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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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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

@EllenGlovsky May 2, 2013 at 10:11 pm

Just love the article. Food is definitely NOT just fuel. We are not machines, either. http://t.co/85x05thUhD

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Curly Haired Chica's Health Quest www.curlyhairedchica.com April 22, 2013 at 11:05 am

Shauna – I think you hit the nail on the head with your comment! The problem exists when the food does not fill the hole. When the hole is bottomless…what does one do then? I believe that is where compulsive eating comes in, which I believe to be different.

I agree that we ALL emo-eat sometimes. I believe it’s okay to eat foods that conjure up certain emotions. For example, it’s okay to eat certain foods during the holidays because they are traditional foods that make us happy and epitomize the holiday. They are part of our history and if that history calls up fond memories, I feel that’s okay. That too is eating emotionally but not the kind of emo-eating that we normally hear or read about. It’s not eating to fill that hole.

The key is not to get stuck in that cycle and only eat to placate our emotions all the time. That is where the potential danger lies and where chronic binge/emo eating exists. If we learn to manage and understand our emotions in more productive ways (journal, talk it out, express ourselves more effectively, become more mindful, exercise, read, etc.) a good percentage of the time, I believe and have learned from personal experience, we can begin to have a much more rewarding and healthy relationship with food and with ourselves.

The awareness is key. Once we are enlightened there is potential for change. Once I became aware of what I was doing to myself on a regular basis, and tired of the self deprecating emotions that surrounded the food, etc. I became willing over time to change. Excessive emo-eating served its purpose and it was time to change. This was not an overnight transformation. It has taken years, but I’m so thankful for it.

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Shauna Soldate April 21, 2013 at 4:45 pm

There’s a reason they call certain dishes “comfort food.” Emotional eating isn’t really a problem as long as you’re honest with yourself about it. I’ve found that, at least for me (I can’t speak for anyone else), the problem with unconscious emotional eating is that it’s eating without tasting the food, without feeling better after it’s gone, and trying to “fill a hole.” Conscious emotional eating, on the other hand (ie: “wow, it’s such a hot day and we all just spent the afternoon at the beach and an ice cream cone sounds really freaking good right now to round out the day”) seems to have no real ill effects.

When you fill a need with food and become satisfied, that’s taking care of yourself. When you try to fill a need with food and continue to feel empty, that’s problematic- it’s basically like Albert Einstein said about trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. To me, this sort of emotional eating is actually just as destructive as dieting/food restriction. It’s doing something that doesn’t work (ie: make you feel actually better) but continuing to do it anyway.

Everyone, as far as I know, does that kind of emotional eating from time to time- it’s just so important to build the skills to snap yourself out of it so you can find a coping method that does work, and leave comfort eating instances to actually adding comfort and value to your life.

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Opal Zushaquon April 19, 2013 at 1:59 pm

It seems that even in safe spaces whenever someone brings up intuitive eating, everyone gets all holier than thou. Not that this is what you’ve done here by any means, but even on size acceptance blogs I always find a plethora of comments about how “I find that I don’t want to eat evil fast food any more because it’s gross” and I don’t find that helpful to hear because then I feel like a bad person since with my schedule, sometimes fast food is the thing that’s available when I’m ready to eat. And I don’t want to have to feel like a horrible human being because of it. I guess I’m just venting because I see a lot of this. Or maybe I SEE it because it’s triggering for me.

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Shannon Lagasse (@fruitytwoshoes) April 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

“Food is not just fuel and you are not a machine.” — @bodylovewellnes http://t.co/aunMYsbR1O

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karin April 17, 2013 at 5:02 pm

it works for me, too~that’s all i need to know. the more we get to decide what others can’t possibly experience (our own bodies), the better. owning our pleasures!

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The Curly Haired Chica April 17, 2013 at 4:07 pm

Golda,
As always, thank you for your honesty! Is emo-eating so bad? I believe it becomes the “norm.” But as you clearly indicate, and I agree with whole heatedly, an occasional indulgence is okay. I also agree that if one chooses to emo-eat, being okay with it afterwards and not flogging oneself is key. We are ALL human and if eating some comfort food on occasion provides a sense of relief, especially after trying other ways to manage the emotions, do not relieve the pressure, it’s not the end of the world. Again, not condoning this on a regular basis, but certainly not going to call the newspapers to announce an indulgence!
We must accept what is done, move on be gentle with ourselves.
I’m glad you’re feeling a bit more settled.

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@bodyimage_aware April 17, 2013 at 7:26 am

a different perspective on emotional eating http://t.co/xNdQQWqwbc

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@freaksandlights April 16, 2013 at 11:23 pm

“Food is not just fuel and you are not a machine.” — @bodylovewellnes http://t.co/K3lxlbfeJR

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Corinna Makris (@corinnamakris) April 15, 2013 at 11:11 am

“Food is not just fuel and you are not a machine.” — @bodylovewellnes http://t.co/KKbkZQ3ehD

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