When we talk about emotional eating, it’s usually in the context of something we need to fix or change about ourselves. It certainly is an issue for many people, but is it always bad?
What is emotional eating?
At its most basic, emotional eating is simply eating food as a response to your emotions. In the positive sense, it’s things like eating a cupcake or going out for pizza when you’re feeling celebratory, or making your grandmother’s recipe when you’re feeling nostalgic.
When does it become an issue? When finding comfort within food becomes a primary coping mechanism. When we emotionally rely on food to soothe ourselves when we experience negative feelings.
These negative emotions can be anything that makes us feel uncomfortable. Stress, anger, loneliness, sadness, boredom, health issues, financial worries, relationship struggles. Even happiness can cause discomfort if you’re not used to feeling that way.
Emotions and our responses to them can be really complex, but emotional eating isn’t fundamentally a bad thing. Relying on food to cope, however, is where it gets tricky.
Why does it happen?
First and foremost, I’d like to dispel the notion that this is an issue that can easily be solved with more discipline. If you’re feeling badly about yourself, guilty, angry that you just don’t have the willpower to stop, release yourself of those feelings. This is much more than that.
Emotional eating is often a learned dopamine response. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for feeling pleasure, so it’s natural for us to create a habit of reaching for food that soothes us because the brain creates associations over time. Food = happy, even temporarily. There’s nothing wrong with you—everything is working the way it’s supposed to!
How to overcome emotional eating
There’s a lot of self-work involved in changing your habits, and it takes compassion for yourself, kindness, and patience. I believe it’s important to strengthen your intuition so you can better listen to your body, but also to have a plan in place so your needs are met.
I created an emotional eating workbook to help get you started. It covers meal planning (don’t let that scare you, I make it pretty simple!), getting to the root of your emotional cravings, and pinpointing other activities that give you that dopamine release without food.