Emotional eating or often times referred to as stress eating is fueled by attempts to control or cope with distressing feelings or thoughts. It is also the act of using food to make oneself feel better, in an effort to satisfy emotional needs and not necessarily nutritional or physical hunger needs. Many people associate food with comfort, and often turn to it in high stress situations or prolonged periods of stress. We are all familiar with the term “comfort food” and its purpose. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bowl of ice-cream or a handful of chocolate when feeling stressed every now and then, but turning to those things all the time would leave me with a pretty empty coping skills toolbox.
Triggers to emotional eating can be anywhere from daily stressors to big life events. Somewhere in between are the distressing emotions we don’t want to feel such as sadness, fear, boredom, loneliness, emptiness, etc. It is sometimes easier to push them away and reach for some of the foods we know we shouldn’t. When emotional pain is high or something is missing from our lives, emotional eating can be an attempt to fill a void left by a past traumatic event or current problem. If emotional eating continues to be a main coping skill, it can lead to poor self-esteem, undesired weight gain, low sense of self-worth, depression, body-image issues, and possibly obesity.
Reaching for food is a fast and easy way to try to control unwanted emotions or thoughts. Food doesn’t judge you for eating it; it is safe and always there waiting for us to eat it. It’s important to arm yourself for the stress that life inevitably brings so that you can tackle the stress head on!
Here are a few things to throw into your coping skills toolbox, along with your occasional favorite treat:
- Learn how to identify your triggers
- Practice mindfulness and meditation
- Use deep breathing and relaxation techniques
- Keep a journal
- Don’t have an “off limits” list of foods—these are okay in moderation!
- See a nutritionist to learn how to fuel your body with the right kind of foods and learn how certain foods can impact your mood
- Learn to manage stress and schedule relaxation time
- Go for a walk
- Join a support group
- Take inventory of your environment—relationships, work, home, and your fridge
- Allow yourself to make mistakes
- Let go of “all or nothing” thinking
- Practice self-compassion instead of self-criticism
- Allow yourself to experience unwanted emotions
- Don’t deny yourself pleasure
- Eat when you’re hungry
- Seek professional support
Our relationship with our body is significantly impacted by the food we choose to eat and when. The food, body, and mind connection is a relationship triangle that takes time build and balance. No one if perfect and no one expects you to be! We are all a work in progress. I’d be lying if I said there was nothing I had to work on. Remember to give yourself the space to be perfectly imperfect.