If you are in information overload or analysis paralysis and you’re not sure if healing emotional eating is the best next step for you, read on…
Everyone seems to have an opinion about how to improve your health and wellness, and most of us have a laundry list of self-improvement initiatives we would like to undertake. In this article, I will help you determine if healing emotional eating is the best next step for you so you can stop the paralyzing overwhelm and take action.
The most important thing to know about healing emotional eating: emotional eating is normal
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, It’s important to understand that:
- Emotional eating is normal
- We do it because it works
- When you eat, you get feel-good signals in your body that make you feel pleasure, reward and allow you to numb other emotions.
- Food isn’t moral. You aren’t “bad” if you eat sugar. You are bad if you murder people ( and while I hope you can be redeemed if you go that route… let’s just avoid murder).
For many people, the occasional pint of ice cream after a break-up isn’t a big issue. Even my husband, who no one would call an emotional eater, has a story of driving to the grocery store for donuts after an awkward job interview.
Emotional eating works, it temporarily numbs your emotions and makes you feel good. Using it as one tool of many to cope with life’s stressors is normal.
And then… there are those of us who more often than not, turn to food when emotions are high.
If this is you, you may be noticing health impacts of your food choices, pain and discomfort from inflammation or digestive issues, mobility issues, anxiety/obsession with food and a whole host of other problems directly impacting your quality of life.
Former client, S, describes it this way:
I would munch at night and say to myself ‘don’t do this’. I had so much anxiety around food, I ended up needing to put something in my mouth to calm the anxiety.
You would benefit from healing emotional eating if you do any of the following on a regular basis:
- Eating to reward yourself
- Boredom eating
- Eating to stay awake
- Eating when stressed or angry
- Sneaking or hiding food
- Feel guilt or shame after eating
- Eating at the end of a loooong day because you’ve put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own all day and indulging is how you spend “me” time.
When you are turning to food for emotional situations more often than feeling your feelings or using other coping mechanisms, it’s likely emotional eating is impacting your life to the point where the discomfort you have from emotional eating will outweigh the discomfort of learning to feel your feelings and healing emotional eating.
Psst… have you grabbed my free guide, “You’re Done Dieting, But Still Want to Heal Emotional Eating: A Roadmap to Achieve Peace and Freedom with Food and to Feel Comfortable In Your Own Skin, for Women over 45 Who Have Tried it All”, yet?
My experience with food before healing emotional eating
Sometimes when you are trying to decide if healing emotional eating would be worth the trouble for you, it can be helpful to understand what it looks like to be “healed”. I offer my story as an example to you…
I wouldn’t have called myself an ‘emotional eater’ when I was in grad school studying nutrition – but I can clearly see now (hindsight is 20/20, right?) that emotional eating was my struggle.
I used my daily bar of chocolate and stress-fueled guacamole and cupcake binges to numb my emotions because I wasn’t equipped to deal with my feelings, and because of the cultural context I grew up in, (faith over feelings… anyone else grow up hearing that?) I didn’t value them.
I ended up feeling anxious about eating, angry at myself when I didn’t choose “good” food. My health deteriorated and I ended up in a cycle of losing and gaining weight.
Worse yet, all the nutrition solutions I was learning in school only made the problem worse. Sure, I’d be able to resist the chocolate for a while, but then I’d eventually give up and give in, sliding back to where I started.
I continued like this for several years.
It wasn’t until I was a new-mom and I stopped all self-care activities in favor of caring for my infant (and using food as a substitute for self-care), that things came to a head.
I was in constant pain from elevated antibodies. My digestion was wrecked from years of anxiety and processed foods. I felt awful, physically and emotionally.
I decided it was time to heal my emotional eating once and for all
I dove into the research around emotional eating, binging, and self-compassion. I worked with a counselor, dietitian (yes! Even dietitians need dietitians sometimes!), and naturopath to get to the root of my health issues.
I read every book I could get my hands on about developing a healthy relationship with food. I had to UNLEARN a lot about diets, the trustworthiness of my body and what it means to be healthy.
As a result, I developed the methodology that eventually healed my emotional eating, and I now use with my clients.
Here’s what the journey looks like for me after healing emotional eating:
Now, I don’t view emotional eating as a problem, but rather an indicator that I need to check in with how I’m feeling.
I can easily make healthy choices without feeling deprived and indulge moderately in things I love without guilt (I see you cinnamon rolls).
I focus on self-care and healthy behaviors rather than the number on the scale and prioritize activities that help me feel good in my body.
And occasionally, I’ll get that urge to eat. You know the one, where you feel like a caged animal looking to devour anything with sugar. And instead of getting frustrated because I’m not supposed to feel that way anymore, I get curious.
I’m able to figure out why I’m feeling that way, take care of myself, and move on. Usually, there’s a few pieces of chocolate involved, and that’s OK too.
Healing emotional eating is a journey, not a destination. I have come to view my emotional eating as a kind of “check engine light” that helps me care for myself better rather than a nuisance that marks me as a failure.
If you feel like emotional eating is degrading your quality of life and you’re tired of feeling obsessed and anxious about food, it’s likely time to focus on healing.
If you know healing emotional eating is the best next step for you, get the roadmap to follow with my free guide, “You’re Done Dieting, But Still Want to Heal Emotional Eating: A Roadmap to Achieve Peace and Freedom with Food and to Feel Comfortable In Your Own Skin, for Women over 45 Who Have Tried it All”