Eating is an emotional experience. Mom's cookies can make you feel like you're at home, even if you're eating them from a UPS box hundreds of miles away. A cold lemonade takes you back to stress-free summers at the pool as a kid. Hot soup makes you feel cozy on a cold night. There's no doubt that food affects our emotions.
Food is also used to celebrate. Whether birthdays, graduations, weddings, or just a reason to hang out on a Tuesday, food is a way to bring people together and happy memories often come from these food-centered occasions.
It's not surprising, then, that food becomes an outlet. With all the positive associations we tend to have with food over the years, it's natural to reach for it when we're feeling an uncomfortable emotion. Food is also incredibly accessible. We can often grab for our favorite food without leaving the house, or maybe even our chair.
Eating food for satisfaction is a normal part of eating intuitively and occasionally eating for comfort is a normal part of being human.
But, what happens when food is your only coping mechanism? If, when you're feeling bored, anxious, angry, or stressed, the only way you know to cope is turning to food? Eating to distract, sedate, or punish yourself can easily get out of hand and become destructive. It also doesn't usually get at the root of the issue. So, once you reach the end of your bag of chips/candy stash/ice cream carton/snack cupboard 20 minutes later, you're still feeling what you were before AND you're potentially also uncomfortably full.
This week, if you think you might be eating in response to emotions you're feeling, try to pause for a minute and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Am I physically hungry? If yes, then eat! If no, proceed to next question (though you may be both physically hungry AND feeling some emotions that need to be addressed, so it may be helpful to proceed either way).
2. What am I feeling?
3. What do I need?
Whether you're physically hungry or not, you can still choose to eat. Like I said, food is still a valid outlet and can sometimes be useful for redirecting your thoughts if an emotion feels too strong to deal with right away. The important thing here is to try to stay tuned in. Eating to numb out can be both destructive and unhelpful. Choose the food you want to eat, sit down in a calm environment, and eat slowly. Enjoy the food and stay tuned in to your hunger/fullness cues. Then, it might be helpful to return to the emotion once it has had time to settle and think about if there are other steps you can take for processing through it.
For some tips on identifying what you're feeling and ideas for activities that might be helpful for addressing some of those feelings, be sure to click below and sign up for our intuitive eating tip series if you haven't already!