What if I told you emotional eating isn’t actually the bad guy? Not in the way it is commonly approached, at least.
Most of us see emotional eating as something BAD that needs to be eliminated… as if it’s bad to have emotions attached to food. I did too, just a couple years ago.
But I think this is putting things way too simply, and like life, things aren’t that simple.
Tell me if any of these phrases resonate with you:
- You assume it’s your fault that you can’t stop emotional eating, that it’s a habit you really just need to overcome.
- You think of emotional eating as one of the biggest problems in your life/with your eating habits that you just can’t shake.
- You feel that if only you had more WILLPOWER, you’d be able to finally kick this emotional eating/overeating/binge eating problem.
- You know a ton about nutrition and what you “should” eat, but you find yourself powerless over foods you’ve deemed as bad or unhealthy.
I think these thought processes hurt us way more than they help.
Because emotions around food and eating are complex, and there are gray areas to explore. It’s in those gray areas that I was able to fix my emotional eating problems… and to stop seeing emotional eating as “bad.”
Here’s the train of thought that helped me get there:
As humans, we are emotional. Life is emotional. Food is emotional.
We have our favorite eating places, our favorite recipes and cookbooks.
We bake and decorate cookies for the holidays.
We have cake for birthdays.
We enjoy a nice cup of hot cocoa around the fire.
We split a big dessert with our friends.
There is more to food than just nutritional nourishment… because there is more to life than just breathing and moving.
What if we stopped trying to fully remove the emotion from our meals and instead started focusing on the eating experience as a whole? The tastes, the smells, the textures, and how we feel while eating it.
Fighting against emotional eating, as if it’s the enemy, can lead us to assume all food is the enemy, that it can’t be a part of happiness in our lives. And this just isn’t the case.
My disordered eating problems, including stuffing myself, eating emotionally, and restricting certain foods, didn’t resolve until I started allowing myself to enjoy food without guilt—and to do so mindfully with full satisfaction as the goal.
I also started treating everything as information. When I have an emotional pull towards a cookie, for example, I take a moment to analyze:
- How am I feeling right now? Anxious? Stressed? Bored? Sad? Happy?
- Will this food help me feel better? Do I know from experience that it will or won’t? (There is no wrong answer here.)
- Will I get full satisfaction from eating this? Or would something else satisfy me more?
- What do I truly need right now? A nap? A hug? Time alone? A cookie? (Again, no wrong answer—just listening to and observing the body.)
I treat the answers to these questions as if I’m an impartial (yet kind and loving) third party, watching myself without a stake in the outcome.
Just observing. Just watching, no judgment. No guilt. No shame. No wrong answer!
Over time, I became okay with making food a partly emotional event—one that is tuned into the full spectrum of my needs as a human.
I accepted that emotional eating is not WRONG, it’s just something my body is telling me. It’s a part of who I am.
I also accepted that I don’t have to be a perfect eater to live a healthy and fulfilling life and care for my body.Emotional eating is not WRONG, it's just information our bodies are telling us. Click To Tweet
In fact, ignoring my emotional needs around food was leading to the disorder I was fighting against so hard.
What if, the next time you’re craving something specific, you allowed yourself to explore that craving without guilt? Without spending so much energy on feeling bad, there’s more room to recognize when those cravings go a little deeper.
This mindset shift helped me stop constantly resisting my emotions around foods I considered “bad” or “off limits” (I was so tired of that fight; aren’t you?). Plus, any dieter or binge eater knows that the harder we fight against something, the more it becomes a temptation.
Instead, I found freedom in opening up to my cravings and my needs with honesty and curiosity. I began to appreciate food and emotions as two pieces of the bigger puzzle, and I embraced emotional eating as a symbol of my body’s wisdom telling me it’s okay to check in.
Approaching emotional eating without rules or judgment makes it easier to observe if cravings are trying to fill a bigger void in life, if we’re eating foods and not actually getting pleasure from them. In this way, we can see emotional eating as a gift, a wonderful tool our body and emotions—our whole being—is using to get our attention in a loving way.
So instead of us trying to stop emotional eating by viewing it as an enemy to conquer and banish from existence, why not start listening?
Ways to Use Emotional Eating to Your Advantage:
- Acknowledge cravings without fighting them. Note what you crave and when. Ask yourself why you think you have that craving.
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat. Make it special. If you’re craving ice cream, get it but put it in a nice bowl you love. Sit down and pay attention to each bite. It’s hard to experience how good something tastes if we eat it quickly, so give yourself the sensual gift of slowing down. Stay tuned in. Start paying attention to how foods make you feel, without judgement and without any intentions. Just observe. Consider it an experiment.
- BREATHE. Take three long, slow breaths before you eat. This mindfulness practice helps put your body into a relaxation response, and can even help digestion!
- If you want, download my free guide, 5 Steps to Making Peace with Food. It includes five tips that helped me become a more mindful, intuitive eater for the long-haul.
Nothing helpful comes from shaming ourselves for what we crave or when we have emotional needs beyond food. Let’s practice more enjoyment and awareness instead, free of judgment. Stay curious, tune in, and see where it takes you. 🙂
– Lauren <3
Disclaimer: I am not a registered dietitian, therapist, or mental health professional and this information is not meant to act as a substitute for professional advice. Any knowledge or advice is drawn from my personal experience or what I learned through my Intuitive Eating counselor certification or health coaching certification.