Exploring the Emotional Side of Eating: Understanding, Coping, and Finding Balance

From your RAFT Counseling Team

Food is a major focus within many cultures. It’s also something that can provide a sense of comfort. Social interactions occur at restaurants. Family time happens at the dinner table. Food can have a certain level of significance for many people.

Everyone partakes in some version of emotional eating during their lifetime. Maybe it’s from pleasure. Maybe it’s due to some source of stress. Almost everything you do on a day to day basis stems from emotional response or reaction. It’s the thing that makes you human. 

Understanding emotional eating can help you better navigate it. While many people believe it to be a negative condition, is it possible that there is some benefit to it? 

What Is Emotional Eating?

Emotional eating is what occurs when you use food as a means for coping with your emotions. Rather than eating to satisfy any feelings of hunger, you turn to eating during times of stress, anxiety, depression, or when triggered from an external factor. 

Emotional eating can easily lead to binging on unhealthy foods or overeating. Either of these can negatively impact your level of health. When you think of comfort food, it’s usually something highly processed, high in sugar, or high in salt. Consuming these in moderation can have little impact on your health, but during periods of overeating, that has potential to be harmful.

What Causes Emotional Eating?

Emotions can be tricky. The spectrum is wide and can take you on a roller coaster. When you’re feeling the good ones, you’re on cloud nine. When you’re dealing with the harder ones, you often need a coping mechanism to successfully process through them. 

Eating is one common coping mechanism for those difficult or intense emotions. Emotional eating can be caused by stress, boredom, joy, and celebration. If you’re getting a lack of sleep, this can cause emotional eating. If you’re a person who chronically diets or jumps from diet to diet, this can also lead to it. 

Why Emotional Eating Isn’t Always Bad

There are plenty of instances where emotional eating can not only be acceptable, but effective in giving you a mood boost. You had a bad day at work. When you get home, you grab yourself a bag of chips and catch up on the latest Netflix episodes. You have been away from your family and are missing home. For a little touch of home, you bake an old family recipe for a comforting meal. Maybe you just went through a breakup and want to make a bowl of ice cream.

Each of these can keep you from spiraling into a more negative headspace, so the situational emotional eating is ok. You’re actively choosing one alternative over the other. You’re choosing to give yourself a chance to feel better. 

Intention behind emotional eating can actually improve the experience and reduce the overeating component. It also is an acceptable practice when there are other coping mechanisms involved. 

How to Do So Positively

The important thing to remember with emotional eating is to be mindful with it. You want to keep that intention piece present. 

Make sure you’re incorporating other coping mechanisms. If you don’t have many tools in that toolbox, it’s time to explore other options. Look up additional information and resources online. Relaxation techniques and routine exercise are both great starting points in managing the stress that is underlying. 

If you’re continuing to struggle, there are professional therapy options that can offer guidance and support. 

Are you an emotional eater? Are you interested in learning more about the topic and additional coping strategies? RAFT Counseling has online and in office sessions available in Parker, Colorado. Contact us today and let us help guide you!

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