How to Navigate Emotional Eating
As human beings, we experience a full range of emotions as a natural part of living. From anger to calm, boredom to excitement, despair to joy, loneliness to belonging, and fear to love…the list of core emotions goes on. Some days, you might wish you could walk around in bubble wrap, untouchable to emotions (oh how I dream of this some days). But since emotions are a natural part of the human experience and cannot be avoided, it’s important to develop skillful ways to respond to them. Intuitive Eating principle #7 assists in how to navigate emotional eating.
How to Navigate Emotional Eating
First, it’s important to acknowledge the varying degrees at which food can become emotional. It can be used to enhance an exciting experience–like a cake at a birthday party, to numb out–like eating to the point of a food coma, to provide comfort–like warm soup on a sick day, to communicate love–like baking muffins for a dear friend, or as a means of distraction when bored–like eating a bag of chips while watching television.
Eating for emotional reasons is not bad in itself.
However, it becomes a slippery slope when food is the only coping mechanism and emotions are left unchecked.
Your Self-Awareness Superpower
To develop new coping mechanisms and prevent emotions from being left unchecked, self-awareness is your starting place, my friend. Self-awareness brings light to what has been hidden in the dark. Without self-awareness, we keep bumping into the same roadblocks again and again. Whatever dark tunnels you’ve been walking through, you now have a flashlight.
Self-awareness sounds like:
- “I notice that..”
- “It’s come to my attention…”
- “I’m curious about my behavior around…”
We must first become aware of current behaviors before setting behavior change in motion. So get curious, carry your flashlight, and believe in your self-awareness superpower. It’s not promised that this step will be easy, but it’s promised that you will lay fruitful soil for growing your self-care garden.
Grow Your Self-Care Garden
What seeds do you want to plant in your self-care garden? Just as a farmer plants a variety of crops, give yourself a variety of coping mechanisms! Here are some ideas for growing your self-care garden:
When you’re feeling lonely:
- FaceTime a loved one.
- Take a yoga or group exercise class.
- Ask a friend for a hug.
- Play with a pet.
- Schedule a massage.
When you’re feeling stressed:
- Set healthy boundaries (example: no checking email after 5 pm).
- Take a hot shower or bath.
- Practice breathing exercises.
- Prioritize a night of quality sleep or take a nap.
- Cook a nourishing meal.
When you’re feeling angry:
- Turn on your favorite music and dance.
- Try a boxing class.
- Write out your feelings in a journal.
- Let yourself cry or scream into a pillow.
- Change your scenery and go for a walk.
When you’re feeling anxious:
- Sit with your feelings for 5 minutes.
- Consider talking with a therapist if you find this difficult.
- Call a friend.
- Fact-check your thoughts–what supports this to be true?
- Schedule downtime each day.
When you’re feeling bored:
- Read a book.
- Pick up a new hobby like pottery, knitting, or collecting house plants.
- Do something nice for someone else.
- Start a puzzle.
- Declutter your closet for 10 minutes.
What ideas, if any, stand out to you? What would you add to this list?
Emotional Eating Support
I understand that some of these coping mechanisms like “sit with your feelings” sound less appealing than eating a bag of peanut-butter filled pretzels (my favorite). However, it’s important to consider how each helps or hurts us in the short-term versus long-term.
Remember, you are not in the wrong for emotional eating. Feeling your feelings 24/7 without any sense of relief is unrealistic and not what we’re going for here. Rather, we approach this principle with compassion and curiosity to notice how we typically respond to emotions and grow our self-care garden. For when it’s harvest time, you will have an abundance of self-care practices available to you.