people do reduce the amount they drink, and that's a little bit more tricky, because you're always going to have alcohol, doing its thing by being an addictive substance.
But you know, that's all So something that's possible, and particularly the less you drink in between, you know, times that you drink, it's, you know, you, you can do it that way. It's easier just to turn it off. But you can't of course, you can't do that with food. And you wouldn't want to do that with food. So yeah, those those would be my kind of biggest.
Jenn Salib Huber 20:18
Similar. Yeah, and I agree with all of those the, you know, the tricky conversation around food, is that, yes, we absolutely need to eat. And it's also part of normal eating to experience pleasure from eating Yes. And so we want food to be pleasurable, we want to engage our senses, we want to sometimes choose foods simply because it tastes good. That's also part of normal eating. And obviously, alcohol is something that is, you know, we don't need it to survive. And it has, you know, some can have some unintended side effects, and as well as some of the known side effects.
But it is a trickier conversation with food. And so for people who are coming out of chronic dieting and diet culture, and are still very much in the all or nothing mindset, yeah, it gets even muddier. Which is why, you know, I think if anybody is trying to change their relationship with alcohol and food at the same time, I often recommend that they work with an alcohol coach. So no, I'm fortunate to know you, my good friend, Wendy McCallum and lino lots of resources. And so, but just kind of having knowing that it's not something that it's not easy. It's not, don't expect it to be easy. Don't expect it to be something that you can just intuitively figure out some people can. But if you can't, it doesn't mean that there's something wrong with you. Yeah, right. Just because it's meant to be intuitive doesn't mean that you have to figure it out on your own.
Emma Gilmour 21:51
That's exactly right. Because we have this idea, don't worry that it's to do with willpower. And it's to do with our, you know, somehow or others to do with our like, moral worth as a human being. And it's not at all it's, you know, it's a chemical thing with alcohol. And equally, I think, with food, because it's so complicated in terms of, for me, my own journey, and Jen was my coach as well, in my own journey has been very complicated. It's taken me a while to get, you know, really more about my body image than anything else. And it's been a journey and one that, you know, I really needed help with, I couldn't, there was things I couldn't get to by myself. And I'm still on that journey, you know? Yeah.
Jenn Salib Huber 22:38
So if somebody is listening to this, and they think, yeah, I think I need to make some changes, I think I want to do something differently. What would you suggest as a couple of starting points?
Starting Points for Making Changes
Emma Gilmour 22:50
Yeah. Great question. Great question. So the first thing, the most important thing, I would say, you know, and probably, quite likely, regardless of anything else, to completely change your relationship with alcohol, is to start noticing what you're doing. And that's it like a lot of this stuff we do unconsciously. But just to notice, you know, when in the morning, do you start thinking about alcohol? When does it's and you'd be surprised quite often, it's earlier than you think? What happened immediately before you had that first thought? Because often, I was thinking about, yes, we have habits, yes, we have routines, and there's all sorts of sort of superficial, more superficial things we can do and fairly easy to change. But often, it's because we're feeling a certain way.
And something that's happened we've attached a meaning to, and that meaning is making us feel bad about ourselves or feel, you know, anxiously excited or something, it's having an impact on us, that's making us think I need what I need to calm this down, or I need to do something to get away from this experience. And so just really documenting when your your note when you're noticing that and then also what your routine and ritual is around our car. So, you know, where do you get it from? Do you stop every evening and get it from this place? Do you keep it in the fridge? What happens when you come home? You know, do you have a certain plus just feet documenting of witnessing, and for example, people call it might like mindful drinking. And this is this a great thing to start with.
It's just literally just take a sip. And notice how it feels in your mouth, how it feels in your body. Because what happens with anything that's dopamine driven, is it it gives you a really, because it wants you to do something in the future. And it wants to reward you for something in the moment. It gives you a sort of rose tinted view of your experience. So often, you'll be like, actually, that that felt a bit funny, but the memory that you'll have a bit when you're not documenting is awkward. That was wonderful.
That was just so much fun. Whereas when you're actually like, Oh, that's interesting, that made me feel a bit like that. And actually that didn't taste as nice as I thought It was going to, and it made my head feel a bit like this. And I noticed that I was just noticing when you're going for your next glass of wine, how long is it you let you do let if it's wine, it could be anything. But do you know do you let yourself finish it before you get already, you're already thinking I need to refill my glass. And then just paying attention to what's the feeling that you're running away from? Or you're wanting to move away from?
And what's the or what's the feeling that you're wanting to move towards? And so those are really, really nice ways of just starting off. And there's a few other little bits and pieces you can notice, you know, how do you do you wake up in the night? When do you wake up? What was that like for you, when you wake up the next day, and it's just kind of coming from it instead of making alcohol bad, and not drinking good.
It's like taking this whole moral thing as fit and just really just going after the data because with the debt, because it really that's all it is really at the end of the day, none of it has anything to do with our, our worth as a human being whether we drink alcohol, or we don't drink alcohol, it's just let's find out the information so we can understand if there's things that are happening for us subconsciously, that are driving us to have a drink in order to kind of manage our emotional well being kind of thing. Does that make sense?
Curious Observation and Self-Acceptance
Jenn Salib Huber 26:19
Yeah, I think that's a great place to start just with that, like curious observation, right? I get people to do the same thing, when we're looking to understand the emotional hunger, you know, write down the whole experience, from the time that you first start thinking about going and getting whatever it is from the cupboard from the store what's happening before? How do you feel during? How would you rate the intensity of the emotional hunger?
After like, did it actually change it? Did it solve it? And oftentimes, it is habit. It's just like, well, it's what I do. It's what I've always done, it's what I know. And and that's what our brain loves to do is to access the things that knows work, right. And we just have to kind of show it that maybe it's not quite working the way that we think it is, or the way that we expect it to, but we just have this habit of responding in the same way to the same feeling. And the curiosity is such a great, great way to kind of just ease into the idea of change.
Emma Gilmour 27:20
Yeah, absolutely. And some, you know, some people that that's enough, you know, that that really does change their relationship with our political right. Okay. And, and then for others of us, we might need a bit more. But
Jenn Salib Huber 27:32
yeah. So Emma, this has been amazing. Thank you so much. Now, I would I know that people are going to be really interested in learning more about kind of how you work with people. So how, how do you how do you help people? How can people learn from you?
Emma Gilmour 27:49
Yes, so I work, I do some one to one coaching. But mainly I do group work. And I have my 30 Day LZ alcohol experiment, which I run three times a year, which is live group coaching. So we do 30 days, or an hour, up to an hour of coaching every day, which is great for people in that that I know, right? It's a really, really cool program for that because people come in and we do a little bit of learning how to be with and learning how to identify with safely in a lovely safe group environment, what's going on inside our body.
So a little bit of interoceptive awareness, a little bit of identifying our feelings, and then we do some education as well. But mainly, it's like changing those beliefs that we have around alcohol by giving new information. And then because of the new information, we feel slightly differently about the thing once we've learned something new about it, and then we get to the do part. So it's it's group work and one to one work. And then I have some kind of evergreen programs as well which are, you know, self paced and you can do do at your own leisure. That's really my offering.
Jenn Salib Huber 29:02
And we'll have all those links in the show notes. So as I always ask, What do you think is the missing ingredient in midlife?
The Missing Ingredient in Midlife According to Emma
Emma Gilmour 29:12
Beautiful question. That was my grounding. I think the missing ingredient in midlife is self acceptance.
Jenn Salib Huber 29:26
Yes. Oh my goodness. Yes. Just accepting who you are, where you are and and why. Yeah, without the need to feel like you need to change or, Oh, I love that. I love that
Emma Gilmour 29:39
thing just showing up as you are and knowing that you you love other people because they show up as they are so why wouldn't you? You know, at least be open to the idea of you showing up as you are.
Jenn Salib Huber 29:52
Yes, some a nice dose of self compassion in there too. Thank you so much, Emma, and I know that this is going to be really helpful and I appreciate you sharing your your wisdom and your grace with us today.
Emma Gilmour 30:08
Thank you and I appreciate you, Jen. Because you've been it was a, you've been a wonderful coach to me and I really loved working with you. So thank you.
Jenn Salib Huber 30:16
Thanks, Emma. Thanks for tuning in to this week's episode of the midlife deal. For more non diet health hormone and general midlife support. Click the link in the show notes to learn how you can work and learn from me. And if you enjoyed this episode and found it helpful, please consider leaving a review or subscribing because it helps other women just like you find us and feel supported in midlife.
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