You cannot swipe your mouse on a health and wellness website without landing on an article targeting emotional eating and how to solve your problem with it.
A few key and very IMPORTANT points here:
1. Emotional eating is not quite as bad as it is made out to be.
2. By constantly being told emotional eating is bad, your brain pathways begin to know it as so, and anytime you eat outside of hunger or need, you believe you are bad.
Emotional eating is seemingly complex, but when broken down, it is really quite simple.
The scale of emotional eating is of course vast, but everyone, and I mean everyone, eats emotionally to some extent. Have you ever had birthday cake or any other form of dessert after a meal? Do you experience satisfaction sipping on a green smoothie or biting into a filet (your drug of choice)? How about coffee in the morning? Water?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these, you then land on the emotional eating scale. Food IS emotional. We enjoy it. We bring it to celebrations. When someone passes, the family in mourning receives bounties of comforting meals. It is usually not looked down upon in these more prevalent circumstances.
However, you know that moment when you are alone and feeling overwhelmed, nervous, or disappointed, and you find yourself getting into the [insert: chips, cookies, peanut butter, ice-cream]. Well, that is more often than not, the moment that leads most into feeling shitty about their food choices.
Emotional eating is okay! Yep, I said it. You will never completely dodge it. (Remember, dessert, celebratory occasions, mourning?) Let’s looks deeper…
Eating emotionally is a viable and useful coping tool:
This sounds a little nuts – I know. Stick with me. Where it goes down a funky road is when it is your only coping tool, and if you never actually deal with what you are coping with. It is important as humans that we have a variety of tools to cope with the craziness of life on this planet. Some of mine: yoga, nature, dancing, breath work, playing with my nephews, chips. Some provide space for me to gain deeper insight as to what is going on. Others - small time-outs.
However, I seek to not allow fear, uncertainty, or that which I’m coping with to become concealed by any of my coping tools. Ultimately, I have to deal with the shit that is coming up.
So, food can be a useful coping tool as long as it is accompanied by other beneficial tools, and as long as you are actually confronting what you are coping with.
When emotional eating does need a stern look at:
Emotional eating turns down a dark path when guilt and shame are associated with it. For example, we all know the common story of guy breaks up with girl, girl eats a pint of ice-cream, girl passes out.
Where it gets really funky is if she wakes up the next day, and instead of actually dealing with the discomfort and pain of the breakup, she continues to cope with ice-cream (direct coping) or completely and totally focuses on how bad she is for having eaten the ice-cream (indirect coping).
Now, the ice-cream (directly or indirectly) is completely taking over the space for her to clearly deal with the grief needed for healing to happen.
When guilt and shame are associated with patterns around food, it strengthens the pathways in your mind to measure your worth, value, correctness, and stability on what or how much you ate. From there, emotional eating transforms into more compulsive styles of eating. This is when words like “uncontrollable” make their way into your dialogue around food and you find yourself hands deep in a peanut butter jar.
You can assume: the deeper the guilt and shame – the more gripping food becomes.
Emotional eating is not inherently bad (i.e. you are not bad!) if it is responsibly used alongside other coping tools. In other words, you don’t exclusively use food as a coping tool, and you actually take steps to deal with the problem you are coping with. Emotional eating turns into compulsive eating when guilt and shame are associated with it, and then it becomes more and more gripping.
Build your tool belt: Begin to expand on the ways you deal with uncomfortable experiences. What tools do you use to cope and how can these tools actually support you in simultaneously dealing with the situation?
Penny for your thoughts: What if you released any guilt or shame associated food and the need to control it? (Gaining 200 pounds is not your answer. I promise!)