Detaching Negative Emotions From Food

On finding the power in observing how, why, and when you eat.

Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash

Filling a Void

In my experience with depression, my go-to coping mechanism has been overeating. I find myself devouring anything I can get my hands on, even if I’ve just eaten. I snack immediately after breakfast all the way to lunch, and then I snack my way to dinner. And of course, I snack some more until I go to bed. Despite literally eating all day long and at no point allowing myself to have an empty stomach, I never feel full during these depressed binges. I always feel like I could, and should, eat more and more.

When it comes to depression, eating to cope will always strike an unhealthy “balance”: the fuller you make yourself physically, the emptier you will feel spiritually. You will always find yourself chasing a desire to feel better, to fill that void making you feel like something vital to happiness is missing.

But filling a void is impossible. By definition, a void has no form or space to actually fill. That’s why it’s called a void. It is literally nothing in the most mind-bending of ways. It cannot be filled. It cannot be limited in the same fashion that the matter of your body can. It cannot be filled up in the same way your finite stomach can.

So why do we repeatedly think that physical food will somehow fill the nonphysical emptiness inside us despite it never doing so?

Start From Where You Are

I often try to force myself to quit binge eating during my fits of depression and I always seem to fail. I give myself unrealistic ultimatums about quitting cold-turkey, and they never last. “Trying” to quit, or forcing myself to quit, merely exacerbates the problem. And despite guaranteed failure, I find myself trying to solve the problem in this way over and over again.

And this is because I’m trying to solve the problem without dealing with it’s cause. I’m skipping to the solution without addressing the issue in need of one.

During my experience with depression, I’ve found that you cannot ignore your negative emotions. You will never be able to get rid of them by simply denying their existence or by not giving them any of your energy. Denial will only force them into hibernation. They will come back full force, sometimes even stronger, and your self-destructive patterns will continue.

So what does this mean in context of overeating? It means to first admit to yourself that overeating is exactly what you are doing. It means to not hide from the fact that you are using food as a coping mechanism. And most importantly, it means allowing yourself the freedom to behave this way in the first place. This may seem paradoxical, but you have to give yourself that liberty because doing so will allow you to begin analyzing why you do it in the first place.

This means you must start working within your pattern of overeating instead of outside of it while in a physically bloated state of guilt and shame.

Becoming An Observer

So, wake up and do your thing: overeat. But this time pay close attention to every little detail about your eating. What is your breathing like? What is your chewing like? What food textures do you find yourself craving most? What flavors do you find yourself craving most? What specific times of the day are your cravings at their most intense? Where are you specifically when you eat? What other stimuli are present in the room while you eat? How does the food feel going down your throat and into your stomach? Are you short of breath after eating? How thirsty are you after eating? How do you feel an hour after eating? Are you smiling or frowning? Do you feel physically full but still hungry? Do you feel tired after eating? What are you thinking about when you eat?

Answer without judgment.

The answers to all of these questions will give you more information than you can possibly imagine regarding how your overeating is effecting you if you pay them proper attention.

If you give yourself the freedom to overeat instead of trying to deny you have a problem with it, you will more easily be able to detach yourself from it and ask these questions as you go. It might prove beneficial to keep a journal and literally write out the answers immediately after you eat.

Eating With A Purpose

Because so much of overeating is based in denial and unconscious desire, it helps to setup one specific place in which you eat. Doing so will help you become more conscious of your eating habits by creating a boundary for where your eating, or overeating, occurs.

So when you sit down to eat, do only that: sit down and eat. Don’t turn on the television, don’t play a video game, don’t scroll through social media, just sit and eat. Sitting and eating needs no background noise or stimulating complement to make the experience enjoyable or worthwhile. This will allow you to focus on just you and the food instead of the onslaught of emotions and thoughts brought on by external media. It will force you to get to the root of what the experience of eating is doing for you mentally and emotionally.

Also, it’s important to actually sit and eat. Don’t lay down on your bed or couch to eat a meal or even just a snack. By actually going to a table and chair for your meals, you will begin to eat with a purpose. Laying down and eating at the same time forces the mind to associate the food with relaxation, with comfort, and with safety. Or, in other words, your mind equates this type of eating with the coping mechanisms you use to deal with your depression.

Sitting in a seat at a table for ever meal will rewire your brain into thinking that this is the place for eating, nowhere else. Once you have this subconscious connection, you will be better able to address your cravings when you find yourself in those places you used to do your overeating in.


If you still find yourself struggling after working through the questions listed above and their psychological implications, there are many things you can do to help yourself beat overeating.

For one, breathing is incredibly important. If you find yourself wanting to eat at time in which it is not necessary, simply sit down and focus on your breathing. Take big breaths and hold them in. Exhale slowly. Each time you exhale, try focusing on what you perceive as your “hunger”. Literally visual yourself exhaling that hunger out of your body. Eat a breath instead!

Journaling is also incredibly useful. Instead of eating your emotions, write them out. If you find yourself craving more and more food after a meal, literally write down exactly what’s on your mind instead of going to the cupboard for more. You can do this in a notebook, on your phone, literally anyway you want. Just get those thoughts and feelings out of you and you just may find yourself not needing to eat anymore.

Water! Water is your best friend. Whenever you find yourself wanting to overeat, slowly drink water. Slowly is the key word. Too many people gulp water in an attempt to fill their stomach and prevent hunger. But slowly drinking it will calm your nerves, won’t fill your stomach or bladder with pressure, and will give you something to repeatedly prevent yourself from snacking.

Get creative! Find your own things to replace overeating with. You can get up and dance. You can listen to a song. You can draw. You can sing. You can call up and old friend and see how they’re doing. You can take a walk. You can literally do an infinite number of things more fun and more healthy than overeating.

Appreciating Food, Appreciating You

Once you get a control on your overeating, food will start to become a blessing again. You will start to really taste it again, almost as if for the first time. You will look forward to meals but without the desperation and depression. They will be something that brings a smile to your face.

And you will begin to have respect for your body. You will begin to have respect for your overall health. Food will stop being a crutch used to feel better and will instead be something used to celebrate the miracle of being alive.

You will begin to understand that physical food will never be capable of satiating your nonphysical hunger. That nonphysical hunger is instead merely craving the emotion, connection, and love that you have blocked out of your life, not yet another snack.

So do yourself a favor, and eat with a purpose. Start from where you are and take a good look at yourself without judgment. Work through what your hunger is symbolic of on a deeper spiritual level. Set parameters for your eating. Give yourself tools to help you succeed. If you do these things, you will regain control of your eating and your depression.

You can do it!

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