This article was originally published on Angie Viets: Inspired Recovery on March 6, 2017.
Emotional eating is usually seen in a bad light. We often hear how eating when stressed, bored or lonely is damaging and should be eliminated. Many articles have been written about how to stop eating emotionally. In fact, when I was doing research to write this piece, I really struggled to find any references that wrote about emotional eating in a positive tone.
However, despite emotional eating’s bad reputation, it’s important to acknowledge the ways it actually serves us. Emotional eating has a purpose, and it’s not a bad one.
1. Food is Comfort
There is a reason many turn to food when uncomfortable or distressed: food is comforting. This is one of the reasons parents often offer food to children who are sad or distraught. It temporarily numbs our discomfort and makes us feel good. While it won’t eliminate the cause of this discomfort, it distracts us from the challenging situation we are encountering. It provides relief and a sense of calm. This characteristic of food is not a bad one. In fact, it allows us to cope with life’s difficulties.
2. An Act of Self-Care
Emotional eating can become a problem when we think of it as being something bad or sinful. After engaging in emotional eating, many are ridden with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. I often hear clients speaking about how horrible they feel after these experiences. In a culture that paints emotional eating as a bad thing, I can certainly understand these feelings. It can be helpful to work on changing our mentality and realizing that eating emotionally is a form of self-care. In fact, it’s just one of the many ways you can use to feel safe and protect yourself.
3. An Opportunity to Learn
I often talk to clients about how it can be helpful to have a toolkit of comforting activities to turn to in moments of distress. Emotional eating can most definitely be one of those tools. Next time you engage in emotional eating, take time to notice what is happening inside of you instead of being self-critical. Note what needs are not being met and what feelings are causing you discomfort. This is a wonderful opportunity to be curious about your experience.
The Bottom Line
It can be very healing to work on accepting our emotional eating behaviors. It allows room for curiosity, compassion, and self-love, while fighting off feelings of guilt and humiliation. You are doing your best to take care of yourself and that is always something to celebrate.