Food is not just about nutrition and fuel for our bodies – it is part of our history, our culture, our family. Food is something that is meant to be enjoyed for the taste and pleasure it brings us – not only for the vitamins, minerals and fibre it provides (although very important!). Cooking, baking and eating are all ways in which we connect with others and care for ourselves and the people we love. Sometimes though, we tend to eat for the wrong reasons and it can actually become harmful. If your first thought when you are feeling stressed, anxious, upset, happy or angry is to eat something, you may be emotional eating.
But emotional eating can be a problem if:
- It is your only coping mechanism
- It is not actually helping you to cope
- You feel guilty and ashamed every time you eat to cope with stress
Coping mechanisms are important strategies or activities that you use to deal with and process your stress and other emotions.
When food is used to numb or avoid feeling, eating becomes mindless without enjoyment. This makes it an ineffective coping skill and wont help you feel any better. Instead, slow down and pay attention. Make eating an active choice and be intention when you use food to cope with stress. Think about what food will make you feel better at that moment. Use all your senses to smell, taste and savour that food. This will help you use food and the act of eating in a positive way to feel better, without a side of guilt.
If you let your emotions guide your eating, you may feel disconnected from your natural appetite and have a hard time identifying when you’re actually hungry. Remember, there are always physical symptoms when your body is hungry – like a growling stomach and lack of energy.
Learning to listen to your body’s hunger signals is critical for overcoming emotional eating. Set yourself up for success by eating breakfast, lunch and dinner. And make sure your meals are nutrient dense, macronutrient balanced and made form real whole foods. When you nourish your body in a healthy manner, you empower yourself to listen to it too.
Another powerful tool to identify triggers for emotional eating is keeping a food diary. Track whether your feel physically hungry, what you ate and how you felt when you ate it. You might be able to identify a trend or pattern.
Whatever emotion you are feeling, and whatever you may be doing to overcome emotional eating it is important to note: asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, but a strength. It is not realistic to expect that you can do everything yourself, so reach out to your friends, family and other healthcare professionals and ask for help when you need it.