Eating occasionally to make yourself feel good or reward yourself is normal. Doing this routinely, though, to avoid dealing with emotions and feelings is a concern, especially if eating is the primary coping mechanism used to address emotional needs.
Unlike physical hunger, where most any food makes you feel better, it is rare to feel better when emotionally hungry even when eating ‘comfort foods’ and is often followed by shame, regret, or guilt. Stress, anger, boredom, and fatigue can all be triggers for emotional eating. So can habit. As a child, were you rewarded with pizza, ice cream, or sweets or offered these when sad? Recognizing these reasons for emotional eating is important so that you can address the issue and break the cycle.
What can you do?
- Pay attention and recognize the triggers. Logging your food intake and feelings when you eat can help.
- Before eating something, pause for even one minute and ask yourself:
- Why am I eating?
- Will my food choice support my goals?
- Say “I’ll have it later” and do a different activity.
- Accept your feelings and address them rather than hide them with food. This can be uncomfortable, but it is ultimately necessary.
- Extend kindness to yourself! If a friend told you that he/she was upset, you would extend him/her kindness and support. Do the same for yourself.
- Evaluate what would help you in that moment instead of eating so that you have alternate coping strategies ready. Ideas include reaching out to a friend, deep breathing, taking a walk, or listening to or singing a favorite song.
- Reach out to professionals, loved ones, clergy, or others to address your emotional needs. You don’t have to do this alone. Be brave! Bravery is not the lack of fear, but feeling fear and still doing something.
Last, but not least….what do you do if you have a set back? Everyone has them; it’s normal. Don’t beat yourself up. Maybe you have not addressed X issue or problem yet, but identifying the problem is a big step forward!
Happy and healthful eating,
Donna G. Pertel, MEd, RD, LDN