The world, as we know it, is changing, minute by minute.

Who doesn’t feel some measure of fear and anxiety?

It would make sense then, that some people find themselves eating food despite not being physically hungry. Perhaps we want to be comforted, to be nurtured. We eat to avoid our problems. We eat because we are bored. We eat because we are scared. We eat because we are literally working from home for the first time and the kitchen calls to us. We all use food to cope with feelings in many ways.

Conversely, some people have a harder time eating when life is stressful. For those of you recovering from a restrictive eating disorder, you may find that your normal hunger cues are off and you are struggling to feed yourself.

This article will talk about emotional eating – the many ways that it can actually serve us – as well as the ways that it doesn’t. We will then explore some strategies to manage our feelings without overeating or under-eating, when it does NOT serve us well.

Also, please know that your health is important to us at Erica Leon Nutrition.  Erica and the entire team are here for you and are providing virtual appointments. Please contact us to set up an appointment.

It would be so easy for me to beat myself up for emotional eating right now.
Instead, I am thankful for the grace and kindness with which I have learned
to treat myself since beginning my intuitive eating journey.

Karen Ricks, owner of my Kitchen Classroom

Eating IS an Emotional Activity

We all eat emotionally because eating food is inherently an emotional activity.

We all use food to cope with emotions

Food is meant to be enjoyed, and shared with family and friends. It’s normal to have a repertoire of comfort foods. Eating these occasionally is part of a healthy relationship with food. However, if you always eat as a first line of defense when feeling sad, lonely or anxious, it might be time to learn some additional coping strategies. The same can be said for having a hard time completing a meal plan that might have been given to you by your dietitian.

So What Should I do?

  1. Eat Balanced Meals and Snacks Throughout the Day. The very first strategy for managing emotional eating is to make sure you’re eating enough food throughout the day. This means eating balanced meals and snacks with combinations of protein, carbohydrates and fats. Did you know that restricting your food can actually lead to rebound binge eating? Or worse, restricting your food can have a negative influence on your immune system?
  2. This is not the time to diet. This is not the time to restrict. For some examples of balanced meal ideas, you can read this article.
  3. Recognize Whether You are Physically Hungry or Hungry for Something Else. When you notice a craving coming on, check in with yourself. When was the last time you ate? Did you have enough food? Or are you just thinking about food all the time and wanting more?
  4. Practice not Reacting. Many eating behaviors are reactive responses, meaning they are mindless, not mindful. We act without thinking! Sometimes reactive eating is a response to an absolutely unbearable feeling. Sometimes reactive eating is just a mindless activity like eating a handful of nuts without noticing. To learn how to not react in the moment, try practicing the skill of pausing. Pausing is a kind of mindfulness training. It means that when you have an urge to eat and you know you are not physically hungry – STOP. Literally stop. Close your eyes and breathe. Simply breathe in and breathe out. If you find yourself in the vulnerable position of having a craving or desire to binge eat, commit to delaying eating for anywhere from 5-15 minutes. This doesn’t mean you’re not “allowed” to eat, rather, it means that you give yourself a chance to pick a committed action (see below).
  5. Cultivating Coping Skills. Learning to manage your emotions without using food (or any other behavior that doesn’t serve you well) requires some practice. These skills fall into three different categories: a) finding distractions, b) seeking nurturing activities, and c) dealing directly with the feelings. Let’s give some examples of each and how to start figuring out which is the best strategy to use.
    • Find distractions: Watch TV, go on the computer, read a book, take a drive, clean a closet, dance, nap, do a jigsaw puzzle.
    • Seek nurturing activities: Rest and relax, listen to soothing music, meditate, practice yoga, play with a pet, take a walk in nature.
    • Deal with the feelings: Write in a journal, call a friend or family member, cry, breathe deeply, sit with your feelings and learn how to let them diminish.

It can be very challenging to manage the urge to eat emotionally, especially during these very trying times. We need to recognize that emotional eating is not the villain it is depicted to be! It makes so much sense that we would turn to food in moments of despair. Sometimes eating in a moment of chaos can be just what the doctor ordered!

But just starting to notice which foods you crave can be the start of gathering information into what you are feeling. And during this uncertain time, starting to practice these skills can actually be a form of self-nurturing.

Practicing nurturing and self-care skills makes it easier to handle the curveballs that life throws in our path. Nurturing self-care skills that might be the most helpful in this time of uncertainty are getting enough rest, connecting with others and getting outside in nature, if at all possible.

Some additional resources for anyone struggling with their mental and physical health during this trying time:

Join our free Eat. Live. Nourish. Intuitive Eating Facebook Group and let us know which resource you are finding helpful during this challenging time!

Nutritional Guidance For Eating Disorder Recovery: Your Path To Intuitive Eating

If you are recovering from an eating disorder and feel ready to practice skills that connect your mind and body, our Nutritional Guidance program is just right for you. This self-study program will help you discover what “normal eating” means, become aware of your hunger and fullness cues, address food and shopping challenges, and understand how to make snacks feel satisfying. You will also learn about mindfulness and reactive eating and get access to an exercise to help you with your reactive eating.

Register today for this course for only $19 and begin your journey with Nutritional Guidance from Erica Leon, an Eating Disorders Specialist and Registered Dietitian.