How Emotional Eating is Helping You

What if I told you that your emotional eating, stress eating, or bingeing on donuts in a bathroom stall at work was actually working for you?

Most people who consider themselves to be emotional eaters see it as a great defect, wondering when they will ever feel like they have control over their emotions and their eating patterns.

Yet at the same time, it is SO normal.

As a society we don’t know how to feel about it, so we resort to uncomfortable laughter.

Like watching Tina Fey on SNL recommend “sheetcaking” to deal with our feelings about politics.

Or making a caricature out of a sitcom character “eating her feelings” on the couch, unshowered and in her bathrobe for days after a breakup with an empty tub of ice cream in her lap.

But when we are in the midst of it, it doesn’t feel funny. It feels shameful. And frustrating. Because it feels like a complete lack of control.

At the height of my battle with food and my body, I was a secret emotional eater. When I was sad, stressed, frustrated, or anxious (which was 85% of the time), I immediately reached for food — often without even thinking.

It became like an automatic impulse whenever a frustrating email popped up in my inbox, when I didn’t get a text back fast enough, or when my to-do list overwhelmed me.

When I lived with roommates or if I was at work, I would dash into the kitchen, grab something (that often wasn’t mine) and then run and eat it behind a closed door (in my bedroom, in the bathroom, in the empty conference room).

The quicker the better.

The actual act was 30 second tops, but the guilt and the shame would last for hours or days afterward.

I didn’t understand why I couldn’t stop.

I was seeing myself as a victim and emotional eating as a problem.

But there is actually a scientific reason behind this kind of emotional eating: When there is a pain response in the body (such as sadness, anger, or frustration), our primal survival response is activated and it seeks a hit of comfort or pleasure.

Emotional eating is a survival response.

In other words, it is the way that our body communicates with us, letting us know that something is wrong. Something needs attention or needs healing… usually something on an emotional level.

It isn’t our fault, and we aren’t a victim to it — it is actually a very important messenger telling us to wake up and pay attention.

Our urge to emotionally eat springs from our body’s desire for a state change. Our bodies don’t want to feel uncomfortable emotions like sadness, stress, anger and grief, so they seek something that will change the way they feel. And food — particularly the carb-heavy comfort foods and sugary desserts that we reach for — triggers a dopamine response in our body, giving us a hit of feel-good chemicals.

We emotionally eat because there is something we don’t want to feel. We eat to make ourselves feel better.

Awareness is the first step to making any key change, and sometimes awareness can be THE thing that allows you to make important shifts in your life.

The next time that you feel the urge to emotionally eat, ask yourself:

→ What do I feel?
 → What do I really need right now?

In 9 cases out of 10, what you really need isn’t a cookie. It is more likely a good cry, a hug, a conversation with your best friend, a walk around the block, a good scream into your pillow.

Those are some ways that you can release and move through emotions. Eating doesn’t release them, it just stuffs them down until they come bubbling back to the surface again.

Emotional eating leads to emotional constipation.

Bring awareness to the emotion that is trigger your urge to eat, and allow yourself to feel it and address it.

When we start to see emotional eating from this perspective, rather than getting all judgey and embarrassed about it, we can see that it is actually working for us and let it guide us to deeper self-awareness, self-care and emotional intelligence.