There's no need to feel guilty for emotional eating, and here are a few reasons why. Plus how you can effectively cope with your emotions with or without food.
About Emotional Eating
Emotional eating is eating when you feel a strong emotion, as opposed to eating when you are physically hungry.
When you feel emotional hunger, you are reaching for food in reaction to your feelings.
With physical hunger, you have bodily sensations of hunger like a growling stomach, headache, or lack of energy.
Oftentimes, it happens when you are trying to soothe a perceived negative emotion like boredom or sadness. It can also happen in positive times, like celebrations.
Emotional hunger when you are feeling negative emotions is typically your body warning you that you have an unmet need.
Having strong cravings or eating in the absence of hunger does not mean you are doing something wrong. It is simply a cue that you have emotions to tend to.
Why Emotional Eating Isn't Bad
Despite what diet culture would have you believe, emotional eating is not a villain.
Yet, many people find emotional hunger distressing because they fear that they are eating in excess of what their body wants and that this could cause weight gain.
However, emotional eating is normal, and it’s ok to eat when you feel emotional, stressed, etc. Demonizing eating when emotional will only make you feel worse.
Why? Because if you emotionally eat while simultaneously feeling guilty, you will likely not benefit from the comfort of the food. Plus, you could feel shame after the experience. Not ideal!
Instead of beating yourself up for emotional or stress eating, try something more productive like coping with your emotions with kindness.
IMPORTANT: I’m not saying eating should be the only way you deal with emotions or that you should eat in the absence of hunger all day long. Not at all.
✨The point is that eating can be an effective tool for coping and one option in your toolbox full of coping mechanisms.✨
Emotional eating can simply be one way to help you cope. And we can allow ourselves to enjoy the comfort of food as well as explore other coping mechanisms.
You want to have coping mechanisms, in addition to food, to use when you are feeling strong emotions. Having options will help you effectively cope because you can select the most helpful tool depending on what you are feeling.
How to Stop Emotional and Stress Eating
Honestly, I don't think we can ever stop eating emotionally. Eating is inherently emotional.
Food is not just fuel. It nourishes our bodies, but it also brings us joy, feeds our souls, connects us with loved ones and with our culture, and more.
But if you feel distraught because of your emotional eating, you can reframe your thoughts around emotional eating: Remember that emotional eating is normal and it isn't bad. Plus, you can cope with emotions using kindness.
Emotional Eating is Normal
Normalizing emotional eating can help you feel less guilt and shame when you do turn to food to relieve unpleasant emotions.
Because sometimes, the best way to meet your need is through food. For example, you miss your grandmother. Making a favorite recipe of hers could bring you together even if you cannot be together in real life.
Maybe when you were little, a parent gave you soup & crackers to help you feel better. Having it now can help you feel soothed just like when you were a child.
What's a better option to emotional eating?
Give yourself permission to enjoy food as comfort but know that it is not your ONLY comfort.
Things to consider:
- What are some things you can do to help cope with your emotions?
- What needs do you have that aren’t being met?
- How can you meet those needs in a way that serves you best?
List multiple ideas to turn to when you need them — because when you’re in the middle of feeling a strong emotion, it can be hard to think of ways to help feel relief at the moment.
Remember that there are no right or wrong answers. If you choose one and it doesn't help, try another and remember that you can learn from each experience.
- take 3 deep breaths
- talk to a therapist
- text a friend
- search Pinterest or cookbooks for recipes you want to try
- go outside
- play cards
- listen to music
What if I feel guilty for eating emotionally?
Don't forget that these feelings & emotions will not last forever.
Of course, things feel challenging right now which is why you are working to figure out the most helpful coping mechanism you have available (and right now, that might be eating for you).
However, you will not feel this way forever. It will pass. The desire to eat emotionally will come and go.
Most importantly, continue to feed yourself. Listen out for hunger cues. Notice how your body feels when you eat emotionally.
Is there a different coping mechanism (that you have available) that could also ease your emotions effectively? Can you remember these things for the future?
In the end, remember that it is ok if you eat emotionally. Having ideas for coping skills can help you cope with your emotions with kindness, whether that is with or without food.
For more on emotional eating and healing your relationship to food & your body, check out my book: The Intuitive Eating Guide to Recovery: Let Go of Toxic Diet Culture, Reconnect with Food, and Build Self-Love!
And get on the waitlist for my signature course to help you heal your relationship with food and your body.
MORE INTUITIVE EATING POSTS:
- Self-Compassion in Eating
- What to Do When Your Body Changes
- How Solo Travel Can Help You Be a More Mindful and Intuitive Eater
- Feeling Fat is Contagious
- Food Only Has Power if You Let It
(Post was originally posted on November 5, 2020)
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