Updated: Dec 17, 2021
Emotional Eating is something we all experience and use as a tool to cope with difficult feelings. The problem comes when it's the ONLY way we deal.
This is increasingly become more of a concern I am seeing- and it makes total sense. Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic, physically distancing ourselves from friends and family- we are also missing out on traditional celebrations this time of year, and the loneliness will be amplified this holiday season.
The purpose of this post is to help connect the dots between our feelings, and our coping habits, and provide a few methods to heal for those who are ready to pursue it.
Also note: Loneliness during the holiday season is not just experienced during the pandemic, but this may be nothing new for those who may not live close to family, or who are empty nesters.
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional Eating is when people use food as a way to deal with their feelings, instead of to satisfy hunger. It may be used as a way to "numb" or avoid processing difficult emotions.
3 Methods to Health From Emotional Eating
1. Practice Self-care, nurturance & compassion. If self-care is lacking, it is harder to be attuned to your needs and accurately recognize cues of hunger and fullness. This can cause food to become more rewarding. Recognizing that you have emotional needs AND that you have the right to have them met- is the first step to heal from emotional eating.
Self-Care Suggestions: Get enough sleep, experience sensual pleasure, listen to some soothing music, take a walk in nature, enjoy a bubble bath, or buy yourself a gift.
2.Learn to sit with your feelings. Start by asking 2 questions: What am I feeling right now? and What do I need, now?
Some people cope with uncomfortable feelings and unmet needs by eating, binging, or even food restriction. Often times, they are not even aware! These 2 simple questions lead the way to awareness and ultimately, meaningful change. Example: "What am I feeling right now?" If it's loneliness, then ask, "What is it I really need at this moment?" This could be connection or support, distraction. Then ask: "How can I fulfill this need without turning to food?" This might look like calling up a friend or setting up a special zoom call with distant family.
3.Helpful Distraction. Sometimes it is not safe for your to sit with your feelings, especially if you are experiencing difficult feelings alone. So thinking of nondestructive activities may be a helpful alternative to sitting with our feelings and give us a little satisfaction, joy, laughter or a way to rest.
Some helpful distraction activities include: watching a funny movie, putting on some music and dancing, working on a puzzle, reading, or playing a game on the computer.
Using food when you are not actually hungry is not a crime. Eating, in general IS EMOTIONAL. Think about it- food is used to celebrate special occasions, and comfort us in times of grief. We associate certain dishes with holidays and memories are EASILY triggered when we smell food from our childhood. As children, we were also often given treats or food as a way to sooth us when we were upset or hurt. Eating and Food are emotional. It may even surprise you to know that food can be an effective as a way of coping with emotions, and for some, the safest way. It’s readily available for many people, soothing, doesn’t cause impairment, is legal, and can be shared with others.
What to pay attention to, is if it the ONLY way yo are coping with emotions- positive or negative. In addition, when we are emotionally eating, we may not be attuned to our bodies needs. For example, if there is no cue or signal that says you are physically hungry, and you choose to eat anyway, there is not going to be an obvious signal to let you know you have had enough to eat, either. Or if you choose to avoid processing an emotion, you are ignoring the very message your body may be trying to send you. Any time you find yourself craving food when you are not hungry- pause for a moment and appreciate that this is a message from within. It's letting you know that their is an emotion or need that requires your attention. Get curious as to what it might be, and honor your internal wisdom.
Katie Valley is a Holistic Nutritionist and Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor whose goal is to dispel the myths of diet culture and reinforce a holistic, health-focused approach to wellness. After her own experience with disordered eating and poor body image, Katie found true healing by practicing Intuitive Eating and Body Acceptance.
Now she has her own practice, Katie Valley Wellness, where she helps women who feel out of control around food learn to eat intuitively, pursue TRUE health, & feel confident in their own body.
She is now booking new clients of 2022. Apply here.