When is Emotional Eating Okay?
Wondering how to stop emotional eating? Read this first
If you have struggled to find solutions on how to stop emotional eating you are not alone. Here is a different way to think about it.
First, please recognize it is completely normal to eat emotionally.
We have all done it, sometimes it bothers us and sometimes it doesn’t.
So how do you know if you’re using emotional eating the right way?
When you choose to use emotional eating for a specific purpose, it can be okay!
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is a coping skill that we use at time, specific to a certain emotion. What I hear most from people who say they struggle with emotional eating is that they don’t know what else to do.
“It’s the end of a long day and I just want to relax” or “I just find myself hanging out in the kitchen looking for snacks”. Many of these people carry a lot of guilt related to eating in emotional times.
I am here to remind you that sometimes, that is okay!
We don’t beat ourselves up for eating to celebrate a birthday or when we enjoy an elaborate meal with family and friends, so why do we worry so much about other times of emotional eating?
Are you doing something wrong by eating when you are stressed out or lonely? NO!
Are you choosing to over-indulge on celery and expecting the same comfort? NO!
Here is the thing about emotional eating, it works. Ideally, it is just one of your many coping skills instead of the only one.
I remember emotionally eating a large bag of peanut M&M’s after a break up. In that moment, it worked and made me feel a little bit better (Coping skill #1). But I also reached out to friends for comfort and support (coping skill #2). They gave me the opportunity to let out some of my feelings and let me just be sad (coping skill #3).
I chose to eat the delicious candy, and allow that sweet treat to act as a bit of comfort in that moment. And then I chose to use other coping skills.
Often we beat ourselves up for doing something that might not be “healthy”, because we ate out of emotional need instead of physical need. But what if we worked at expanding out repertoire of coping skills, and gave ourselves the choice instead?
How to manage emotional eating
Rather than thinking about how to stop emotional eating, instead think about how to manage emotional eating.
Step 1. Awareness
Do you know when you are doing it?
Can you slow down and try to identify why you feel drawn to eat emotionally?
Here are some examples:
- Survived a long day and feel like you deserve to unwind with a treat
- Procrastinating from a daunting task
- Want to celebrate
- Feeling lonely or isolated
- Angry with a co-worker or loved one
Step 2. Brainstorm
Once you know the main reason you turn to emotional eating, try to come up with a list of potential alternative coping skills for that emotional need.
A few ideas you could try are:
- read, do a puzzle or mindful coloring
- going for a walk, getting outside
- cuddling with a pet, curl up with a soft blanket
- phone a friend
- punch a pillow or yell loudly
- breathe – give yourself a moment
- listen to a podcast or audio book
- put on some good music and dance around the room!
- put on your favourite hand lotion and take a minute to enjoy the scent
- do something creative like baking or painting or playing music or writing
- So many more…
Step 3. Trial and error
From the list you create, start trying one thing per day. The goal is to build the skill before you need it so when the urge to eat emotionally comes up, you have a choice. You can do one of your new skills, you can emotionally eat, or if you want, you can do one of the new skills and then emotionally eat after.
You wouldn’t beat yourself up for choosing to phone a friend to vent to, so don’t beat yourself up for choosing to eat emotionally either.
The key is to give yourself a choice. Whatever you choose, own that decision. No guilt, no second guessing.
Here are some additional emotional eating resources you may find helpful:
How to navigate emotional eating
Stress eating: how stress can make us overeat and what to do about it
Re-defining the joy of movement during high-stress times
Looking for more information on emotional eating from an Online Nutritionist or local Calgary Dietitian that “gets it”?
If you are struggling with emotional eating and need some private, confidential support, . If you know what to eat but feel alone and struggle to put strategies in place that actually stick we can work with you to support you with your goals.
As university trained Registered Dietitians and a practice established in year 2000 you can count on us for credible advice and many years of experience for practical ideas so you don’t have to stress about food anymore. You can achieve a healthy and joyous relationship with food and your body. Let’s talk about what this can look like for you.
Disordered Eating, Emotional Eating & Sports Nutrition
Fitness enthusiast and lover of all things food, Jana is passionate about helping her clients improve their relationship with food and their body. She is a strong, motivational leader. Jana also offers the balance of a warm, supportive coaching style to nudge her clients from their comfort zone while feeling safe and supported. She specializes in mental health, eating disorders, body image and sports nutrition.