Awhile back I was working with a client on overcoming emotional eating. I suggested that she brainstorm a list of alternative actions to take when she felt driven to soothe her feelings with food.
I wanted to make sure that she would choose options that were personalized to her needs, so I didn’t want to give too many suggestions. However, I strongly suggested that she add “eating” to her list of options.
She was surprised. “Isn’t that what I’m trying to avoid?” she asked.
This is my reasoning:
Why do we eat in response to emotions? Is it because we’re weak?
That’s the story we tell ourselves, but it’s not true.
The reality is that we eat to soothe difficult emotions because it works! Eating releases happy chemicals in the body, which is a actually a good thing, because it motivates us to feed ourselves.
So are you a weak person for soothing yourself in a way that tends to be easy and effective? Not at all!
Sometimes, though, emotional eating has unwanted consequences in addition to the positive ones. So you may have valid reasons that you’d like to cut back on emotional eating.
Here’s the thing, though: You absolutely need some kind of way of coping with difficult emotions, so you can’t just drop the option of eating and have nothing to take its place. I’ll talk more about developing strategies in part 2 and part 3 of this emotional eating series.
In the meantime, though, while you’re working on healing your relationship with food, it’s important to give yourself the option of eating to soothe your emotions, guilt free.
Once you truly drop the guilt, what you find may astound you: Your emotional eating will be automatically reduced.
If you truly believe that it’s ok to eat, it will feel less appealing to actually do so (especially for those of us whose inner rebel is loud and strong).
I know that this may be hard to believe if you haven’t been there yet, but consider this: Has feeling guilty ever fixed your emotional eating problem in the past? No. In fact, the guilt just gets added to the list of unpleasant emotions you’re driven to soothe.
So if your goal is to find ways of coping with emotions that don’t involve food, guilt-free eating must always be on your list of options.
Hopefully that gives you some food for thought. In my part 2 of this series, I’ll talk about managing the feelings that trigger emotional eating.