Toxic positivity, or stifling negative emotions for the sake of “good vibes only”, does more harm than good. We show you how to use negative emotions for what they are: signals pointing to your needs and wants. 

In this episode, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Dalina Soto and Melissa Landry interview Mimi Cole, therapist-in-training, to talk about how to express negative emotions productively, especially if you are an emotional eater during times of anxiety, stress, and, boredom.

We discuss:

  • what is “toxic positivity”? how does a the “good vibes only” attitude get in the way of us coping with emotions?
  • whats the difference between feeling anxious and an anxiety disorder? how does anxiety impact the way we eat?
  • as intuitive eaters we are trying to listen to our bodies to decide what, when, and how much to eat without external. what do you do when stress and anxiety impact appetite and cravings? can you really trust your body when you are an “emotional person”? 

Episode Resources:

This episode was sponsored by No More Guilt with Melissa Landry. Reminder that though we are dietitians, but we’re not *YOUR* dietitian. Podcasts don’t constitute treatment. If you have concerns about your dieting behaviors, seek out guidance from a medical or mental health professional. And if you’re looking for the process, support, and focus you need to live life without food guilt apply for a coaching program from today’s sponsor.

No More Guilt with Melissa Landry is currently enrolling clients into 1:1 programs, group programs, and, recently added a do-it-yourself learning format: the ex-dieter’s guide to No More Guilt. 

How Toxic Positivity Does More Harm Than Good: Episode Transcript

Dalina Soto 0:01
Hola hola Chulas!

Melissa Landry 0:03
Hi there. We’re back today with Mimi Cole of the lovely becoming. And we are here to talk about something deleted. And I certainly experience which is feeling the feelings. But we don’t often talk about here on the pod as it relates to the intuitive eating journey. And so today we’re gonna dive in on how emotions intersect. And specifically, why don’t we let ourselves feel sad. I’m excited to introduce Mimi, welcome to the pod.

Mimi Cole 0:32
Thank you, I’m so excited to be here.

Melissa Landry 0:36
Tell us a little bit about you and your background. So the listeners understand a bit about your page and what you are offering to this anti diet community we’re in.

Mimi Cole 0:45
Yeah, I was really lucky. One of my first therapist was an intuitive eating haze approach minded person. And she taught me all about disordered eating and eating disorders, intuitive eating all that. So I’m really grateful for, um, I am currently pursuing my master’s degree to become a therapist. And I’m almost halfway through. So I’m very excited. And then I also worked in a residential eating disorder treatment center for a couple months, and gained a lot of experience working one on one kind of with clients and in group settings. So that was great.

Melissa Landry 1:19
You have such a gift in your community for getting this message out in bite size, encouraging supportive ways. So I was eager to ask you on and have this conversation with someone like you who has a good sense of how to approach this. So I’m so glad you’re here. Mimi.

Dalina Soto 1:33
Yes. I’m so excited that you’re here. I don’t think I knew that. You I don’t think I’ve read that anywhere about you. That is so cool that you had that experience. Like with a therapist early on. Gosh, can you imagine, Melissa just how different our lives would be.

If we all had that experience,

Melissa Landry 1:54
you know, I’m gonna spend the first like half of my career being more effective and helpful than I was, had I been open to this approach earlier than than I was exposed to it. Yeah. And I think our personal experiences are really important to the work we bring as coaches, counselors and therapists. And we talk a lot in the past about how like finding someone who can kind of identify with your lived experience is so important. So that shows up a lot in your writing and your posts on Instagram. You me.

Mimi Cole 2:24
Thank you. I’m so grateful.

Melissa Landry 2:27
yeah, well, let’s dive in here. Today, we have a meaty subject. So everyone listening, roll your sleeves up, get comfortable, it’s about to get started. The first thing I want to talk about is toxic positivity. This is something that I keep seeing out in the world, basically, that response of just being like, it’s fine. It’s okay, whenever negative emotions can pop up. And this can sometimes serve to cause problems for people as they’re in their own emotional coping journeys or intuitive eating journeys. So I’m curious for you, what is your take on this good vibes only attitude that sometimes we can get into?

Mimi Cole 3:07
Yeah, I think it can be really toxic, like the name implies toxic positivity. Because it really serves to minimize our emotions and our experiences. And I think that goal of that kind of phrase of like, being positive all the time, or good vibes all the time is, you know, well intentioned, but I think it really turns out to be harmful for people because when negative emotions naturally arise as they will, then we’re uncomfortable. And then we don’t face them. And it really relates to eating disorder recovery, too, because when we’re not comfortable with feeling discomfort, then it’s really hard to tolerate distress, tolerate feelings of fullness, to be comfortable with when we’re having an imperfect relationship with food, which is going to be everyone’s experience. And so I learned a lot from a therapist, Whitney Goodman, she’s, I think she’s writing a book about toxic positivity, which is awesome. But she just talks about this idea of like, if we are always kind of suppressing our emotions, then we’re never making space for the full human experience.

Dalina Soto 4:14
That’s so good.

Melissa Landry 4:16
So that that feeling of like not being able to accept distress, like and sometimes we get real natural feelings of distress in our days. These are signals.

Mimi Cole 4:28
Yeah. Yeah, emotions, teach us something and give us information about what’s going on and what we need to address. And, you know, I think things like sadness and grief are such crucial human processes that teach us so much. And it’s so important, like, if we just minimum like Rene brown talks about if we numb the pain, then we numb the joy as well. And I think that’s so true that we have to feel it all. To be able to kind of recognize what’s good and what’s what’s hard. Yeah.

Dalina Soto 5:00
I agree 100% I oftentimes, like just like cringe when I see the posts when I when I see the stories when it’s like, you know what, like, yes, it’s amazing to think positively and obviously we want to put positivity into the world. But dammit, we also have to feel everything else. And like you said, How are we supposed to really enjoy the joyful times? If we are pushing down the negative? Melissa knows I’m a feeler like, you can tell me what? Yeah, like, you can tell what I’m thinking just by looking at my face. Like I can’t keep my emotions in. And when I meet people that are like, shot and like, I’m like, what’s happening? Like, how can we? How can we open these doors? Like, I just can’t understand how people could be so shut down. But of course, I know that there’s a reason why but like, even me with like, feeling all my feelings, I still cringe at the toxic, toxic positivity. Because not not everything is unicorns and rainbows. I say that all the time to my clients like you, you have to see the good and the bad. That’s the yin and the yang. That’s how life is what it is. There’s always good, there’s always bad. And we have to be able to learn to deal with it all.

Melissa Landry 6:25
I always tell clients, there’s like a difference between feeling positive and positive outlook, you can have both, you can have a negative feeling and a positive outlook. And that’s really what intuitive eating I think can offer people right? Like, I feel full or maybe past the point of comfortable full. And I can I can help myself through that I can work through that discomfort, I can empower myself to experiment and learn and grow. And so I think sometimes people are like, just be positive, because they worry that the outlooks gonna go away if we lose the positive feeling. That’s not necessarily true.

Mimi Cole 6:59
Yeah, I think it gives us some sort of sense of control, when we’re able to say, well, it’s positive, it’s good. It’s all right. And then when those bad or like those negative emotions come up, I hate to say bad, then we’re kind of wondering like, what did I do wrong? Like, where’s my sense of control over this, and you tend to feel powerless?

Melissa Landry 7:19
Yeah, this is a really important it is, I think, a core skill of intuitive eating or a food freedom process. It’s something that you can practice in parallel to some of the more explicit skills and intuitive eating, I think the coping with kindness principle, does a nice job touching on this. But for many people, intuitive eating is almost like an entry point that they’ve been bringing what they find into therapy spaces. So there’s this nice intersection between the work.

Mimi Cole 7:47

Melissa Landry 7:49
So our next question is about the difference between feeling anxious, which is a normal, typical emotion on that feelings wheel versus an anxiety disorder. So first, I want to get clear on what might be the difference between like a feeling of anxiousness and a disorder, and then we can talk about how that impacts food.

Mimi Cole 8:09
Yeah, so I like to say like D stands for disorder whenever we’re talking about OCD, or we’re talking about eds. And it’s really important because in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of mental illnesses, that’s what we use to diagnose mental illness. And so there’s different criteria that are set forth for different disorders. Now, this is a very flawed measure. And so it’s not necessarily indicative of people who are undiagnosed, or people who experience symptoms, and maybe just don’t meet criteria. But for anxiety disorders, for example, there’s criteria like, worries most of the time, or it, it really takes over your life, and impairs daily functioning. And so it’s a lot about how much it interrupts your, your functioning level. So feeling anxious is so normal, like before a test or before a seeing a new client or something like that. That’s really a helpful feeling. Honestly, even though it doesn’t always feel good. Having a little bit of anxiety can help us to prepare and to make sure we know what we’re getting ourselves into. And then it disorder is when it becomes kind of pathological. And it starts to work against us

Melissa Landry 9:23
instead of for us. Yeah. It’s so subjective. And I think that’s why the criteria, you know, they certainly are helpful for research studies. They’re helpful for clinicians to do paperwork and all these other things. But there’s a lot of talk, you know, particularly for eating disorders, like there’s a whole bunch of folks that don’t meet criteria that have problematic experiences on and off through their lives without a without a space or a home to explore them. So I love your attention to asterik. This is the definition but

Dalina Soto 9:53
yes, and that definition made me feel better because I think we always say I’m such an anxious person. You know, not that we self diagnose, but we always feel like, or I always feel I know like that maybe I’m way too anxious or that you know, something’s wrong because I’m, you know, feeling jittery or anxious like you say before a call or before something major happens. But I like that you said it helps us because it helps us prepare and and just reframing that thought that it’s like, you’re not bad person, there’s nothing wrong with you for feeling this way, it actually could be a good mechanism to help you, instead of always viewing it as negative, like, we need to see the good with it as well, like it’s helping us prepare. So it can, you know, push you a little bit.

Melissa Landry 10:43
Just like hunger and fullness signals are cueing us something from within, in the body emotional cues do that too. And so, to that end, you know, what anxiety? What might anxiety be signaling to someone like, if you notice anxiety? Do you have some sort of checklist in your mind or things as a therapist, you’re like, Hmm, let’s kind of figure out what that relates to. Yeah, that’s

Mimi Cole 11:04
a good question. We haven’t quite gotten there in my studies. Yeah. Okay.

Melissa Landry 11:10
All right. So go to your primary therapist and go ask that question. Because

Mimi Cole 11:15
what I will say is that anxiety can tell us that there’s something wrong, but it can also be a false alarm danger signal. And so I think what it’s functionally meant for is to tell us like there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, or there’s something wrong. But it can also, I think, be transformed into something that is not dangerous, per se, but maybe something that we need to prepare for, or something that we need to address. And I think like I need to push myself

Dalina Soto 11:43
to get ready for my call.

Melissa Landry 11:48
Right, right. So slowing down is always helpful in the experience of any type of signal we’re not sure of. Right. So I think that that’s, that’s good advice. Just to say something’s up, it’s not worth judging. investigation is a good idea. So let’s talk about how anxious feelings either in the context of a diagnosed disorder or just the passing anxiety that might occur. How does that impact eating? How have you noticed that show up for folks and in for yourself?

Mimi Cole 12:19
Yeah, it can have a big impact on hunger fullness cues. The way that I see anxiety showing up a lot is either not having hunger cues, because you’re so anxious, and your bodily systems are kind of focusing on that stimuli. Or it can be overeating, in terms of binge eating, and kind of being really anxious and wanting to do something to suit those feelings or to make them go away.

Melissa Landry 12:43
Mm hmm. So it manifests different ways. Some people experience both and some people experience restriction in response to the binge behavior, or vice versa. So can be a little bit to unpack, but it would be expected that you have a harder time sensing yourself when anxiety is present.

Mimi Cole 13:03
Absolutely, because it’s like a signal that feels, you know, very persistent. And I think our bodies kind of have so much going on with that anxiety that they don’t have the capacity to focus on things like hunger and fullness, which are so crucial and essential. And I think that’s why sometimes it’s important to eat when we don’t have those cues, because we have to be eating consistently. And maybe sometimes, like time of day can really help with structuring out your meals until you get used to those cues again,

Melissa Landry 13:34
yeah, yeah, that’s a helpful tip to think through. I had this happen earlier where I wasn’t hungry yet. I knew I had a call and you’re like, I want to stop to eat. We all had that moment where like, it’s not here yet. But I feel like if I wait another hour, there’s going to be a hangry situation. So sometimes that practicality has to come in particularly, you’re aware that you have anxiety and anxious feelings consistently.

Dalina Soto 13:59
Yeah. And just to piggyback off of what you said, Melissa, I actually had the same thought this morning. I was like getting ready. I’m like, Oh, I’m not hungry. Let me like what am I gonna do? And I was like, Oh, I have like fajitas from like, last night that I can reheat. But you know what, like, just reheating it in the smells, it actually triggered me starting to realize that like hunger was coming and that I should start preparing to eat. So do you find that there’s, you know, ways that we can be more in touch with our bodies when we’re anxious, maybe like aroma therapy. I know like massaging and like touching. I constantly talk to my clients about like feeling other sensations to kind of like trigger relearning how to feel hunger. Do you find that that is helpful? What do you recommend? Yeah, I

Mimi Cole 14:53
really liked what you said. Sometimes when I smell something that smells really good. It’s like my brain is kind of like alright, like Actually, I kind of am hungry. And so I think finding foods that when you’re not so feeling so hungry, as best you can, finding those foods that you really like that kind of bring it and make it more enticing. Eating, if you don’t have social anxiety kind of with friends can be really helpful to just get out of the house. Of course, being safe with COVID there’s always asterisks on everything that I

Dalina Soto 15:27
can’t do everything perfectly. Even when we’re talking on a podcast, no ons, people nuance, honestly, I

Mimi Cole 15:34
hear it in my head, and I’m like, oh, someone’s gonna say like this thing. But yeah, I think also, grounding techniques, kind of, you know, making yourself aware of that anxiety, and naming it for yourself. And then kind of bring yourself back to the present moment, grounding, deep breathing. And

Melissa Landry 15:55
intuitive eating is an embodied practice, which means it takes place and is is referenced by the body. And so anything you can do to get back into your body, and it doesn’t always have to be these elaborate measures. And I think sometimes clients get really intimidated, like, well, I feel that way in yoga, but Yoga is a 60 minute class, and that just feels so inaccessible. Well, how do you make that bite size? How do you create these little small moments for yourself even a little bit more than before is better than none? When it comes to trying to make that connection?

Mimi Cole 16:28

Melissa Landry 16:30
So we had an audience question come through, I let them know we’d be meeting with you, Mimi, and a theme emerged around stress. slightly different than anxiety, the way I interpreted at least Can Can you talk a little bit about like the difference between stress and anxiety, so we can then talk more about the impacts of it?

Mimi Cole 16:54
Yeah. So stress is kind of that feeling like, it’s almost like anxiety has gone a little bit overboard, and you start to get like, these physiological symptoms, which you can get with anxiety as well. But stress to me is like a heightened, anxious response. That’s not always super helpful. So I think anxiety can be a little more helpful. And stress is a little more like causing inflamed inflammation in the body kind of starting to get to this level where it’s something you feel is a little bit out of control. Now, I’m not a like, professor. And

Melissa Landry 17:31
so that’s my understanding of, well, there’s more of like a physical component that I feel many describe where bodily symptoms start to, like sometimes gi symptoms can start to chronically change for them, or heaviness in the body or noticing procrastination. There’s all these different things that can come to try to protect you. I saw gjelina in your book pile, you got the burnout book. I think a lot of us right now are experiencing burnout. Just in our day to day lives. There’s not a lot of, you know, normal, normal, quote, social interactions face to face, the repetition of our days, the you know, suddenly we have more work because we’re working from home and we feel like we got our productivity and so it can add up over time. Our lifestyles if we don’t have space.

Dalina Soto 18:21
Yeah, I haven’t read it yet. So I will take all of the pointers. You have me me because that is up next.

Melissa Landry 18:27
That’s the first one I’m reading out of the pile. Okay, beautiful. Come back for part two. So, in terms of stress, and how that impacts the way that the body feels. I learned about this in intuitive eating training as a quote, attunement disrupter. So it’s a physical blockage to the body’s ability to sense itself. And that’s making intuitive eating hard for a lot of different folks. I had a client ask or rather an audience member asked how can you silence these attunement disruptors? And my initial thought was like, You can’t? It’s not like the question itself. So anyway, I guess for this for people who know that they’re stressed that know that this is at play and really do want to become intuitive eaters. How can you approach that acknowledging these attunement disruptors are in the room?

Mimi Cole 19:23
Yeah. And I think it comes back to what you said, like we really can’t, we have to show up and be able to engage in new patterns, even when we feel stressed. And even when we feel anxiety. There are things we can do to address stress and to decrease it in our daily lives, like meditation, or mindfulness or kind of slowing down and maybe pushing back our agendas a little bit. But overall stress and anxiety are going to be parts of our lives. And I think instead of trying to say like how can I get rid of it all? We can invite them in and say how can I do hard things with This How can I engage in practices that align with my values even when I’m feeling this way?

Melissa Landry 20:06
That’s so beautiful here, we’re

Dalina Soto 20:07
talking about how scary that is.

Melissa Landry 20:13
to ask.

It is, and I think that’s the beautiful part is like, accepting that like, it’s never gonna, it’s we don’t want to operationalize it right we want to have like a step and an order. Like always, my favorite phrase is I’m going to get my life together or quote, I need to get my life together. I was so guilty of saying this all through my 20s like, I had them a master plan of getting my life together, and it would never come true. And I would constantly waiting to take care of myself until that moment arrived, and it never fn came. So that really hit me like a ton of bricks, me me like, you got to do it anyway. Stress is always gonna be there.

Dalina Soto 20:50
You can’t wait. You can’t wait, the more you wait, the less you do.

Mimi Cole 20:53
Yeah. Yeah. And then later, it becomes longer.

Melissa Landry 20:57
Yeah, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. This is a practice of, you know, day in and day out repetition. And each day, it gets a little bit easier, a little bit more automatic. And so letting it start in an imperfect way is such great advice. Yes, you get some experience for your brain to tack on to.

Dalina Soto 21:16
Yeah, and I think it’s also important to remember like curveballs are always going to be thrown at us. Like we did not expect COVID like we started this, we start this podcast right when COVID started, we’re like, yeah, like if you’re listening to this, probably in the future.

Melissa Landry 21:32
Yeah, we’re like, we will be experiencing this. By the time this episode aired out. What a bunch of jerks we were back then. Sorry, guys. completely unaware. And I think that that level of uncertainty, that people are feeling like, oh, we’re going to go back in January. Oh, just kidding. It’s March. Oh, just kidding. It’s, that’s a lot for the human brain to have to consistently recalibrate. You know, if you’re making these choices to disrupt your life, and there’s a lot of control, it’s less difficult, but you’re not we are not. So that is going on. I’d invite everyone to think about what space they’re making for that repetitious change. It wasn’t there before. How are you all coping with it? Like, how do you make space for all the changes that have been happening? Are you thinking?

Dalina Soto 22:24
Well, let me discuss this one because you know, my mahatmas peredo.

Mimi Cole 22:30
I mean, I try not to think about an end in and line a finish line. Because that makes me anticipate it and then get disappointed just being disappointed. I think there’s like room for anticipating things, which is great, because you want to have expectations and you don’t want to say like, Oh, I don’t want to have any expectations. So I’ve never failed, you know, because that’s just not how life works. And, but I think I’ve been coping with this whole pandemic, with Herbie, I love therapy big fan. Although I will say it’s, it’s very uncomfortable sometimes. I always love it. And then I get to therapy. And I’m like, Oh, this is hard. Like, I don’t know why I’m always so excited. But I’m grow a lot and yeah, I forgot the question. But

Melissa Landry 23:19
just making space for for the therapy is really nice. And like you say, the values that you have bring you there, even when it’s hard, you still go. That’s such a nice role model. I think there’s so many things in our lives that are just like not immediately rewarding. And when we need the immediate rewards the most. That’s when it’s hard to choose this other stuff, right? Like it would feel really great to like not go to therapy and ignore in the moment, but maybe not long term for what you want in your life.

Dalina Soto 23:50
Yeah, I think it’s tough because we live in a society that’s so used to instant rewarding I remember I don’t remember where I heard this but someone was like when your kids asked you for something because they’re so used to like things always being there. Have them count to 10 have them like wait for you to give them something so that it’s not this instant reward. So I often times I’m like counting the number 10 as I’m like trying to get things done because that way they learn

Melissa Landry 24:21
something Okay, wait, did you guys rehearse that before Bryson you are quite making quite the cameo today.

Literally here let’s pray for this practice to 10 Now that was wow could not have planned that. I think I want to adopt that. Can I borrow that?

Unknown Speaker 24:44
Yes, please do. I

Dalina Soto 24:45
don’t remember where I heard it. But it’s it’s literally like teaching them to be patient teaching them to wait because they’re so used to clicking on an iPad. They’re so used to like turning on something and being right away.

Melissa Landry 24:57
Yeah. And really want to create service. anti like it’s tempting to just react right? When you feel anxious or that you want to react. So that count of 10 is a really nice technique to just make a little space.

Mimi Cole 25:10
I love it. Yes, I think I have to try that on myself. All right.

Melissa Landry 25:14
This was a productive discussion. You know, we got some tips for ourselves too. And I want to share that to anyone listening, you know, anybody you see who is teaching you and supporting you, through your journey in life is also on a journey themselves, I really value being able to be on Instagram and connect with everyone and share. Like, we’re figuring things out, too. You know, we’re trained and we’re learning and you know, there’s a different lens we bring to things, but it’s okay to be in the middle. It’s okay to be figuring things out. It’s, it’s where we all are.

Mimi Cole 25:49

Melissa Landry 25:51
Any other thoughts on this discussion on why we aren’t letting ourselves to feel sad? How to really cope? What would you say as a takeaway for our audience today, to really act or reflect on what we’ve discussed? Yeah,

Mimi Cole 26:06
one thing I’m really curious about is whether we learn that negative emotions feel bad. And that’s something we’re taught or whether they’re signals and they’re meant to feel kind of uncomfortable. Because they’re showing us there’s something that we need to address. Okay. And I wonder if we’re taught from a young age, that those emotions are okay, and welcome. If it becomes easier, but I know our generation, I don’t think we’ve caught up to speed at teaching it from a young age yet. I think a lot of us just learn it when we’re older over time. And it’s hard. It’s really hard. And I’ve no fault of our parents. They didn’t know as well. But I think just having a lot of welcoming and inviting into our lives of things that maybe we aren’t so happy go lucky.

Melissa Landry 26:57

that’s great advice.

Dalina Soto 26:59
I love it. And I think that kind of like what you were saying, just to wrap it up, I think as a parent, I will say that, I think that while we learn, we start teaching it to our children. And and for me, my parenting style has evolved even in the six years that I’ve been a parent, right, like, I’m learning as I go. But I’m also learning that I have to let my kids show their emotions. And I hope that they can grow up to be adults that aren’t afraid of feeling the emotions, but I think that we have a generation that’s that’s catching up. And I have hope.

Melissa Landry 27:34
That positive outlook, we ain’t losing it as we feel negative. Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely a nice, graceful, compassionate attitude to say, like, just do the best you can. When you learn new things. adapt it, try it out, see if it makes it better. Well, maybe where can our listeners find your page? Tell us a little bit about what you’re up to and how we can support your beautiful work.

Mimi Cole 28:01
Oh, yeah, thank you. Um, so you can find me on Instagram at the lovely becoming. Um, you can find me on my new website, www dot Mimi dash And then if you message me, I just started a course for clinicians on OCD in orthorexia.

Melissa Landry 28:20
Amazing. That sounds super interesting and helpful, especially as we learn more and more about the prevalence of orthorexia right now. Yes, amazing. mee mee thank you for being on the pod. We will see you on Insta and I appreciate so much your insights today.

Mimi Cole 28:36
Thank you. All right. Bye.