Our brains have an interesting relationship with words. Words can either be taken at face value or they can have an underlying meaning that takes the word to a whole different level. Let’s look at the word “rose”. If you bust out the dictionary and look up this word, you’ll find the description of a flower. While that may be accurate, the same word also can elicit certain feelings or thoughts. In this case, roses are usually associated with something positive like romance and love. Now let’s look at the the term “emotional eating”. It literally means to eat in response to emotions. However, “emotional eating” tends to evoke negative feelings and thoughts in people. But is emotional eating really bad? I would argue that there can be a time and place for it in our lives.
Emotional eating is a signal to us that we are turning to food instead of addressing a need. This signal can provide us with the awareness that something needs to change in our lives. We need to find another coping skill because the food will only temporarily soothe us. If we recognize emotional eating for what it is, then we can take steps to remedy it.
I got through a major life event with the help of emotional eating. My father became ill and died a few years ago. After the memorial service, I came home and spread the leftover food out on the countertop. I just stood there for a few moments. I wanted to feel better but because I had never experienced this before, I didn’t quite know how to deal with it. I glanced down at a box of assorted Costco cookies. I considered an oatmeal cookie and briefly fought with my eating disordered mind. Then I told my brain to shut up. I said “Screw it! My dad just died!” and ate the damn cookie. And then I ate a second one. It was totally fine that I ate emotionally because I was taking care of my needs in the moment in the only way I knew how.
Even though emotional eating helped me get through one of the most difficult times in my life, I knew that it would be a short-term comfort and the pain would still be there after I finished eating. I didn’t regret eating those two cookies because they were a form of immediate self-care, but I knew that I needed other coping mechanisms. Eating to distract myself from the grief of my father’s death was not a permanent solution to dealing with difficult feelings. Rather than drowning my emotions with food, I learned to seek out support in other ways.
Whether I am sad, stressed1, anxious, or whatever, I make sure to respond to emotional eating in a neutral way. In the past, I had a tendency to label it “bad”, but when I did that, I only set myself up for feeling guilty which led to more emotional eating. I now remind myself that it’s normal and everyone does it from time to time. Hell, I even eat emotionally for positive reasons! I celebrate accomplishments and special occasions with food which isn’t negative at all. Either way, I still make it a point to see my eating in a neutral light so I can get away from destructive labels.
I think that emotional eating has gotten a bad rap. I used to view it as negative, but I believe it can serve a purpose and can even be a good thing. Sure, I have coping skills, but I don’t give myself a hard time if I turn to emotional eating when the stressors in my life are more than I can handle. I’m actually taking care of myself in the moment which makes emotional eating quite the opposite of “bad”.
What are your thoughts about emotional eating? Please share in the comment section below.
1Have you ever noticed that “stressed” is “desserts” spelled backwards? Coincidence? I think not!
Thank you so much for reading my blog! I am honored that you chose to read about my experience.
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