Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Why I Emotionally Eat

I’m not hungry, I tell myself as I put my dinner plate in the dishwasher.

I swear I’m not hungry, I tell myself as I eye the freezer. You hear that belly? I’m not hungry.

I’m really, really not hungry, I tell myself as I reach for an almost empty carton of ice cream.

Nope, not hungry at all, as I dip my spoon in for another creamy and delicious scoop. Mmmm, cookie dough and chocolate chips. A little whip cream on top…. That hits the spot.

Why I Emotionally Eat | Fuel For Freedom
Is it just me or does ice cream taste so much better after a long, hard day?

Never emotionally eat. Isn’t that what the weight-loss articles and fitness magazines preach? Emotional eating is bad, they say.

If you eat a brownie because you’re feeling upset, you’re a horrible human being with no self control. That hunk of ooey-gooey fudge is the devil’s spawn. That ice cream cone will cause you to turn into an unlovable imp that people mock on the street. They’ll warn their kids: “Oh, honey, stay away from her! She ate chocolate when she was feeling stressed. We don’t talk to people like that.”

flourless brownines
I need these cherry brownies from Running with Spoons in my life.

We all need to eat emotionally. Having a piece of chocolate because you had a tough day is not the end of the world.

[okay, enough of the sarcasm]

Picture this: Your car breaks down on the way to work. You find out your entire PowerPoint presentation got eaten by your computer. You spill mustard over your last pair of clean pants at work. You get stuck on the freeway.

You make it home. Thankfully there’s some leftover chicken and vegetables for your dinner. Good, you think. Even if everything else falls apart, you can still be healthy. You can still keep up your diet.

You finish your dinner. Your stomach is full. But, as you sit down to catch a TV show before bed, your mind starts to wander. There might be a few cookies left in the cupboard. You can picture those chocolate chips, the soft dough, the slight tang of salt and cinnamon….

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom
To eat the cookie, or not to eat the cookie…

But, no. You’re not hungry.

Isn’t that the lie we all tell ourselves?

When you’re craving a certain food, you might actually be hungry. It might not be true hunger in the physical sense. You certainly wouldn’t keel over from starvation if you didn’t eat that cookie. Rather, there is a void inside of you that only a comfort food can fill. It might be a chocolate chip cookie, it might be a soft pretzel, it might even be fresh berries (hey, not all emotional eating is “unhealthy”!).

fresh berries
Fruit, my weakness.

Easy enough to say, as this article does, “Eat your damn dessert,” but how do you learn to accept emotional eating in a balanced way?

  1. Pause for a moment.

Take inventory of yourself. Recognize that you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Sit with it. Embrace the discomfort. Accept that you’re feeling less-than-stellar, and then eat that comfort food.

By realizing that–yes, you are emotionally eating–you won’t feel as powerless around food. You know that this bowl of popcorn can’t heal your feelings. You are merely eating it because you want to, because you’re craving it. Just like taking a hot bath or sitting down with a cup of tea, you will embrace this moment with this food not as a distraction but as part of a healing process.

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

2. Treat food as a reward. For simply living.

“Normally, I wouldn’t eat ice cream, but…”

Why do we feel the need to justify treats? When we use food as a reward for something–whether it be for our workout or passing a test or getting through a rough day–it makes our treat seem sinful. Wrong. Something that we shouldn’t normally do. When we accept treats as just treats, without needing to come up with an excuse for eating it, they don’t have the power over us. Food can be a reward, but not a reward for anything we’ve done. It can be a reward to celebrate our existence and the fact that we have the luxury to feed ourselves every day.

Assuming you aren’t eating cookies and cake 24/7, you don’t need an excuse to include a those enjoyable foods in your diet. Your single goal in life is to be happy. Not every single moment will be fantastic, but that doesn’t mean you should sabotage your overall happiness.

Go ahead. Eat that cupcake if you really want it. Or eat that salad if you’re craving that too. One is not morally “worse” than the other.

calories only exist if you count them Dove chocolate

3. Give up the rules.

Sorry, IIFYM fans. Food is more than protein, fat, sugar, carbs, cholesterol, fiber. It is meant to satisfy both physically and mentally. Food should not have rules.

If you eat a rice cake because “no calories after 7 p.m.” when you really a scoop of ice cream, you’re setting yourself up for failure. That rice cake isn’t going to give you the same pleasure as Ben & Jerry’s. You might not be physically hungry, but you’ll still end up going to bed unsatisfied and restless. You could even end up eating the entire sleeve of rice cakes before breaking down and allowing yourself the ice cream too.

Wouldn’t it have just been better to have the ice cream in the first place, regardless of whatever self-imposed rules you tried to impose on your body?

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Emotional eating can lead to disordered eating. I’m not saying you should ALWAYS eat according to your feelings at any time of day or try to fill an emotional void with food.

Food can’t cure your problems. What I’m suggesting is that emotional eating is just like any other habit. It’s perfectly fine when done in moderation. It’s all about finding your own balance.

Neglecting to allow yourself to eat emotionally can lead to further restriction or binges. If you deny yourself that cookie for so long simply because you’re “not hungry,” there will come a point where you will break. Before you know it, you’ll be mindlessly snack not on that leftover cake and ice cream and potato chips and peanut butter…. everything but the cookie. All because you told yourself you couldn’t have a certain food when you were really craving it. Either that, or you might start swearing off other foods. If you can’t have a cookie, then you can’t have brown sugar on your sweet potato. And that glass of wine at the end of the night? Empty calories. While we’re at it, why not get rid of that dressing for your salad or ketchup on your sandwich?

Why I Eat Emotionally | Fuel For Freedom

Food can be more than fuel. We can have a connection to a certain dish that goes beyond nutrition alone. Mac and cheese like Mom made equals comfort. The snickerdoodles that Grandpa always had calms us down.

What I’m trying to say is that emotional eating should not be as feared as it tends to be.

It’s okay to be full but want your cake too.

Your turn!

–> What do you think are the dangers/ benefits of emotional eating?
–>What are your go-to foods that you crave on rough days?

–> Do you feel the need to justify your treats?


18 thoughts on “Why I Emotionally Eat

  1. I love this post! I used to have really bad emotional binges. I couldn’t stop… I would eat until I was sick to my stomach. Once I stopped having food rules the binges stopped – not immediately but eventually they stopped. I still eat emotionally (not all the time, but sometimes when I’m just feeling off I will snack on some candy or bake some cookies). I don’t binge anymore though. The desire to binge just kind of stopped when I stopped telling myself eating candy because I feel bad was bad. Its not bad, it’s not going to solve my problems and I know that but restricting myself and living by a long list of rules that make me miserable just make things worse. Have a cry, eat the cookies and don’t feel bad about it. ❤

    • Letting go of my own food rules helped me immensely too. Like you, the desire to binge slowly went away once I saw foods as neutral. Trying to control our food often makes us more out-of-control about it. Having a cookie might not solve our problems, but telling ourselves NOT to have the cookie or we’ll be “bad” might cause even more ones. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. Great post! I rarely feel the need to emotional-eat (except for last Sunday, blog about that forth coming) – but I find that having those “fun” foods available to me (in my cupboards/freezer) at all times, and knowing I *can* have those foods if I want them usually subverts any need for emotional eating. Like just knowing I can have those foods if I want them is enough to make me feel comforted. When I never had those foods available at home, I would binge on them the second I cam across them elsewhere, even if not hungry. And for those folks who think having them available in your cupboard will lead to constant/overeating of those foods – we have had to toss out Oreo cookies more than once because they went stale because we weren’t eating them. I love Oreos! But that’s what happens when you are well fed and eating intuitively. Sometimes you just toss out the cookies.

    • Having a healthy mentality toward food is definitely all about giving ourselves to permission. When we’re no longer afraid of ice cream or brownies or whatever it may be, they lose their control over us. So much so that we might just toss out stale cookies 🙂

  3. I definitely think that food should be seen as more than fuel, and that there’s noting wrong with eating something even if you’re not hungry. It happens to us all, and I think that there’s less of a chance for it to become a problem if we don’t beat ourselves up about it later. I used to have a way bigger problem with overeating when I wasn’t eating enough, or enough or the foods that I really wanted. Because, let’s face it… a sleeve of rice cakes will never equal a bowl of ice cream.

    • Food is meant to help us enjoy life, not ruin it or make us feel guilty or shameful. And rice cakes can’t even compare to ice cream! … unless they started making rice cake ice cream? Ew, on second thought, that would probably be pretty gross.

  4. YES. YES. YES. I find that pausing for a moment always helps. And I have to remember that food is fuel. It’s not my life. It’s fuel. It’s not mean to consume me or eat me up. I’m meant to eat it and thank God for it. ❤ Thank you Jess ❤

  5. This is an awesome post. I think you’re so right about people who reach for the rice cake/other healthy alternative to only end up going for the ice cream later anyway. Sometimes we don’t need to eat out of hunger or because food is fuel or because X food provides Y macros. Sometimes it’s okay to just honour a craving or eat dessert because it’s a day ending in Y!

    • I completely agree. When we restrict food we either (a) feel miserable because we’re not allowing ourselves a small joy, (b) eat what we resticted anyway,… or more often than not (c) both. A day eating a delicious food I’ve been craving all week ALWAYS “fits my macros.”

  6. Love this post! I am most definitely an emotional eater in all aspects. I agree that the more rules I apply to food the more messed up my diet becomes. I’ve tried the whole very clean, perfect eating thing but I would end up bingeing on “bad” food more than i would if I was sprinkling it in “as needed”

  7. […] Why I Emotionally Eat – Fuel for Freedom – I have always advocated for the idea that food isn’t just fuel, it’s also a big part of our culture and builds a sense of community. This article hits the nail on the head and is a great reminder for someone who has a history of dieting or eating disorders. […]

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