Making Peace With Food, Part III: “Emotional Eating”

Comfort.

Love.

Joy.

Food can (and often does) provide us with all of these emotions.  And although many health professionals will beg to differ, I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with this.  I certainly find joy in eating that first ice cream cone of the season.  I find love in my mom’s homemade bread.  I find comfort in a cup of hot chocolate during a blizzard.

However, on the opposite spectrum, I believe there is a fine line between connecting our emotions to food (and allowing this because it really is normal) and consistently turning to food for all of our emotions.

“I’ve had the WORST day.  I’m going to eat an extra cookie.”

“I’ve had such a lovely day!  I’m going to treat myself to a latte.”

“I’m bored.  What can I eat?”

Emotions are very real and wouldn’t it be a shame if we buried them so deep with food that we forgot why we were emotional in the first place?  Although this might feel right (i.e., easier!) at the time, it’s important–ahem…crucial!–that we be brave enough to face the emotions head on.   If we’re bored, there’s a reason and food will not solve it long term.  If we’re sad, there’s a reason and food will only be a band-aid.  If we’re angry, there’s a reason and we need to find an outlet.

Food can not, will not solve our issues.  It will not quelle our emotions over the long term.  Food will only pacify.

If you’ve ever used food for dealing with any emotion, it’s important to remember that food has been the “go-to kid” for a long, long time.  It’s not going to be easy to not turn to food when this been what has always worked for you in the past.

But in order to take a bigger step towards making peace with food, keep these tips in mind…

(1) Decide that you will not turn to food first, when feeling happy/sad/tired/angry/etc.  Ask yourself why you’re feeling this way in the first place.  Is there anything that can be done about the situation/your mood right now?

(2) Make a list of the emotions that tend to send you snacking and then brainstorm for some coping ideas.  If you’re bored, find an activity you love or plan a fun get-away for the end of the month or do something you’ve never done before. If you’re feeling frustrated, go for a speed walk which will take off some steam.  Only you know what will truly work for your different emotions.  Create a list so that you’ll have a plan of attack!

(3) Eat well.  Never deprive yourself of food for more than 3-4 hrs and always include plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and protein throughout the day.  Don’t swear off your favorite foods.  All of these things will better control your blood sugars which can help prevent feeling like you emotionally need something satisfying at the end of the day.

(4) Exercise.  I have had countless moments of frustration or pent up anxiety (college classes will do this to a person!), only to turn to food to help me out.  However, when I realized that going for a 20 minute walk and talking things out with a friend relieved my anxiety (instead of covering it like food had done,) I discovered a wonderful solution.  Find a friend, get some fresh air, and realize that food is not the solution that will solve your problem!

QUESTION: What are your thoughts on emotional eating?  Do you think it’s okay to feed emotions with food once in a while or do you think it’s always better to find an alternative solution?  Share your ideas and opinions!

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7 thoughts on “Making Peace With Food, Part III: “Emotional Eating”

  1. Anxiety and sadness I tend to shuts down. I actually have to force myself to eat and remember I need it for energy. (This is not very often sickness, death, major life changing exp.) I do see a pattern that when I’m excited or really happy I want to eat ice cream, pizza, etc. Things I try to avoid normally..
    Most people talk about eating to stuff feelings. Why would happiness make me want to veer off track and eat bad?

    • The answer could be different for everyone, but I do know that some people crave those kinds of foods when they’re happy because this is what always happened in the past…especially as a kid (example, “You got such a great grade on your report card…let’s celebrate with ice cream!”)

      Food can definitely be thought of as a “treat” or as a “reward,” which can make us want things like ice cream, pizza, etc. when we’re feeling happy.

      You’ve shared some really interesting thoughts, and I’m glad you brought them up, Jackie!

  2. I think emotional eating is such a problem for so many people. I know that I eat out of boredom and struggle with this at times. Thanks for a great post!

  3. Another thoughtful post! I agree that emotional eating is acceptable on occasion. I mean, it’s so ingrained in our culture to celebrate with food that it would be difficult to avoid it all the time without being lonely. However, using food to fill an emotional void or just to fill the time is setting yourself up for bad habits.

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