Emotional eating gets a bad rep. People talk about diving into a box of cookies when you're feeling sad like it's on par with stealing a kids bicycle or kicking a puppy.
Humans are emotional beings, and we're designed to get pleasure from food, so it's impossible to separate food from emotion. And emotionless eating? Now that doesn't sound like much fun, does it?
Food and eating is just one of many ways to cope with negative emotions. Instead of worrying about stopping emotional eating, we should be talking about how to build a well rounded set of tools for coping with emotions that includes food. I like to create a self care toolbox with clients so they have multiple self care tools at their disposal.
There's a time for processing emotions, but we can't do that 24/7. Sometimes numbing is the best thing available at a given moment, and food can be an option for doing that. The problem comes when we're over-reliant on food as a way of coping. That's why we want to include it in a list of ways to cope with negative emotions, but have other options for numbing, soothing and processing along with it.
Here’s some ideas for how to cope with negative emotions, with or without food.
- Eat something crunchy, like chips or nuts (highly recommend turbinado and sea salt dark chocolate almonds from Trader Joe's)
- Vent to someone you trust. It's good to have someone outside of the situation that you can talk to.
- Go for a sweaty run outside. Highly recommend also listening to Kendrick Lamar.
- Punch a punching bag. Throw pillows against the wall. Slam a door. Curse. Let yourself express some of that anger in a safe way.
- Write a letter or email to the person you're mad at. Probably best not to hit send.
- Watch an episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt if you feel like being cheered up, or an episode of The Fall is you feel like wallowing.
- Fix a big bowl of ice cream with colorful sprinkles
- Look at pictures of Bernese Mountain Dog puppies on instagram. My friends and family and I all follow @BerneseMountainDogLovers, @BerneseDaily, @WaffleNugget, and @Luna.the.Berner and basically know all the insta-famous Berners by name, and talk about their instagrams like they're the Kardashians or something.
- Put on cozy PJ pants, crawl into bed, and have a good cry. Literally just did this today.
- Make an appointment with a therapist to chat things out, or your doctor to discuss medication.
- Go to a yoga class or do a video at home. I'm a big fan of Yoga with Adriene and Curvy Yoga.
- Go for a mindful walk outside. Notice the sky, flowers, details on the houses. Pay attention to how it feels when your feet hit the pavement. Feel the breeze hit your body. Engage your senses as much as possible.
- Practice a deep breathing exercise. Check out the free app Insight Timer for guided meditations and deep breathing exercises.
- Eat a bowl of shell-on pistachios. Something about cracking them helps me with anxiety.
- Listen to calming music. Put on a yoga or meditation playlist on Pandora.
- Call or text with a friend or family.
- Make plans with a friend or colleague to go out and get a glass of wine or coffee.
- Go to a local coffee shop to read or work around other people. Enjoy a fancy drink and/or a pastry while you're there.
- Read a book with a protagonist you feel connected with.
- Find a place to volunteer where you'll be with other people.
- Try to learn the dance routine to a Bruno Mars song
- Bake a cake. If you bake this carrot pistachio cake with cream cheese frosting and bring me a slice and I’ll promise to keep you entertained.
- Research a random topic you’re interested in – get deep into that Wikipedia black hole
- Plan your next vacation
- Work on a project that's been lingering on your to do list, either at home or for work. If your list is short, knock on my door and I'll give you some tasks.
- Depending on if/where you worship or feel a spiritual connection, go to temple, mosque, church, synagogue, or a tranquil place outdoors
- Find a support group or talk to a friend/family member who understands your loss
- Make or order a food that reminds you of the person you're missing.
- Volunteer in a way that connects you to what you're grieving. If it's a pet, consider volunteering at a shelter. If it's a person, volunteer with an organization that was meaningful to them.
When it comes to using food to cope with negative emotions, I find it helpful to be aware that that's what you're doing, and to make that decision consciously. Doing that takes away a lot of the shame that fuels binge eating and overeating. It also allows for you to actually enjoy the food, and let it actually sooth your emotions a bit.
How do you like to cope with negative emotions, with or without food?
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