Emotional eating + why it's OK
One of the things that has been a consistent struggle for me throughout my time on this planet has been “emotional eating.”Or at least I thought it was a struggle. emotional eating + why it's okay
What exactly is emotional eating?
Well duh, it’s when we eat for some emotionally driven reason. eg. your mother-in-law is in town visiting, You’re putting in a 15 hour work day. You are so effing bored at work. You’re lonely. You’re stressed. You get the picture, and I am sure you’re all too familiar with it.
But where I ran into trouble was that when I was introduced to the concept of emotional eating, it was never explained to me that, yeah, it’s a thing we do. BUT It’s also okay that we do it.
Let me break it down a little bit more for you. Just like you don’t do yoga purely for the reason of stretching your body, you don’t eat purely for fueling your body. Yoga is one of the best ways to connect physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually all at once. You can’t just choose to do yoga for physical reasons and pretend you aren’t going to feel more relaxed or reconnected when you’re all said and done; the mind, body and spirit are connected through yoga whether or not we actively choose to pursue that connection. Eating is often times very similar for us. We can’t just choose to eat only for physical reasons or only for emotional reasons; our minds and bodies are so much more intricate than that.
Think of it like a scale- we might eat more for physical reasons at breakfast (you’ve been fasting for about 12 hours!), and more for emotional reasons at lunch (‘cause you need to get the eff away from your desk!) but both physical and emotional components are present in each circumstance. And that’s OK. It’s only natural.
From the moment I discovered I was an “emotional eater,” I felt shame around that. Emotional eating is rarely talked about in a neutral -let alone positive- way so thus I figured something was majorly messed up with me; some screw had to have come loose along the way for me to want to eat my feelings away one potato chip after another.
This idea that I was screwed up, and the shame around that led to all sorts of different reactions; whatever was wrong with me, I had to start fixing it ASAP (So THEN I could finally have the body I’m supposed to have, duh).
It's how we deal.
Many years, hundreds of hours of self-study and tons of support later I realized that “emotional eating” is literally just a coping mechanism we use to deal. Just like we use TV to tune out, wine to slow down, sex to feel pleasure, and social time to break away from work stress- emotional eating is another way cope with the daily sh*t that isn’t super satisfying.
Once I shifted the way I viewed emotional eating from being this horrible, shameful act to just being another coping mechanism, it didn’t seem so “wrong” anymore.
In other words, once I gave myself permission to eat for emotional reasons, I no longer felt guilty for indulging in that behavior. The other thing that happened was that because I allowed myself to eat for emotional reasons, it started to lose its appeal as coping mechanism.
When you can acknowledge the fact that something is wrong, you feel the feelings, you give yourself permission to cope in whatever way is going to feel best, you start to realize that maybe the food isn’t going to really help you feel the way you want to feel; or maybe it will so you eat. Either way, you are closer to dealing with what’s really going on underneath the surface than you were before you gave permission.
Part of learning to eat intuitively means acknowledging and considering both internal (mind, body, spiritual reasons) and external cues (social settings, connection, time, food availability, etc.) when deciding how we want to nourish ourselves. Once we consider all the factors that play into food decisions and give ourselves permission to eat however feels best regardless of whether or not society might approve, we can start to break away from that guilt that makes food such an issue for so many of us. Permission to eat emotionally is not permission to binge unconsciously.
Now I’m not telling you to to say “FUCK THE MAN, LET’S EAT ALL THE PIZZA FOREVER + EVER.” Although that does sound appealing at times. There is a difference between giving yourself permission to eat -guilt free- for emotional reasons and bingeing to fill yourself to the point of numbness, without being conscious of it.
What I am telling you is that it is OK to indulge your senses. It is OK to eat the piece of birthday cake even though you already had the birthday pizza. It is OK to munch over drinks with friends even though lunch was less than 2 hours ago. It is OK to eat for emotional + social reasons, so long as you start to get curious about where that emotion is stemming from.
If you want to get curious about those emotions but even that feels overwhelming, try starting with my Simple Tools for Stirring Up Intuition cheat sheet.
You have permission to eat whatever you want, whenever you want, my dear.
Eat the food (if you so desire). Feel the feels. Get curious about those feels. And DO NOT under any circumstances let yourself feel guilty about your decision.