It’s been a few weeks since social distancing guidelines have been put in place, and whether we like it or not, we’ve all been spending more time at home. Although what we do in that time looks different for everyone, we all share one common activity – eating. In fact, you may have found yourself eating more than usual, or at different times. Perhaps you find yourself turning to food when you feel stressed, anxious, bored, etc., which may lead to feelings of guilt or shame. If so, you’re not alone.
Society has placed emotional eating in a negative light. We’re led to believe that emotion and eating are two separate things that need to be untangled and detached from one another. I’m here to call B.S. on that idea.
Here’s the thing, humans are emotional beings. While eating and nutrition may seem simple on the surface, it really is quite a complex human behavior. Yes, we need to eat to support our health and physical activity, but we’re not robots. There is so much more that goes into the eating process than just ‘eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and eat your fruits and vegetables’. From food preferences to culture, tradition, emotions, and personal values, there are a number of reasons that go behind the food choices that we make. Emotion is one of them, and I’m here to normalize that for you.
It’s completely natural that eating brings us a sense of comfort. From birth through infancy, eating helps create a bond between baby and caregiver. While infants can’t communicate hunger cues, the breast or bottle tends to be one of the caregiver’s first go-to’s in order to try to soothe a crying infant. Whether the baby was in fact hungry, or maybe just wanted to be held, food is the thing that often connects the two needs. Even after infants’ signal that they’ve had enough to eat, they’re held and comforted immediately after eating, further strengthening the connection.
Because food is rooted in so many different aspects of our lives, would you even want to take the enjoyment and emotion out of eating even if we could? That’s a hard no from me. However, if you find yourself eating in the absence of physical hunger and are using food as your main coping mechanism, it may be time to dig a little deeper. While food does tend to provide a temporary sense of comfort or relief to emotions such as stress, anxiety, or boredom, you could try adding other tools to your toolbox to help you better meet your emotional needs.
Here’s a list of things you can add to your emotional toolbox:
If you’re not sure what you’re feeling, write out your feelings to help you process your emotions.
If you need support:
- Call a friend, family member, or therapist to talk.
If you feel stressed or anxious:
- Light your favorite candle and cuddle up with a good book.
- Do some yoga or meditate.
- Try breathing practice.
- Download a meditation app such as Headspace or Calm.
- Consider revamping your routine.
If you’re bored:
- Watch your favorite childhood horse movie.
- Start a new online class.
- Deep-clean your tack or polish your bits.
- Start a puzzle.
- Put on music or your favorite podcast and go for a walk.
Now that you have a number of different tools handy, you can decide which one will better address your emotional needs. If you do find yourself eating for comfort, that’s okay. Instead of mindlessly eating, you can try a more mindful approach instead. Eat slowly and try paying extra attention to the flavors, aromas, textures and temperature of the food. You can also pause half-way through and ask yourself, “does this bite taste as good as the first?”. Assess your level of satisfaction with that food and check back in with your emotions. If you’re still not feeling fully satisfied, it could be time to open that toolbox and explore what else may be able to help.
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Natalie Gavi is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who is passionate about the power that food plays in health and athletic performance.