Emotional eating is normal and can be a perfectly fine and healthy thing to do. We all eat for emotional reasons at times, whether in celebration and joy, or to mitigate sadness, anxiety, boredom, or loneliness. My basic philosophy around emotional eating is to be mindful and checked in with yourself about it, and to do so in a way that feels good, nourishing, and supportive for yourself. Foods can evoke feelings. A nice warm soup feels comforting when you're sick. A cold treat can feel joyful on a sultry summer day. Warm cookies can feel nostalgic and cozy around winter holidays.
The original Intuitive Eating book takes a slightly different approach to emotional eating than I do. I find this approach to be less shaming and empowers people to make the best choices for themselves. The intuitive eating principle about emotional eating is "Cope with your emotions with kindness," and I find that my approach tracks with this principle without reinforcing the shame that can sometimes occur with emotional eating. I do believe that emotional eating has become something of a diet culture bogeyman.
First, before attempting to tackle emotional eating, it is important that you are eating enough and on a regular basis (that is, you are honoring your hunger). If you're walking around hungry a lot of the time, of course you're going to have a hard time with food choices when you're stressed. Also, you will want to make sure you have some decent coping techniques that you feel comfortable using in a variety of situations. It doesn't have to be fancy shit; things like text a smartass friend, take a short walk, hide in the bathroom for a brief reprieve... These are fine coping strategies to deploy. We just want to be certain that you have some that you feel able to use when in need.
That said, here's my approach to emotional eating.
If you find yourself kind of "circling", looking for something to eat but not sure what, do a brief check-in with yourself. This should only take about 30-60 seconds, and the questions to ask are: Am I physically hungry? If not, are any particular emotions showing up?
If you're physically hungry, eat something.
If you discover that you're not hungry, but there is some emotion showing up, take a moment to explore it. See if you can name it.
Ask yourself whether eating something is the way that you want to deal with this emotion right now, or if there is something else you'd rather do. It is very important that you remember that you are not good for not eating, and that either option is available and valid.
If you decide that eating something is how you want to deal with this emotion, then eat what you want, with one caveat: try to do so mindfully. That is, try to eat the food you want with minimal distractions and focus on savoring it.
Emotional eating doesn't have to be super scary or impossible to manage. You can make choices that are comforting, satisfying, and don't lead you to feeling uncomfortably full and still in emotional distress.
Want to chat with me to discuss intuitive eating aligned support for emotional eating? Book a free call.