We have all seen various articles stating how we can regulate emotional eating, how to stop emotional eating and how emotional eating is bad. If you have a spare minute, I would like you to Google ‘emotional eating’ and see what comes up for yourself. The definition that comes up is “eating as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions, such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness”. And the rest of the results are how to stop it and lose weight.
Now let’s unpack what is wrong with this definition from a psychological point of view.
- It only takes into consideration intense negative emotions.
- It displays certain emotions as “wrong” and “bad” and tells us that we need to avoid them at all costs.
- It assumes that this is a “bad” coping mechanism. (There are not good or bad ones, just helpful and unhelpful ones)
- It assumes that emotional eating is only related to overeating.
So how can we recognise emotional eating and navigate it?
First, it is important to remind ourselves that this is just another coping mechanism we have picked up to soothe ourselves when we experience a certain emotion, however it might not be the most helpful one all the time.Then we can try and recognise if what we are feeling is physical hunger or we are feeling an emotion. If it is an emotion, can we name it? Where do we feel it?
After that try and work your way through that emotion by trying out different helpful coping mechanisms that work for us (face masks, walks, talking to a friend, cooking, etc). Making a list can be useful, so we have something to turn to. Keeping in mind that food is still there and is very much an available coping mechanism.
So, to answer the question, is emotional eating bad? The short answer is no; however it might not be the most helpful coping mechanism at the time. Above all, being kind to yourself is key. We are emotional beings and emotional eating is part of being human. As humans, sometimes we just need some ice cream when we’re sad (or very, very happy!) – and that’s okay.
Author: Bogomila Tosheva