05 Jul

Get Rid of Junk Emotions

By Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D. and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.

We women know all about calories. Think of how you examine the packaging of a product for its nutritional content. How many calories? Is it high fat or low fat? Some products may look good, but it turns out they’re not good for you.

But what about your emotions? There are junk emotions, just like junk food. Junk emotions don’t bring out your best. What would happen if you started to consider your emotions from the perspective that they are ingredients that you feed yourself? In our book, Psychological Nutrition, we did just that.

We look at relationships as products. Some are nutritious, others are not. Just as with junk food, a diet of junk emotions (anger, resentment, worry) leads to psychological malnourishment.

Because we don’t look at our emotions in this way, we unthinkingly consume a diet so high in negative emotions (high fat), that there’s no room left for positive emotions (low fat). We see this in women who are juggling work and family. They are sandwiched between childcare, eldercare, and family and professional obligations; pretty soon they’re running on empty because they’re in psychological starvation.

Here are some key concepts:

HIGH-FAT EMOTIONS are negative and energy draining; they suck the fun and creativity out of your life and are bad for you.

  • High fat emotions create and maintain a cycle of pessimism and low-energy. They are fatiguing and close the door to creativity and joy.
  • They require no discipline; are knee-jerk emotional reactions; are a long-term habit.
  • Some examples: guilt, resentment, anger, envy, jealousy, pessimism, feeling less-than, fear, doubt and second guessing yourself, pessimism, frustration


LOW-FAT EMOTIONS are positive and increase your energy. Low-fat emotions should dominate your psychological intake.

  • Low fat (or positive) emotions energize you. They open up your world, both in terms of your inner self and the doors to opportunity.
  • However, they require practice and discipline.
  • You have to be mindful of the emotions you are consuming; you have to deliberately restrict your diet of high fat emotions.
  • Some examples: excitement, optimism, calmness, contentment, joy, focused attention, clear thinking, laser-like concentration.

So what do you do?

Just like food products have labels that describe their nutritional content, there should be “psychological nutritional labels” for reactions, relationships, and situations. In this way, you will know (or at least have a good idea) whether a situation has a “high fat” or “low fat” content before you enter it.

7-day Snapshot:

In order to be mindful of your high and low fat emotional intake, you will have to undertake an assessment process in the form of diary. Many of us hear the word “diary,” and we groan, “Oh my God, another obligation!” Let’s face it, we’re all busy. But, we’re also interested in becoming and staying healthy.

Psychological Nutrition simplifies this to a 7-Day Snapshot.

We test-drove it on ourselves just to make sure it really was doable. And it is.

  • The 7- Day Snapshot means taking one period of 7 days, and for each day recording your emotional reactions, the triggers, and the values (positive or negative). We tell you exactly how to do this.
  • This snapshot gives you a clear picture of your emotional nutritional content and whether you are psychologically nourished or malnourished.
  • That is, how many “high fat” or “low fat” emotions do you experience in a day?
  • The 7-day snapshot can also help you construct a psychological nutritional label. Are there people or situations that should have warning labels?


The Pay off:

Even though we are psychologists and intellectually appreciate the impact of negative emotions on our own psychological well-being, we were both astonished by our first 7-Day snapshot. It revealed that we would wake up tired, hurried, looking toward what was next on the agenda, and not really aware of what we were experiencing. We were living on a diet of high-fat emotions—mainly driven by the work ethic. So, our psychological nutrition was poor.

We are much more mindful now. We literally construct psychological nutritional labels, where some have clear warnings.


If it is dangerous to your psychological health, don’t do it.

  • Even if it means someone won’t like you.
  • Even if it means that person has the label of “family member” and you feel obligated to do it.
  • Even if it means by saying “no” you will be perceived as not accommodating.

Time is a finite quantity and none of us know how much of it we have. Start each day in making life as fulfilled and joyful as it can be, and build on that.

Dr. Shoba Sreenivasan earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from UCLA in 1986 and completed a post-doctoral forensic fellowship at USC. She is a Clinical Professor at Keck School of Medicine of USC, works as a VA psychologist, and has a private forensic psychology practice. She’s co-authored Totally American, a motivational book, and authored the Mattie Spyglass series. She has also written numerous scholarly publications and book chapters in the fields of forensic psychology, violence risk assessment, and Veterans’ issues.

Dr. Linda E. Weinberger earned a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Houston in 1979 and subsequently completed a postdoctoral forensic fellowship at USC. She has been the Chief Psychologist at the USC Institute of Psychiatry, Law, and Behavioral Sciences, and Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Keck School of Medicine of USC for over three and a half decades. She is the author of numerous book chapters and scholarly publications in the fields of forensic psychology, suicide risk, and violence risk assessment.

Learn more about authors on www.psychologicalnutrition.com.

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