The Truth About Your Emotional Eating: It Isn't A Bad Thing
Does your mood influence your food choices? Do you reach for certain foods when you feel sad, anxious, or angry? What about when you’re happy, excited, or relieved?
You’ve seen the headlines:
How to Stop Emotional Eating
How to Overcome Emotional Eating
How to Gain Control of Emotional Eating
Diet culture teaches you that emotional eating is bad.
Emotional eating has a bad reputation. It’s seen as something negative that you need to overcome to have a “healthy” relationship with food.
But why would you want to eat without emotion?! In case no one has told you this, “eating your feelings” is common…and totally normal.
I’m proud to be an emotional eater. After all, I’m an emotional being (#allthefeels).
What’s the big deal if you want to cry into a bowl of mashed potatoes and watch This is Us? Or celebrate a friend’s promotion with all-you-can-eat-sushi?
Through food, you create strong bonds and memories. Food is probably a part of your cultural practices, social activities, and family gatherings.
Certain foods likely remind you of home, growing up, and the people you love. It can have negative associations too. There’s no denying that eating is an emotional experience. What’s wrong with this?
There are biological reasons for eating.
Emotional eating is often described as eating to meet emotional needs. Rather than to meet physical hunger.
But the food-mood connection is more complex than that. You’re biologically wired to find pleasure in food!
Food is meant to be soothing, so that you keep eating and stay alive. It’s useful for our species!
You’re not hurting anyone with emotional eating.
Our cultural obsession with thinness has villainized eating as self-soothing.
Despite the stigma around emotional eating, and the message that your desires around food are “wrong” and to be feared, feeling sad and eating a box of cereal isn’t going to hurt anyone. Or even you. Okay?
Emotional eating isn’t the problem you think it is.
The occasional emotional eating for comfort isn’t a bad thing. You might turn to food if you’re feeling disconnected, lonely, or overwhelmed.
If you do this as a dieter steeped in the diet culture mentality (consciously or unconsciously), the shame spiral starts.
You likely start to hear that voice telling you to get a grip. That you’re disgusting. That you need more self-control. To get back on your meal plan. Yeah?
It doesn’t have to be this way.
What can your emotional eating teach you?
Approach your emotional eating with curiosity, not judgment.
Instead of jumping to “OMG! I’m an emotional eater. I need to do something about this! I need to fix myself!”
Try, “Huh, I wonder where this is coming from? Well, now that I think about it, this is what’s going on in my life right now.”
What if you look at emotional eating as something to understand. Instead of something to overcome?
A coping mechanism is a strategy that you use to deal with and process your emotions.
Food is one way to find relief and comfort. There are other coping mechanisms too. I’m sure you can think of some: journaling, meditating, exercising, listening to music, watching TV, or venting to a friend.
There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. The coping mechanism you choose will vary depending on the situation, the resources available to you at the time, and the emotions you’re feeling.
But remember: avoiding or restricting food isn’t the answer. No amount of willpower or self-control will ever fix the problem.
The next time that you have a bad day. Or a case of the Sunday scaries. Remember that you can eat those chips. Or watch Netflix. Or call a friend. Or all three. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Do whatever makes you feel good!
When you do decide to eat the ice cream. Don’t punish yourself. Embrace it. This might ease some of the guilt and shame.
Beating yourself up is the real harm, not the food you eat.
How intuitive eating can help.
It’s up to you to decide whether turning to food to cope is problematic.
If you decide that you’d like to address it. Then that’s something you can do with a non-diet, intuitive eating approach.
I get it. When eating is your only to deal with painful, complicated, or overwhelming emotions. It might stop feeling comforting, and start feeling chaotic.
Reconnecting with and learning to trust your body can help you feel calmer around food. Then you’ll be able to look at your emotional eating triggers, if they exist. Click here to book your free Discovery Session and learn more.
Does reading this give you a new perspective on emotional eating?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Meet Ellen Kaross (she/her), the Non-Diet Nutritionist and Intuitive Eating Coach behind The Good Yolk.
Ellen helps women-identifying folks uncover what their emotional eating can teach them, and find joy and balance in their relationship with food.
Her passion for advocacy informs her compassionate, non-judgmental approach.