The first thing to understand about emotional eating is that food is inherently emotional.
When you go to a birthday party, there’s cake, everyone’s celebrating – it’s part of the fun. When you’re hanging out with friends, you’ll go out to a restaurant. When you’re sad, maybe your mom or your grandma made you something comforting and delicious.
From a very young age, many of us associate emotions with food. It’s not necessarily in a bad way, because food is supposed to bring joy to your life and it’s okay if food brings comfort to your life.
Emotional eating might be the only way you know how to cope or have been taught how to cope. Maybe this is the coping mechanism that you default to.
Emotional eating also has benefits that you need to recognize. Sometimes it’s comforting and can be fun or joyful. And perhaps there have been times where emotional eating has gotten you through tough periods in your life. Sometimes it’s okay to enjoy food, just for the pure pleasure of enjoying it or to wind down from a long day.
But, if it’s happening often and it feels out of control, it’s something you likely want to address.
I’m going to give you a few steps that you can start practicing to help you manage emotional eating.
Step 1: Identify if it is emotional eating!
If you don’t know that you’re eating emotionally, then you don’t even know where to begin to start resolving this. First, you need to understand that eating in response to intense hunger, in a way where you start inhaling all the things and you feel out of control, might feel emotional. But that’s often just a normal response to being hungry and a sign that your body is not getting enough to eat.
So, assess if you’re actually honoring your hunger in time because that may contribute to what can feel like emotional eating.
Remember: if it’s just physical deprivation then you need to practice honoring hunger and honoring your hunger cues in time.
Step 2: Think about how you are feeling
If you identify that your eating is in fact from an emotional place and it’s not because you are physically hungry, you can step back and ask yourself these questions:
- What am I feeling? What’s going on?
- Am I stressed? Am I tired? Am I sad?
- Did I have a long day? Did I give myself time to relax?
This can be a little bit more challenging than you think to figure out so give yourself the time. You need to work through it! The very fact that you recognize that there are unresolved feelings going on is already a win
Decide if this is emotional eating that you want to embrace and you are okay with, or if it’s not feeling good and something you want to stop doing because it’s not actually solving anything and making you feel worse.
Remember: it takes time to recreate the way that you think about feelings, your food and your habits.
Step 3: Think about how you can manage your emotions
Once you recognize that you are emotionally eating and identify how you are feeling, think about what you can do to address the FEELING. It doesn’t have to be about eradicating feelings, but just managing them.
If you eat chocolate because you’re feeling anxious, the chocolate might not even taste good at the moment. Think about what can help you with your anxiety, now or when you’re feeling anxious next time.
You can prepare yourself for when the feeling comes up to call a friend or listen to music or get a fresh breath of air. Recognize what it is you really need that will help you cope with these emotions if it isn’t food, so you can go and seek it next time.
Remember: It doesn’t need to be resolved instantly. We’re not robots!
Step 4: Make time for yourself!
If your schedule is so over packed, that’s stressful!
If you have zero time to even think about what you’re eating and end up using emotional eating to cope, you have to reassess your schedule. You can recognize that you are busy, but also recognize where you are on the list. How important are you? What can you do to make time for yourself? Even 10 minute breaks at some point throughout the day to just breathe or to do something for you can make a difference.
If there is no way you can change your busy schedule, don’t be scared to ask for help. If you need help, that’s okay!
Remember: If you’re unwilling to meet the needs that you have, the emotional eating will likely be much more challenging to overcome which is why this step is so important
Emotional eating is such a big topic and really does take time to address and expand your coping mechanisms. Especially if you’ve restricted or dieted for so long.
Food is even more emotionally charged when we attach it to so many other food rules or body image struggles
So it does take time to undo and work through. But know that you’re not a bad person for eating emotionally and it doesn’t make you weak! It just means you’re a human being.
You might just need to expand your toolbox and learn other ways to cope. Knowing that while food can be helpful in managing your emotions, there are also other ways to manage emotions that can benefit your life and your health!