It is truly a miracle that God created our hearts to feel such a wide range of emotions. Happiness, amusement, anger, sadness, boredom — the list goes on. Different circumstances evoke different emotions, and you really can’t control them. You can, however, control the tools you use to respond.
It is very common to find people using food to respond to emotions, and actually very understandable given that food produces pleasure. However, eating normally does not truly address the emotion you are feeling.
Using food to cope with emotions can present in many different ways. Do any of these sound like you?
- Food is a way to deal with boredom by filling time/putting off mundane work
- Food gives excitement when life begins feeling dull
- Food provides a form of comfort when you feel hurt, lonely, or angry
- Food is a way to find relief from an otherwise highly structured/stressful lifestyle
I never considered myself an emotional eater until I realized that in a lot of ways, I was emotionally unaware. I didn’t recognize the emotions I was having, and thus I was not responding appropriately. Often, I responded with food instead.
My journey to freedom didn’t start with putting more rules around food...it started with understanding and validating myself.
All emotions are real. Instead of arguing with them or burying them, here’s some practical steps I try to take to properly respond:
- Identify the emotion. This can often be tricky! You can use a tool like the feelings wheel to get some ideas. Once you know what you’re actually feeling, you will be better equipped to respond.
- Ask yourself, “What do I need?” Sometimes all you needed was to name the emotion. Other times, you will find you need rest, a conversation with a friend, or just a good ol’ cry.
- Give yourself as much space as you need. You might be surprised at how quickly the emotion passes when you actually provide a space to feel it with no judgment towards yourself.
Like every other intuitive eating principle, this is a journey. No one is perfectly adept at understanding and responding to their emotions, but I think you’ll be surprised at the progress you see when you begin taking some of these steps. I definitely was.
Food is made for enjoyment, but it was never meant to be a way to distract you from your emotions. If you struggle with emotional eating, know that you’re not alone. You don’t have to stand in judgment of yourself today, but I would like you remember that your heart is so valuable! Learning to skillfully tend to your emotions will allow you to connect with yourself and your life in a way that eating never will. So what does one step forward look like for you?