Dealing with emotional eating
Have you ever struggled with emotional eating? Earlier this week I was asked about the best ways to deal with emotional eating. I know it’s something that many of us deal with, especially women, so I wanted to share what has helped me the most with my emotional eating.
First of all I want to talk about what emotional eating is, and what it’s not. Emotional eating is a coping mechanism for when we have thoughts, feelings, or situations we don’t yet have the tools to deal with. It is not a horrible character flaw we’ve been cursed with – in fact everybody even “normal” eaters, eat emotionally sometimes too.
Emotional eating is likely responsible for preserving your sanity at some point or another in your life. Soothing you and distracting you with things felt really out of control. So it’s not actually as horrible as we’ve been led to believe. Personally I’d say it’s probably a better choice than say heroin…but that’s just me.
Here’s the reason why we want to come to peace with emotional eating. Once you stop shaming and judging yourself for it, there’s a very good chance you’ll actually do it less! You see when we treat emotional eating like some dirty shameful behaviour then when we engage in it we beat ourselves up over it, we wonder what the eff is wrong with us, we think we’re a big failure on our diet… and when we do this there are two very likely negative consequences to it.
The first one is we go from simply eating emotionally, straight into binge eating. We feel so ashamed about our perceived failure that we continue eating to drown out that inner bitch who’s telling us that we’ll never get our shit together.
The other likely result of judging emotional eating, even if it doesn’t end up in binge eating, is that you still walk away feeling like there’s something wrong with you that needs to be fixed. Over time that erodes your self-esteem and leads you right back into emotional eating.
By staying in a place of non-judgement around your emotional eating, you’ll find that it stops being the distraction you have been using it for, and the power food has had over your life will start to dwindle.
Now this is not to say that you will never emotionally eat again. There will be times in your life where life is throwing you curveballs that are more than you can handle, and you will need something to help you get through those times.
For example what happened to me recently is my thyroid went on the fritz for some reason. This made me feel tired, irritable, and depressed. As a result I noticed that sometimes I was eating just to try help myself feel better. I was super gentle with myself through this process and I never let guilt or shame creep in, but instead I focused my energy on doing the things I could do to help myself feel better. In the past when this happened I judged and shamed myself so harshly that I ended up slipping into a full on depression, continued to use food to cope with my feelings of shame, and definitely had no motivation to go out and do self-care things like exercise. And I stayed caught in that cycle for months at a time.
So the lesson here is to just gently accept your emotional eating, refuse to hop on that shame roller coaster, and before you know it you’ll get to a place where emotional eating dies down naturally. By not getting caught up in the drama you associate with emotional eating, you give yourself space to actually deal with your life, rather than distracting yourself from it.
Here’s what I’d like you to do for homework. Notice when you want to emotionally eat. Then get really curious about why. You can ask yourself questions like “What am I feeling?” and “What do I most need in this moment?” Simply do your best to figure out how to satisfy that need. Be kind and compassionate, like you would for someone else you care about who is going through the same thing.
One thing to keep in mind here, you may still need to emotionally eat as you start learning new tools on how to best look after yourself. You need to work on being OK with that. If you can stay in that place non-judgement of your eating, as well as learn new ways to care for yourself, you’ll find that you will not only heal your relationship to food, you will heal your relationship with yourself.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!