Do you celebrate your birthday with a cake? Have you told yourself you deserve a treat because you did something good? Do you eat more when you are stressed? Or don’t eat when you are nervous? If you answered yes to at least one of these questions, then you have experienced emotional eating. Before you punish yourself for doing something “wrong,” take a pause to reflect on this.
Emotional eating is not a bad thing. Food is emotional. The alternative would be “emotional-less” eating, turning our interactions with food to be more robotic and disconnected. Through food, we can connect with people, express our feelings, feel supported, energize our bodies, and change our moods, both positively and negatively. It is not wrong that you celebrate your birthday with a cake. It is exciting! But there are also other ways to cope with positive or negative emotions.
The problem is when food becomes the primary coping mechanism. The research shows that when people experience anxiety, anger, stress, or depression, they tend to binge eat foods high in calories.
More studies are showing the impact of COVID-19 on people’s lifestyles. Evidence from studies worldwide has shown that, on average, the majority of people increased food intake, especially foods high in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar during the pandemic. Some showed that people would eat or drink to relieve anxiety or alleviate boredom.
What can we do?
First, notice if this is something you experience. How do you notice? By exploring your relationship with food from a non-judgmental perspective. Ask yourself: Why am I eating now? Am I hungry? Am I eating out of boredom or stress? If you find yourself eating based on your emotions, it is a good time to seek help. Find a dietitian who can help with eating behaviors, and perhaps a counselor who can help with stress management.
While you explore, here are some tips:
- Question why you are eating, have fun exploring!
- Listen to your body. Reconnect with your hunger and fullness cues.
- Eat a balanced and colorful diet focused on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, plant or lean animal proteins.
- Stay hydrated. Sometimes you will think you are hungry, but you may be dehydrated.
- Find activities or techniques to release stress. The options are endless, so get creative! Painting, walking, dancing, singing, meditating, journaling, visualization, running, drawing, talking to a friend, baking, sprinting, organizing your house, petting your dog, just to name a few options.
Emotional eating is something we all experience at some point in our lives. It is perfectly normal. The problem is when it becomes your primary coping mechanism to process your emotions. So yes, continue to celebrate your birthday with a cake! We are just inviting you to be more mindful on your day-to-day about what and why you eat.