It is high time we take back the term “emotional eating.” These words, which are inherently positive at best and simply neutral at worst, has become one of our most-feared and reprimanded ideas. But why?
Because of women’s magazines, blogs, and websites using the term to incite fear; as if the better, safer way to eat was with a cold, stoic lack of emotion.
Because we have labeled emotions as shameful secrets to be consumed in secret.
Because our society considers the act of eating — the very act that keeps us alive — as something that must be controlled, minimized, and “managed.”
Many of us choose to eat when we feel a strong emotion. These emotions may manifest as fear, anxiety, loneliness, sadness… or on the other end of the spectrum: joy, elation, excitement, contented bliss. No matter the emotion, it is an act of joyful love to acknowledge it — and yes! You can acknowledge feelings through food choices. The act of emotional eating is not just a learned behavior; this is a deeply ingrained act that we understand on a cellular level. Food comforts, calms, and cheers us because it nourishes us. It keeps our brains firing and our hearts pumping. Isn’t it only natural that we turn to it when we are experiencing one of the strongest ways to be a human — to feel?
It’s hard to talk about this issue without addressing our society’s fatphobia, or judgment of people who live in fat bodies. So, let’s have a quick breakdown of how diet culture (in this case, that’s the message that emotional eating is bad) and fatphobia are linked: Often, the term emotional eating is confused with binge eating disorder. Although many people with BED do eat for emotional reasons, the two concepts are not interchangeable. (To learn more about binge eating disorder, check out this article.) If we explore further why both emotional eating and BED are demonized, we begin to understand that societal fear of weight gain and living in a fat body is rampant. We are told that eating anything beyond an austere, restricted plan (in other words: a diet) will unequivocally cause us to gain weight. We are then told that this is an undeniable Bad Thing. Of course, this is a falsity. (If you’re interested in learning more about this — the truth that bodies can be well and vibrant at any size — check out the Health At Every Size community.) Said another way: Just because we have been fed a steady stream of fatphobic rhetoric from the media and often, our communities does not mean we have to believe it.
Food is but one tool in our “How To Deal With Being A Human In This World” tool kit. Sometimes, we do not feel called to use it as another act of self-care feels more relevant and potent in the moment. This could look like a Netflix watching spree, breathwork, journaling, shopping, talking to a friend, snuggling a pet, lying on the floor and just feeling feels… you name it. If it feels good, it is self-care. When we are in touch with our hearts, we begin to listen more closely to what we need in any given moment.
Sometimes, food is exactly what we’re craving (consider the phrase, “That really hit the spot!”). Emotional eating only becomes an issue when it feels like it’s our go-to way to deal; like we have no other options. If you’re feeling this way, we invite you to pause and just get curious about what other coping skills might feel equally, if not more nourishing to you.
You always have permission to eat. Always. For any reason. Taking care of your emotional well-being just happens to be a really, really good one.
I like to eat boxed mac ‘n cheese (the white cheddar kind) when I feel emotional.