Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food

I’ve talked about emotional eating before, but I am currently preparing for a class I’m giving on the 7th principle of Intuitive Eating:  Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food.  I thought I would share some notes!

Principle 7: Cope with Your Emotions Without Using Food
Food will always have emotional associations, even without emotional eating concerns. Food is seen as love, comfort, reward, distraction and sometimes the only friend or coping strategy you have.

However, the line gets blurred with dieting. When you feel physically restricted and deprived on top of emotionally hungry, you don?t stand a chance against emotional eating. Any work you might do around emotional awareness will be sabotaged if you are dieting. Dieting, food and weight obsession make emotional distress even more overwhelming. The best way to give yourself a fighting chance against emotional eating is to feel well fed. Honor hunger and fullness signals and let yourself eat foods you enjoy.

Emotional Eating triggers:
1. Emotionally unaware – you may not yet have learned how to identify feelings
2. Lack of coping strategies
3. Feeling overwhelmed, which leads to decreased resiliency
4. Lack of adequate nutrition, blood sugar fluctuations from over/under eating, etc
5. Boredom and procrastination
6. Being wound too tight/perfectionism/rigidity – food is a way to relax

Two pronged approach to emotional eating:
1.  Alternative coping (self-care plan). Trying to avoid emotional eating when you feel triggered to do so will never work. Instead, aim to create patterns that decreases emotional distress. It?s about being proactive rather than reactive.
2.  Feel feelings rather than avoiding them (with other options to use as distractions). We are taught, or led to believe, that our emotions are too big to handle. We want to run from them rather than listening to and learning from them. We are all going to have bad days, and if we quit trying to hang on to the good and push away the bad, we can find peace. The goal then isn?t to never feel bad and always feel good, it?s to feel peaceful amid difficult emotions and situations.

It?s OK to feel happy, excited or satisfied by food. This is called eating with emotion! Emotional eating is about numbing, distracting or avoiding. You usually eat really, really quickly and typically feel guilty and physically unwell after. Eating WITH emotion is being excited about the food you are eating, savoring and enjoying it, feeling physically and psychologically satisfied and energized. You feel content, happy and balanced.

Some questions to ask yourself:
1.  Am I hungry? If yes, eat! If not?
2.  What Am I Feeling? Take a time out to connect with what you are feeling. Write it down, call a friend, just sit still and feel it or at least make a commitment to do one of these things when you have the chance.
3.  What Do I need? Meet your true need by acting in a way that honors it.
4.  Would You Please?.? Ask for help!

Challenge: Keep a journal. Process your thoughts on a daily basis by getting them out of your head and down on paper.  Do not underestimate how effective this will be!

Emily Fonnesbeck RD, CD