When emotional eating is A-OK
Posted June 30
Emotional eating gets vilified a lot. We often spend so much time worrying about what goes into our mouths at the expense of worrying about what we allow to take up space and energy in our minds.
How we talk to ourselves in our mind and having a positive relationship with food are important facets of health that sometimes get overlooked.
When pursuing a better connection to our bodies through intuitive eating and gentle nutrition, we can feel anxious about eating for reasons other than true hunger. Many people who realize that diets aren't the answer end up unknowingly turning intuitive eating into yet another diet.
Here's an important point: Intuitive eating isn't doing its job for you if you're attempting to be perfect at it. Intuitive eating, by nature, allows for lots of wiggle room to hone in on a place with feeding yourself and nourishing your body in a way that's right for you. It's not intended to be a method to find a "perfect" way to eat because perfection — especially with food and eating — doesn't really exist.
If you're someone who has engaged in lots of emotional eating in the past, it's important to recognize that the goal isn't to never emotionally eat. Obviously, putting food in your mouth every time you're feeling something isn't going to lead to optimal health. But creating tons of stress and anxiety around food because you are so nervous about eating for reasons other than hunger isn't good for your health either.
The goal with emotional eating, specifically, is simply to become aware of the times you're eating when you're not truly hungry, and with that awareness attempt to understand when eating for a reason other than hunger is working for you and when it isn't.
Here's a recent example of when emotional eating was A-OK for me.
My 5-year-old had been anxiously awaiting the first day of summer for months. A few weeks ago, she woke up and finally the day was here! She really wanted to celebrate the first day of summer with an ice cream cone, so that's exactly what we did. Some might call our little ice cream outing an example of emotional eating since it was right after lunch and none of us was hungry.
Although my littles definitely need a little help learning the art of ice cream cone eating, they were sticky messes by the end, I wouldn't have traded this "emotional eating" experience for the world. The goal isn't to eradicate all emotional eating. The goal is to make the times you're eating for reasons other than hunger worth it for you. And that will look different for every person.
Don't be afraid of emotional eating. As with anything, it can be taken to the extreme on either end of the spectrum, but just focus on finding that middle ground that feels right for you. There are times when eating with emotion is exactly what you need, and that's perfectly OK.
Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist specializing in helping people heal their relationship with food. She hosts Nutrition Matters Podcast and has a private nutrition consulting business based in Salt Lake City.