We all use food emotionally in some way, this can be with cake on our birthday, going out for dinner, to celebrate or during the holiday season. This all normal and part of life. However, when we use food as a coping mechanism, or to numb certain feelings, it can be tricky, especially if it is our only way of dealing with our emotions.
Other ways we may use food emotionally is when we are bored, angry, lonely or sad. We use food to distract ourselves from those feelings. It is important to note that food is what we have available in that moment, and it is the only thing that we may know that can provide us with instant comfort. We may not have any other way to cope with those feelings.
When we use food emotionally, it is just our body’s way of telling us that it has a need that we need to fulfill. Unfortunately food won’t fix those needs, we may feel temporarily better, but it won’t solve it. I just want to add that it is OK to use food as a distraction and comfort sometimes if we need it. It is only if it becomes our only source of comfort that it gets complex.
During my eating disorder, I used food to cope with all my feelings and to have control in my life. Combating this had its challenges. When I didn’t have food as a distraction, I had to really feel those feelings. which was uncomfortable and emotionally painful. But it did pass, and once I got through it, I realised it was all going to be OK. The more I practiced, the more I was able to cope better when the feelings arised, and I was able to identify why they were coming up in the first place.
Coping with emotional eating.
Ask yourself- am I physically hungry?
If not, then ask yourself, what am I feeling right now? What is it that I need? It may be a rest, a hug, a phone conversation with a friend or just a break from work/ home life. Spend a couple of minutes working out what it is that you need and then fulfil that need. Remember If you are physically hungry then eat!
I find that when I’m stressed or when my self-care is lacking, I start eating when I am not hungry. This is always a warning sign to me that I need to step up the self-care and rest. Prioritise time for self-care every day by setting boundaries, resting when you need it, getting enough sleep and taking time out just for you.
Identify your triggers.
What are your emotional triggers for eating? Be prepared for these triggers. Have you got a stressful event coming up at work? Will you be at home on your own all weekend? What can you do to prepare so your needs can be met without using food? Strategise and plan ahead for these triggers.
Find other sources of comfort.
Think of some other ways you can get comfort for those feelings. Is it going for a walk, calling a friend, taking a bath or getting a massage? These other sources of comfort will provide more nourishment to your emotional well-being than food. They will also help you with the next step- dealing with your feelings.
Dealing with your feelings.
Once you have checked in with yourself, stepped up the self-care and nourishment, you will be better prepared to deal with your feelings in order to move on from them.
Sit with your feelings. Yep- I know- this is super tough, and it takes time. But even just being aware and acknowledging them is the first step. You will find that once you acknowledge them, the feeling will pass and you will be OK.
Write in a journal. This will give clarity and perspective to how you are feeling.
Breathe, practice mindfulness and mediate through the feelings until they pass.
Cry, scream or shout. It is OK to have these feelings and to express them. That is how we deal with them so we can move forward.
Remember that it is OK to eat when you are not hungry- if that’s what you need in that moment. Coping with emotional eating takes time and practice. Be compassionate and kind to yourself during this step.
If you would like more support with emotional eating, you download week 1 for free of my intuitive eating and wellbeing program here