There is no shame in using food to cope. It’s pretty common and it only becomes an issue when it is our only coping mechanism.
We are emotional beings, we feel a range of emotions, and one of the things in life that does make us feel an emotion (usually a good one!) is food.
Sometimes because it just kicks off those pleasure receptors in our brain and gives us a dopamine spike so our body makes the link between feeling good when you eat that specific food.
Sometimes it’s because we tie a certain emotion to certain foods. For example, maybe a certain meal makes you think of visiting your grandparents house, or maybe popcorn at the cinema makes you feel good, or cake at a birthday party is a happy experience.
We even link food with sad events – food at a funeral or eating icecream or all the chocolate after a breakup, and we do this because those foods in the moment make us feel better, and help us feel a little less sad or whatever emotion it is we are feeling.
So it makes sense that using food to cope can become a strategy. But it is about the same level of helpful as it is just sticking a plaster on a broken arm – it’s going to make you feel better temporarily but in the long term it’s not going to be much help.
The only problem that food can fix is hunger.
What is emotional eating?
Emotional eating is when we turn to food to cope with the stressors or uncomfortable feelings in our life.
There is a few reasons why you may be emotionally eating – you may be using it to deal with emotions, it might be a reaction to restricting your food intake (e.g. dieting) or it may be that you are feeling unfulfilled with your life and you are trying to fill the gap with food.
I have written a blog post all about emotional eating here – How to cope with emotional eating
Just a note here – although similar emotional eating and binge eating disorder are similar but not the same, if you feel that you are suffering with binge eating disorder please go and see your GP who can point you in the right direction of support.
Signs you are using food to cope
So here are some signs that you might be using food to cope with uncomfortable emotions, rather than just for hunger.
- You are craving a very specific food and no other food is going to substitute it.
- You are not hungry at all, but you still want to eat.
- You have finished your meal and you are very full, but you still want to eat something (this could also be a satisfaction issue so make sure your food satisfies you – aka eat the things you like)
- You are after a very specific texture of food e.g. crunchy
- You chose to get a takeaway or buy a chocolate or some sweets, cake etc because its been a hard or a stressful day
- You’ve done something really well, or you are rewarding yourself with food.
- You feel really uncomfortable in your emotions and you are suddenly ravenous and only a sweet treat is going to cut it.
- You just know that you are emotionally eating.
How do I stop emotionally eating?
This post here goes into more detail – How to cope with emotional eating – but here are some places to start.
- Eat more mindfully – learning to tune into your hunger and listen to your fullness cues is going to make such a difference in helping you identify if you are hungry or emotionally eating.
- Start feeling your feelings – when you have a craving for food, just pause for a second and ask yourself if you are hungry. If you aren’t hungry, then you need to identify what you are feeling so that you can give yourself what you need. Food will only fix hunger.
- Move your body – It will help you cope better with your stress levels and that is going to help you turn to food less – and also it’s really important for our health!
- Get enough sleep – not having enough sleep is going to make you hungry as your body tries to get energy from elsewhere. Our coping levels are lower too when we aren’t getting enough sleep, which means we are more likely to emotionally eat.
- Make time for you – rest and relaxation are important. Make time everyday, even if it’s just 5 minutes to do something for you.
I hope this helps!
Let me know if you need some more support.