Have you ever felt tempted to eat until you don’t have “negative” feelings anymore? To drown out the emotions by eating chocolate, chips, and every other “comfort” food?
This is commonly known as emotional eating. Emotional eating can happen in a few different ways. It can show up when we’re feeling extremely sad or overwhelmed—this looks like eating or drinking copious amounts of a foods that are comforting to you, just to drown out the feelings. It can also show up when we’re extremely happy and overjoyed—this looks like eating or drinking large amounts of foods to “celebrate.” I want to make one thing clear – it is OKAY, and healthy even, to eat or drink foods that are comforting when you’re sad and eat or drink foods that are celebratory when you’re happy. That is not the problem with emotional eating. The main problem with emotional eating is when it becomes physically or mentally unhealthy for you.
Emotional eating becomes physically unhealthy when you start to feel physically sick because of the foods that you are consuming. Physically sick as in nauseous, stomach ache, lethargic, etc.
But feeling physically sick can also come from avoiding emotions and stuffing all of your feelings and stress inside instead of letting them out.
Emotional eating becomes mentally unhealthy when food is being used to cope with emotions instead of processing them. When as soon as you feel overwhelmed or sad or excited you are automatically looking for food as a way to cope instead of acknowledging and processing what you are feeling.
Emotions and feelings can be really, really hard. And they can lead to a lot of unhealthy food patterns. First of all, I want you to know that if you struggle with emotional eating, you are NOT alone. Also, I want you to know that you are allowed to feel it all – all of the feelings are okay. You do not have to push things away just because they feel hard. You are allowed to feel everything, sit with the feelings, and process them. If you struggle with processing emotions, please reach out, or talk with a therapist. Get the help that you need.
Okay, so what do we do instead of emotional eating when we’re feeling overwhelmed by feelings? How do we break the pattern when we’re habitually reaching for the food? The first step is to be aware of it. When you find yourself reacting to emotions by eating your comfort foods, recognize it, and try to take a step back. Have a lot of grace and love for yourself and do NOT beat yourself up for it. But, try to recognize what you’re doing and remove yourself from the pantry, the gallon of ice cream, etc. Once you’ve removed yourself from the situation, speak to yourself like you would your best friend, and do something that you love. Incorporating things you love—things that make you feel positive endorphins—will help to soothe your mind and body.
Keep practicing this pattern until it becomes easier to remove yourself from the comfort foods. And then keep practicing until you find that one of your first reactions is to do something you love. Remember that progress is progress no matter how small it is. And throughout the whole journey, remember that you are allowed to feel it all, and you are allowed to eat the foods you love. But you are worthy of having a healthy relationship with food AND your emotions. Emotions are your friend, and food is too!
Abby Horst Mallard
A podcaster, wife, health/wellness coach, beach lover, and musician. She specialises in nutrition education, meal planning, and developing sustainable habits. She passionately works with her patients to help them build healthier and happier relationships with food, exercise, and themselves.
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