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The Pro’s and Con’s of Emotional Eating
“I am addicted to food.” “I can’t stop eating.” “I am a chronic emotional over eater!”
Does this sound like you. I hear this from mostly ever client who walks in my door. They feel shame, frustration, and an overall sense of hopelessness, wondering why they just can’t stop eating!
One of the things I do with them is to help them realize what emotional eating has done for them, both positively and negatively.
You see, using food to cope with emotions is one of our most basic learnt behaviors. When a baby is born, that baby cries, looking for his mother and his source of food. Those first few minutes after birth, if the mother and baby are lucky enough, they may engage is skin-to-skin and that baby may latch to his mother for the first time. He engages in his first few moments in life through love and connection, and ahem, food!
We may be quick to jump to the fact that overeating is BAD! 100% BAD! But I am going to challenge you here, and help you see how emotional eating has helped you.
In a world where drugs, alcohol and other vices are extremely easy to access, many of us don’t struggle with those substances. But with food – you can’t steer clear of food – nor should you- but on a practical level – you must eat to survive. You don’t need drugs or alcohol to SURVIVE! You do, however, NEED food.
Throw dieting into the mix – and you may have created an urgency to use food when you are highly emotional. See, on a biological level, if you aren’t eating enough calories or eating enough fat, carbohydrates or protein – you will likely crave them and binge on them, thus creating this notion that you are “addicted” to food. You over indulge in the feelings of guilt and shame for not being able to “control” yourself. When in reality, your body is doing the most profound thing – keeping you alive by getting you to eat the nutrients you need.
Every emotion has a physical feeling in your body. Overeating – or numbing on hunger or fullness, can temporary relieve those feelings. If you were not taught or modeled how to process painful emotions, you don’t just pick them up. Just like – if you were never taught to read – you most likely wouldn’t just learn how to. You’d get by in the world with the resources you do have, but certain things need to be taught.
Food may have been your only coping mechanism and ironically, the more guilt and shame we feel about something, the more we tend to engage in those exact behaviors. So their you have it. A perfect storm of emotional overeating- A chronic dieter who frequently overeats due to restriction, an overwhelming emotional feeling of guilt without any known way to process this emotion, continuing to do so because of the guilt spiral and a temporary numbing of feelings due to overeating.
You may have used food to cope when going through a divorce – food was your one and only loyal companion. You may have used food to cope because you moved to a new place and felt insecure and lonely – food was right there by your side. You may have used food to cope with boredom – getting up from your desk for a break is never allowed, but for a food break it is.
Identify how emotional overeating has served you, thank it for being there when you most needed it, and practice cultivating new skills for processing emotions – whether through speaking to like minded individuals, working with a therapist, journaling, meditating, yoga, walking etc. Their are so many ways to process emotions. Their is no one size fits all. Try different things at different times and see how it goes. Use this lens for anything in life. I don’t necessarily like _____ behavior – but I can’t just stop doing that behavior – figure out why it is here.
I know its easy to stay in victim mode, believe me, I have lived their for a good portion of my life. But this way is better. Its more empowering. Its more fun. It gives you the responsibility of your own life that we all desperately want. So- how has emotional overeating served you?
Gila Glassberg is a Master's level registered dietitian and a certified Intuitive Eating Counselor. Asa teenager, she was faced with constant ha talk, body shaming and obsessive guilt around food, she smuggled with disordered eating.This is what propelled her into the field of nutrition. She uses a on-diet, weight-neutral approach called Intuitive Eating. She helps growth oriented women break out of chronic dieting, and regain clarity into what is really important to them.
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