Updated: May 11
So many folks who are trying to do intuitive eating talk to me about their struggles with emotional eating. When we're trying to address emotional eating, I always start from a place of making peace with food. I want you to feel like you're able to eat (mostly) without strong moral judgments of your food. I also love to reframe emotional eating. Instead of thinking about it as this shameful and dark thing, try this: how amazing that during your darkest times, your mind and body had the wisdom to turn to nourishing food as a way to cope with difficult, perhaps overwhelming emotions. How incredible is it that we can find comfort and solace from something that also gives nutrition to our bodies.
Once you've been able to embrace that reframe, I use these strategies with my clients to navigate emotional eating.
Develop your other coping techniques. I like to make a list of all the things that either do work, have worked in the past, or might sound like something worth trying. List them all. Call a friend, watch cat TikToks, clean something, take a walk, listen to Lizzo and dance. List all the things! They can be simple things (tune in to your breath for a minute) or elaborate coping rituals (a candlelit bubble bath). You don't have to have done all of them; our goal is to expand your coping repertoire, so get some new stuff on the list!
Work on your mindfulness, especially in regard to awareness of your hunger cues. It's worth it to work to really know if you're experiencing physical hunger, because if you are, you should eat, not use a coping skill. The same mindful awareness can help you to better understand what specific emotions you're experiencing and how to best cope with them.
Make sure you're eating enough throughout the day. If you're underfed, the moment emotions show up, you won't have the conscious awareness to make discerning decisions. You have to make sure you're eating enough to be able to engage with emotional eating with a sense of empowered choosing.
When the subject of emotional eating comes up, I like to remind my clients that sometimes, it's totally fine to eat something because you're struggling with feelings. Take a long-range view on this. Are you able to sometimes choose to cope with emotions without food being part of that coping? Then you're probably doing pretty alright. My goal with folks on this is to feel like they have a choice, and that sometimes, it's okay to feel sad and eat some ice cream about it.
Want to learn more about intuitive eating? I have a workshop coming up soon!