Emotional Eating: Always A Bad Thing?

“I’m an emotional eater”. This is an idea that so many of us seem to attach to ourselves in a very negative way. It seems like many of us walk around with the idea that we should never eat emotionally and if we do we have failed in some way. It seems this can be especially true for those of us who are trying to practice eating in a more mindful way. There is a misconception that eating intuitively means we are never eating for reasons other than physical hunger.

Not so! As much as we may want it not to be, eating is often an emotional experience. Could you possibly think about your grandma’s apple pie, or the meal mom always made you when you were sick as a kid and not have a emotional response? Probably not. Food is something that we use to celebrate special occasions like holidays and birthdays, commemorate achievements like landing that promotion, and connect, bond, and socialize with the people we love. We develop these connections between food and our emotions from when we are very young. (Also if eating never made you feel any emotion at all wouldn’t that be boring. We are actually wired to have an emotional response to food so we survive!!)

So we can’t just be these magically emotion less creatures around food. Bummer I know.  That said, there are certainly times where we may be eating solely for emotional reasons in ways that are not serving us well. I think handling these moments effectively involves asking ourselves some important questions. When I’m feeling emotional and wanting to head face first into that pint of ice cream, I’ve found it’s helpful to ask myself:

-What am I feeling right now?

-What would really help me feel better in this moment? (Sometimes the ice cream may be the answer to this question, sometimes it may actually be going for a walk, taking a bath, calling a friend etc).

-What do I really need?

Again, after asking yourself these questions, the ice cream (or whatever your food of choice is) may still be calling your name and that’s OK.  If you acknowledge that you are feeling stressed, sad, whatever, and are choosing to have whatever the food is, and do this without shame and judgement, that’s not failure. That is mindfulness. You also will find if you take the time to step back and ask yourself these questions, turning to food won’t always be the answer. Yes, coming home and binging on a whole pizza after a hard day at work may not be us at our most mindful, we can’t just take the emotion out of food. But we can learn to handle these situations in a more mindful way and honor our feeling as well. That sounds like the real win to me.