Do you identify as an emotional eater? What you might need is a little self care! In this post, learn one of my favorite tools for coping with emotional eating. When you know how to build a self care toolbox for emotional eating you can cope with emotions with or without food.
This weekend I spent some time organizing my current client files (because apparently, as much as I try to be, I am not one of those stereotypical type A, hyper-organized dietitians - maybe in another life?). Anyway, on my client intake form, I have a place for new clients to write their three biggest concerns about their diet or eating behaviors. And as I was filing, I noticed something interesting - literally every single one of my current clients except for two wrote "emotional eating" as a top 3 concern.
Clearly, there's a lot of guilt and shame wrapped up in emotional eating. But I'm going to share something about it that you may find shocking - emotional eating isn’t bad for you.
We humans are emotional creatures. And as annoying as those emotions may beds sometimes (like, ohhhh, maybe when you physically can't stop crying at an episode of This Is Us, or so I hear), those pesky emotions are there for a good reason - survival. Our brain is hardwired to feel positive emotion from doing things we need to do to survive - having sex, bonding with others, moving our bodies, and yes, eating.
Instead of trying to fight biology, work with it.
Emotional eating in of itself isn't bad. The problem comes if eating is your only form of self care or way of dealing with negative emotions. Because while food can provide some comfort, it doesn’t exactly deal with the actual problems in life that might be leading to uncomfortable emotions. While eating to cope with emotions is perfectly acceptable, excessive emotional eating may be a sign that you're in need of some self care and other coping tools.
How to Build a Self Care Toolbox for Emotional Eating:
Think of emotional eating as one of many tools in a self care toolbox. Just like in an actual toolbox, you need more than one tool to keep your house from falling apart (or in this case, you are the house!). Just like you wouldn't expect to fix everything in the house with a screwdriver (or as I like to call it, the "Honey! Where's the whatchamdoozle?"), you need more than one tool to deal with the array of emotions we feel on a daily basis.
Different tools may be helpful for different situations. And different tools may be more or less accessible to us in different situations. That’s why we want to have different options handy!
One thing I work on with my clients is teaching them how to build a self care toolbox. When they’re feeling an uncomfortable emotion, they can pull it out and pick from the list what feels best for them in the moment.
Here’s some examples of what to put in your self care toolbox, plus some examples of what I’ve put in mine:
Happy foods - croissants from a local bakery, ice cream with chunky things in it, pinot noir (bonus points for singing peeno noir while I'm drinking it)
Connection tools - doing something new in Columbia with the hubs, google chatting with my best friend, going out to dinner with girlfriends
Calming tools - sitting in the backyard on a sunny day, walking the dogs by myself, restorative yoga/laying in child's post for a few minutes
Laughter tools - watching episodes of aforementioned Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, playing with my dogs, listening to funny podcasts (big fan of The Great Debates right now)
Energizing tools - going for a run until I feel like stopping, getting fancy coffee, listening to my girl power spotify mix (it's all Lady Gaga, En Vogue, Beyonce, Kesha and Missy Elliot)
Ways to release energy/anger - listening to angsty music & crying, throwing (soft) things at my bed, talking/yelling/crying to my husband
Keep your self care toolbox somewhere handy so you can pull it out when you need it. You might think about keeping your self care toolbox as a list on your cell phone so it’s aways handy! At first, you might pick the wrong tool for the job, but as you get better at identifying emotions and what self care you need, you'll find yourself relying on food less and less - and feeling less guilty when you do.
Of course, a bit part of this is building a healthier relationship with food. If food isn’t being restricted, and you have access to all foods at all times, then food probably isn’t going to be the self care tool that you want to choose all the time. If you need help or guidance with that aspect of it, please reach out to see if we’re a good fit to work together!