Eating While Feeling is Not a Crime!Dec 24, 2021
We've been talking about hunger and other reasons to eat, hitting upon the topic of emotional eating.
I want to shout it from the mountain-tops:
Let's not make a big problem out of emotional eating.
There are all sorts of headlines, articles and programs about ending emotional eating. "Stop it now," like it's COVID-19, or poverty, or an infestation in our homes.
It's none of the above.
Emotional eating is.... normal. Normal human-type stuff.
I know, you're saying, "but it's a problem. I'm overweight because I eat when I'm frustrated, and lonely, and sad, and happy.... and my kids are emotional eaters too."
My friend, we are ALL emotional eaters.
Whether you want to call it a problem or not is up to you.
As humans, everything that we do is because of emotions - feelings that lead us to do things, or lead us to avoid them.
Eating is something that we can do when we are experiencing emotions.
It's what we do, as humans.
Yes, in a "perfect world," we would eat just when hungry, then have zero attraction to food otherwise.
You know what, that world doesn't sound so perfect.
But here's the thing, it's not about giving emotional eating a free pass. It's about recognizing that there isn't something wrong with us because we eat when having emotions. Eating while feeling is not a crime.
The challenge with emotional eating - comfort eating as I think of it, is that it's fueling our bodies when they don't necessarily need fuel. The brain is looking for companionship, a break, or to avoid the discomfort of what is in front of us (anyone else procrastinate with food?).
The thing about emotional eating is that it doesn't solve the problem that was there in th first place - the reason for the boredom or frustration. It just numbs it, distracts us away for a while, and then gives a gift of some extra fuel our bodies didn't actually need at the time.
This happens all the time.
Is it a problem?
Only if you make it one.
Especially when we are looking through the lens of the family and the eating behaviors that we have in the family. Labeling our children's eating habits as being emotional eating has the danger of layering on judgement.
The last thing that our kids need is judgement about what, when or how they eat.
Remember the last time someone made a comment about what you were - or weren't - eating? Yeah, it sucks. No one wants that.
Notice emotional eating.
Always start with yourself.
Pay attention to your patterns of eating.
When you find yourself grabbing for food, ask yourself, "What am I feeling right now?" It may be hunger. But could it be boredom or fatigue or loneliness or joy?
Just note the emotions. This is a new language and opportunity for us to explore what's driving us to eat.
Emotions are normal for us to feel. Yes, it is normal to feel all the feels.
What to not do:
No judgement. Emotional eating happens. We first get to notice and without scolding or judgement about it.
Caution - do not start looking for the patterns of emotional eating in your family members and start telling them that they are emotional eating. You're gonna get kicked off the island for that. Even with the best of intentions - this is not a time to tell folks that you know why they are eating like it's gonna just change. Nope. Doesn't work that way.
The beauty as we get to learn about our emotions is that we can learn to embrace all of the emotions - and with time, learn that they aren't something to be comforted or numbed or avoided at all costs.
But in the meanwhile, please spare the judgement about the Ben & Jerry's.
Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!
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