Is Emotional Eating Really So Bad?

by Golda Poretsky, H.H.C. on April 15, 2013

Is Emotional Eating Really So Bad Body Love Wellness Blog copyYesterday, I used a frappuccino to deal with some anxiety.

And, it worked.

You see, a lot of really cool stuff has been happening lately. This is stuff that I’m really grateful for and excited about, like the TEDx talk that is (OMG) next week, being named a finalist in the She Writes/ Seal Press book publishing contest, working on some new coaching projects, etc.

All of this means new levels of visibility and new shoes to step into.

While my mind and soul are completely and totally on board for all of this change, my stomach isn’t so sure.

So I’ve been feeling like an epic bundle of nerves. As some of my Facebook fans know, I’ve been having bizarre dreams about Alan Alda holding me hostage and elevators to other dimensions.

Yeah, it’s been weird.

My stomach had been in knots for about 24 hours and I had tried a lot of techniques to calm myself down and connect in with my feelings.

Here are a few that I tried:

  1. Deep Breathing — This is a key technique for relaxing your body and quieting the mental chatter that makes it hard to hear yourself. (For a “how-to” on my favorite deep breathing technique, click here.) I did this a bunch of times, but my stomach seemed to only relax for a few minutes and then it started back up.
  2. Having A Mental Chat With My Stomach — To do this, I put my hands on my belly, closed my eyes, did some deep breathing, and asked my stomach what it was experiencing, what it was anxious about and what I could do for it. A lot of my anxiety was around the TEDx talk, so I tried to give it some reassurance. This also only worked for a few minutes.
  3. Intentionally Feeling My Feelings — Anyone who’s done group coaching with me is no stranger to this technique. This can take some time to master, but essentially it’s a process of feeling your emotions within your body, as best you can, for as long as you can, until that feeling starts to dissipate. I felt like this had really worked for me, but again, it only lasted a short time.

Then, yesterday, I woke up with the answer.

A frappuccino.

Now, as you may remember, I’ve written about frappuccinos (frappuccini?) before. I have a love/meh relationship with them, and haven’t had one since my last post.

I don’t normally talk about what I eat on this blog, because I don’t think it’s helpful and it can often be triggering. To me, the whole point of intuitive eating is figuring out what feels good to you, without worrying about what other people do.

I find that, for myself, I feel best if I don’t eat really sweet stuff too often. If I have a real hankering for something, I’ll have it, but in the last few years or so I just don’t get those hankerings that much.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I felt that a frappuccino would stop the stomach jitters for long enough such that my body could be reminded about how it normally feels and let go of the freakout.

So I ran some errands and got myself a frappuccino. (I tried the new, hazelnut one which was really delicious.) And within a few minutes my stomach was feeling relaxed again. It’s been over 24 hours now and I still feel like myself.

Ideal vs. Real

I have a feeling that those of you reading this are having pretty varied reactions to this story, ranging from: “Why are you making a big deal about drinking a frappuccino in the first place?” to “Why is a coach who does intuitive eating work think that drinking a frappuccino to deal with your feelings is okay?”

Here’s the thing. Drinking a frappuccino to deal with anxiety is definitely not ideal and I’m not recommending it in any way.

BUT, whether you like it or not, food does have an emotional component. Food affects us in many ways. Clients always tell me that “they want food to just be fuel” but it’s not. Food is not just fuel and you are not a machine. You are an extremely complex being and eating evokes memories and emotional responses.

I don’t know why one grande frappuccino seemed to “cure” my anxiety over giving a big talk. On a neurochemical level, it probably caused my brain to release extra serotonin, making me feel good. On an emotional level, maybe it felt like a treat, which made me feel like it was time to relax. Or maybe it was just that I got what I wanted, which always feels good.

From my perspective, I wouldn’t recommend using food as a way to deal with tough emotions and problems on a really regular basis, and if you feel like you’re in that boat, you may want some support (this can be a great place to start). But to me, the key is to always approach yourself with kindness. And there are way worse things in the world than eating emotionally every once in a while.

So if you do this, be kind to yourself, have chat with yourself, use some of the techniques above, and if all else fails, just eat and approve of yourself for it.

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Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. To learn more about Golda and her work, click here.

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