Updated: Jul 31, 2020
What is Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is not a clinical term, but a term used to describe the phenomenon of eating in response to an emotional state, rather than hunger (Muhlheim, 2020). As humans we are emotional and it’s what defines us, emotional eating will always be a part of us. Emotional eating is using food to make yourself feel better - eating to fill emotional needs, rather than to fill your stomach. Linda Bacon, renowned author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight says “eating should alleviate hunger. If it doesn’t, then you may be eating because of emotional hunger rather than physical hunger and food isn’t addressing your real hunger” (Bacon, 2010, pg. 204).
Through the prevalence of diet culture emotional eating has become a negative phrase, and the stigma around emotional eating creates a wide sense of shame and suffering. We live in a culture that shames us for eating in response to anything but hunger. Research shows those who don’t eat enough may be more susceptible to emotional eating. In addition, those with history of dieting and restriction tend to emotionally eat, fear they own appetite, weight cycle, and have a poor body image.
Diet culture has led us to believe emotional eating is bad, when its reality it’s a perfectly good response to our emotions. There is nothing wrong to turn towards food to soothe your emotions as a coping mechanism, however it becomes a problem when it’s your only coping mechanism. The key is to be mindful about it and understand you’re making a choice. When you’re making an intentional decision to soothe your emotions with food, there is a chance you will feel better. However, when your actions are impulsive and reactive you’re more likely to eat in a way that’s disconnected and feelings of guilt may occur.
Emotional Eating is Natural
Dr. Linda Bacon says “an emotional connection with food is part of a normal and healthy relationship with food. Food can and should bring us pleasure and comfort” (Bacon, 2010, pg. 34). Because emotional eating doesn’t align with the values of our diet obsessed culture emotional eating has been coined negatively. Emotional eating is rooted in our own toxic beliefs that there is a “right” way of eating and a “wrong” way of eating, along with good and bad foods, and the “correct” quantity to consume.
It’s time to remove fear, judgement, and shame around emotional eating. Rather than defining individuals as emotional eaters, we need to frame it as a behaviour such as: “sometimes, I eat emotionally” (2019). Pleasure and satisfaction play a huge role in getting adequate nutrition. Allow yourself to eat all foods even foods with little nutrition because it makes for a well-balanced diet with a touch of satisfaction and pleasure. Allowing all foods is the way for a balanced approach, one that doesn’t involve guilt, shame, or restriction.
How to Manage Emotional Eating?
Emotional eating is not a food problem. When you feel yourself displaying behaviours of emotional eating, stop fighting the urge and relax into it--it’s a coping mechanism. Emotional eating is not an issue of willpower but rather a temporary detachment between yourself and your body.
We need to stop thinking of food as the enemy, it’s nourishes us and takes care of us! Try and develop a self-awareness when these episodes occur without judgment and more self-compassion. When you feel the urge to emotionally eat, write down what is triggering these episodes, where is it rooting from? How are other ways you can take care of yourself? What are other mechanisms you can use to cope with your emotions instead of eating? “If you feel driven to eat for emotional reasons, you don’t have an eating problem, you have a caretaking problem. You’re not taking care of yourself” (Bacon, 2010, pg. 35).
Bacon, L. (2010). Health at Every Size the Surprising Truth About Your Weight. Dallas: Benbella Books.
Emotional eating is a self-care issue. (2019, June 13). Retrieved from https://www.beyondbodyimage.com/hypothalamic-amenorrhea/emotional-eating-is-a-self-care-issue/
Muhlheim, L. (2020, April 14). Emotional Eating In the Time of Coronavirus. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/emotional-eating-during-covid-19-pandemic-4802077