What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is when food is eaten in response to feelings or emotions, rather than physical hunger needs.
Emotional eating can be a normal response to emotions.
But when it’s used as a regular coping tool, it becomes a problem.
To make it really clear: emotional eating is not “bad”, like the internet suggests.
Extra coping strategies can help you stop emotional eating – as well as other key things.
This blog will outline what exactly emotional eating is, and we’ll give six tools to help.
Why does it happen?
Food and emotions are tied up.
As children, being a part of the “clean plate club” is rewarded by being given dessert.
As a teenager, going out for a family meal to celebrate exam results.
Aafter breakups or arguments, foods like cookies or ice cream soothe negative emotions.
As you can see, eating in response to emotions is completely understandle.
I’m sure you can think of some more examples too.
When do you emotionally eat most?
Six ways to stop emotional eating
The goal is not to take away food, but to add in extra coping tools.
If these strategies don’t completely fix your emotional eating, we recommend reaching out for 1-1 support.
1. Recognise how emotional eating has served you
Remember that emotional eating is a normal response to emotions.
You’re ultimately taking care of yourself in the way you can.
Think about how you would speak to a friend or a child.
How would you explain this to them? What kind of language and tone might you use?
Think about how you could apply this to how you speak to yourself, and write some affirmations or a few lines you can read when you’re berating yourself for emotional eating in the future.
Shame and guilt doesn’t really result in change.
So offer yourself some compassion while you try to overcome emotional eating/
2. Labelling foods
Are you labelling food?
Are you mentally or physically restricting any foods?
Diet culture is pervasive and is a shape-shifter. If you’re not familiar with diet culture, it’s the system of beliefs that equate health with worth.
You might not be “on a diet”, but you might still be holding onto food rules, internalised diet practices, and labelling food as “good/bad” or “healthy/unhealthy.”
This can make emotional eating worse since you have the addition of food guilt too.
Think about the foods you currently eat when emotionally eating. How do you label them? Are they “bad foods”?
This might be a clue you have some work to do on your unconditional permission to eat.
Unconditional permission to eat is a principle in the Intuitive Eating framework. You can explore Intuitive Eating with the original book (*).
3. Practice self-compassion
Stopping emotional eating is difficult work. You’re going against something you’ve used to cope for ages.
Especially if food has been your coping tool for a long time, or if you feel like food is all you have for comfort and support.
When you’re feeling bad about emotional eating, remind yourself: “I’m dealing with a lot right now, and I’m trying the best I can. These feelings will pass, but this is how I’m taking care of myself right now”.
4. Self-care is key
There are a bunch of different types of self-care, including physical and emotional needs.
The basic self-care needs are food, water, sleep, movement, safety, purpose, and connection with others.
With regards to emotional eating, it’s important to check in with the basic self-care.
Are you eating enough to feel comfortably full?
Are you getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night?
Write a list of those basic self-care needs and reflect if you are meeting those needs and how you could improve them.
We find that clients’ emotional eating reduces from implementing more self-care.
5. Are you eating regularly and eating enough?
If you’re recovering from disordered eating, it’s vital that you regulate your eating.
Can you say that you nourish yourself fully? With no guilt, full permission?
If not, that’s ok – most people actually have disordered eating patterns.
Not eating enough or regularly enough can worsen emotional eating. So it’s key to rule out physical hunger before trying to combat emotional eating. Otherwise you can’t tell what the root is.
We recommend working up to eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day.
We have a comprehensive guide for eating in disordered eating recovery.
6: Use distraction techniques
Emotional eating can be avoided by using distraction techniques.
It won’t work every time, and it’s not going to solve the roots of your emotional eating.
But it can give you some relief when you’re emotions are high.
Some distraction techniques include watching a film, painting, speaking to a friend, journaling, or doing a jigsaw.
You might also find it’s helpful to try a distraction activity for 5-10 minutes, before turning to food.
We have a free distraction guide, you can try 1 of the 30 activities next time you emotionally eat.
We hope these six strategies help you cope with emotional eating.
You might try these and you’re totally cured – that’s great!
If not, that’s ok too. Emotional eating recovery might be a long road for you.
Please contact us if you need any additional help.
Team Ease Nutrition Therapy x