Emotional Eating Guide: Build Your List

(Part 3 out of 3 of a series on emotional eating. Part 1Part 2)

Ok, it’s finally time to talk about that list.  This is a list of things you can do when you’re experiencing the desire to eat or do something about your feelings.

First, some very important guidelines:

  1. Eating must still be an option.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with comfort eating, and if you demonize it or try to make sure it never happens, you’ll stay stuck.
  2. Remember: You don’t actually have to do anything about your emotions besides feel them and let them exist.  Let this be a list of things that you can do when you want to, not that you “should” do or have to do.

That said, let’s get started:

Begin by targeting a certain problematic situation in your life.  Some examples:  Your impulse to get candy from the vending machine when your boss has criticized you, or your desire to raid the pantry after a stressful phone call with your mom.

Ask yourself, “What am I feeling in this situation?”  Name every feeling.  (Be self-compassionate as you think about the situation, but try not to get lost in your stories.)

Reassure yourself that it’s not “bad” to turn to food in this situation, and then try to identify the reasons that eating does not feel like the best way to cope.*

Examples of valid concerns:

  • Eating causes physical discomfort
  • Eating feels compulsive or out of control
  • Food does not meet physical or emotional needs

Examples of judgmental concerns:

  • The food isn’t “healthy” enough
  • Shouldn’t be eating when not hungry
  • Shouldn’t be eating to soothe feelings

*If you find that your concerns are coming more from a judgmental mindset than a place of honoring your needs, it may be best to hold off on making a list and do some work with your inner “food police” instead.

Now that you’ve pinpointed the feelings you’re experiencing in this situation and why eating doesn’t feel like the best possible response, you’re ready to make a list.  Set yourself up to write with as few distractions as possible.

Making a list:

  • First ask yourself, “What are some ways that I could respond to this situation?”
  • Take a deep breath and start writing whatever comes to mind.  Later you can cross off things that don’t make sense, but for now the only question is, “Would this feel nourishing to me?”
  • Write until you run out of ideas.  (Then, if you wish, you can come back here and read some of my ideas at the bottom of the page and add any of them that resonate.)
  • Next, refine your list.  Be really honest with yourself.  Connect with your heart and do a gut check on each idea.
  • If you find yourself thinking, “I should do that, but I don’t really want to,” cross that item off the list.  “Shoulds” are not welcome here.
  • Then, cross off anything that won’t work because of the situation, but check your assumptions.  Sometimes we tell ourselves stories about why things aren’t possible that aren’t actually true.
  • Look over your final draft and notice how you feel.  Hopefully you feel excited to try these things out and see what happens.
  • Over time you may want to add or subtract things from your list, or make new lists for new situations.  Let your lists evolve over time and become more attuned to your needs.

And in case you had any doubts, I want to reassure you that you deserve to care for yourself in this way.  Your feelings are valid and your desire to self-soothe is not selfish or weak.  Consider this quote from Audre Lorde:

I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.”

Self-care ideas:

  • Touch and sensory stimulation
    • Self-massage
    • Massage or gentle head petting
    • Hugs
    • Bath or shower
    • Comfy clothes and blankets
    • ASMR
    • Stretching and yoga
    • Scrubbing or brushing skin (loofah, washcloth, skin brush, exfoliant)
  • Music (listen, create, sing, dance, move)
  • Nature (garden, hike, sit, photograph, touch)
  • Creativity
    • Arts/Crafts (draw, paint, collage, color, sculpt, knit, sew, build, tinker, decorate)
    • Fiction writing, poetry
    • Create music, sing, choreograph
  • Allow unpleasant feelings
    • Be present, meditate, breathe
    • Cry
    • Express
      • Write in a journal or blog
      • Talk to a good listener (friend, stranger, or even a pet!)
  • Movement
    • Stretching, yoga
    • Going for a walk
    • Vigorous or intense exercise
    • Adjust posture or move to a new setting
  • Rest (nap, go to bed early, guided relaxation, or just sit/lay quietly)
  • Listen to a guided meditation or visualization
  • Distraction:
    • Consume media (books, shows, movies, internet, etc.)
    • Clean, organize
    • Make a to-do list and do
    • Self-grooming
    • Gratitude: Think, write, or talk about what you’re grateful for
    • Humor: Pursue amusement
    • Puzzles and games
  • Connect with others with purpose:  Decide whether you want to be heard, distracted, uplifted, or just less alone.  Reach out to another person or group of people and let them know what you’re looking for.

Want to jumpstart your intuitive eating?

Get the Intuitive Eating Jumpstart Guide in your inbox!

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. You can unsubscribe at any time.