Q: I’d like to learn more about emotional eating. I read how you should “take time, breathe, relax, be more mindful.” If I knew how to do that, or allowed myself to do that, then maybe I wouldn’t have issues with emotional eating. It’s the same thoughts of “I don't deserve to relax. I don’t deserve to take time for me.” How do I move through this?
A: Ahhh, so true. It’s one thing to read the research and helpful tips, and another thing to actually do them. And to actually do them, comes the belief that you deserve to do them.
So let’s get this out in the open first—I’m not a licensed therapist and I highly recommend working with one as they will be helpful when diving into self-discovery, especially when deep-seated emotions and trauma may be at play (you know I love me some therapy). However, I want to provide help and guidance from a life coaching and mindful/intuitive eating dietitian standpoint.
Let’s start with the emotional eating part. We’re human. We eat with emotion and there doesn’t have to be any judgement with that—eat with pleasure, eat with enjoyment, eat with sadness. The denial of emotion is what gets us in a bind. However, I know that’s not what this beautiful soul is talking about. They’re talking about the type of emotional eating that includes eating to a point of discomfort, pain, or feeling physically sick; eating as a coping strategy; and/or eating when you aren’t hungry (this doesn’t apply to certain eating disorder recoveries, hypothalamic amenorrhea, cachexia, etc.—you need to eat when you aren’t hungry to heal in these situations). And yes, being mindful is the most helpful advice for emotional eating. So how do we be more mindful? By being more curious. Whether you realize you’re emotionally eating when you take your first few bites or two hours after you’ve finished, ask yourself, “What need or emotion am I filling with food?” You may ask this question multiple times and get multiple answers. There’s no right or wrong. And building awareness takes practice, so be gentle with yourself.
As you start to build awareness and gain more insight to what emotions or needs may be at play, ask yourself, “How can I meet this need or emotion in a loving way?” If you realize you’re eating out of stress, what else could you do? Could you shake it out, talk it out with a friend or therapist, take deep breaths while listening to music? Or maybe you realize you’re eating out of loneliness. Could you call a friend, schedule a planned activity every week, let out a cathartic cry? This isn’t about avoiding the emotion or need—it’s about feeling the emotion or fulfilling the need. Once you discover these alternative actions, write them down. Make a list or journal about them, so the next time you notice these emotions, you don’t ignore them, but meet them where they’re at. Let them be felt.
Now that you’ve got your list, let’s move on to the doing part… which involves the “I deserve to do this” part. This can be tough, so I’ll share what has helped me: letting go. For whatever reason, you’re carrying a belief that you’re not worthy. It’s a heavy burden to bear. What would it be like to let go of that belief? To forgive yourself? To let the past be the past? If this is difficult because the belief is so strong, then find a picture of when you were a little kid (this is what I do). Look at that photo and ask yourself if she or he deserves it? Sometimes we have to find a little distance or look at ourselves as a different person when we start to do the work.
I’d love to hear from you. What was most helpful to support you as you move through emotional eating and/or self-acceptance? Please comment below or send me an email. Also, if you’d like support with your health with a mind-body approach, I’d love to help. Please send me an email and let’s work together!
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With love, Steph