We have all been there. A late-night fridge raid, picking at leftovers, creeping into the kitchen for a midnight snack or stuffing our face while driving. While these things might not be an issue by themselves, they can be a sign of something more going on. Emotional eating is one of the many types of disordered eating. These behaviors might not be enough on there own to warrant an eating disorder diagnosis but hear me out- because even if what we are doing is not to the extent of a disorder it can still be damaging our well being. Our lives are so busy that we often look for the quickest and easiest ways to relieve our stress- including emotional eating habits.
Along with these eating habits, we feel shame. Shame for sneaking in those extra treats, shame for not having more self-control, shame for soothing our sadness with comfort food instead of facing our problems. Shame is nothing other than us putting ourselves down for the decisions we have made. Those thoughts quickly shift into negative emotions. We eat something we have labeled as bad and we think that makes us bad too because we’ve heard ‘you are what you eat’. We second guess ourselves and think we should have had more self-control. We scroll through social media, see the health ads telling us to be skinnier, healthier and happier. You can see how this would chip away at our self-esteem and sense of worth.
When we are feeling an emotion that we have no outlet for the easy thing to do is reach for something to eat. We use food like a comfortable blanket to warm and protect us. Many of us learn as kids that food is an escape from our stress, we hoard it because we don’t know when we will get a treat again. As adults, we continue the same patterns. We tuck away that candy bar so no one else will get to it first. We keep those handy snacks in the desk drawer for when our workday needs a pick me up.
We tell ourselves that our comfort foods are bad and then deprive ourselves of that comfort when trying a new diet. We break that diet during the holidays or on a “cheat” day. But during those times we rush to fit in as much of the foods we have been avoiding because we know we will soon go back to depriving ourselves again. But that cycle of deprivation, indulging and guilt from “cheating” can all stress us out even more. The emotional roller coaster of this cycling with how we view food and the way we treat ourselves because of it is exhausting. No wonder we give up on the majority of diets we try. The reality in that in this day and age we have enough responsibilities that need our attention, we should not torture ourselves over the eating choices we make.
Using food for comfort or out of boredom is not always a bad thing. It becomes an issue when we begin telling ourselves we NEED that snack, we sneak into the kitchen to have just one more bite. We become addicted to that quick fix rather than learning to deal with our emotions in other ways. Using food to cope can be a healthy way to deal as long as you have other techniques to switch it up. Having just one method in your toolbox of coping skills always leads to overdoing it. Imagine if the main way you coped with stress was by doing some retail therapy- soon enough you’d be broke and have a bunch of impulse buys that you don’t really need. Every now and then it is ok to give yourself permission to cope in whichever way that feels right. At that moment, enjoy it, feel the relief and move on. If you feel the impulse to keep going take pause. Give yourself a moment to decide if that extra piece of chocolate is what you need. You might find that instead, a relaxing shower might do the trick. We’ve got to diversify. Learn other ways to mend a broken heart, deal with a rough day or use your time when bored. If we can do that, then we will not be as tempted to reach for another bag of chips or soda when things get stressful.
Be kind to yourself. By shifting how we view our emotional connection to food we can break the hold it has on us. Imagine if you were able to eat unashamed. I truly believe that us being secretive about our emotional connection to food, being ashamed and hiding these habits is what gives them so much power over us. Through self-compassion and learning new ways to manage our emotions, we can break the hold emotional eating has within our lives.
Cover Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash