Jenna Petersen, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
February 12, 2021
The seventh Principle of Intuitive Eating is: “Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness”. A quick summary of this principle, taken directly from the Intuitive Eating Pros website, says:
“First, recognize that food restriction, both physically and mentally, can, in and of itself, trigger loss of control, which can feel like emotional eating. Find kind ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues. Anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and anger are emotions we all experience throughout life. Each has its own trigger, and each has its own appeasement. Food won’t fix any of these feelings. It may comfort for the short term, distract from the pain, or even numb you. But food won’t solve the problem. If anything, eating for an emotional hunger may only make you feel worse in the long run. You’ll ultimately have to deal with the source of the emotion.”
Words are powerful. Those are some powerful words. Take a moment to re-read them, and let them sink in.
If emotional eating is part of your habit, lifestyle, or story, know that you are not alone. We’ve all had moments where food became the easiest and most convenient way to deal with our problems. I have had people sit across the table from me in Intuitive Eating coaching sessions and state that food was the only thing that “worked”. It was their only way to cope.
I want to define emotional eating as the act of soothing our emotions by eating foods that are familiar to us. It makes sense why this pattern is natural. After all, we often are comforted by foods in a variety of ways, such as eating chicken noodle soup when sick or ice cream when sad. Each of us probably has what we would consider a “comfort food”, which is often defined by our family of origin. Food means love, community, celebration, and so much more. It is no surprise, then, when we feel loneliness, anxiety, fear, and boredom, we try to pleasure ourselves with the act of eating.
Emotional eating is not inherently bad. It’s not a sin to eat for emotional reasons. After all, ever since the beginning of the world, God gave us food in order to nourish us (Genesis 1:29-30; Genesis 9:3) and also to please us (Genesis 2:9).
However, emotional eating can be problematic.
“When might emotional eating be considered problematic, Jenna?”
Glad you asked. If you eat primarily for emotional reasons, not physical reasons of hunger and energy, this could be stepping into the problem zone. Notice that I’m not giving you a diagnosis or a definition of always right or wrong. This blog post does not serve as a substitute for professional, individualized feedback like what I can provide for you in one-on-one Intuitive Eating sessions. However, this may be an indicator that you should seek help.
Another related piece that I find important to note is this: if food is your main form of comfort, and you don’t have other methods for managing your emotions that work equally well, you are headed in a difficult direction. This would be another point at which reaching out for help would be very important.
So, if you find that you identify as emotional eater, you may be wondering what you can do to care for your emotional well-being besides eating food. How can you follow Principle 7 – “Cope with Your Emotions with Kindness”?
Here are three tried-and-true keys that you can explore for dealing with your emotions positively:
- Distract. Sometimes, it is important to NOT engage your emotions. We are not meant to feel our emotions 24/7. What works for you to distract yourself from uncomfortable feelings when they arise?
- Directly engage. Talking with someone, crying, journaling, going to counseling, letting it out…. all of these are ways to directly deal with your emotions. It is good to directly deal with hard emotions when you have the time and capacity to do so.
- Nurture. Find ways to nurture yourself that work for you! What do you enjoy that seems like a luxury, even if it doesn’t cost you anything? How can you carve out the time and space that you need to be nurtured, restored, and rested, so that your emotional health is sustained over the long-term? What do you need?
I love to discuss all of these ideas with my clients. If you’re looking for some pointers in your journey toward pursuing kindness in the middle of emotional eating or COVID-19 stress eating, I am ready to help.
I want to leave you with some words from Scripture about perseverance. This process of stepping away from emotional eating is not a quick and easy fix for most of us. It may not be linear for you. It will take endurance to overcome the negative patterns that you may have established, and it will take faith to remember what matters most in the middle of that. Here are the words that I want to share as encouragement.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.Romans 5:1-5 (English Standard Version)
The most important battle in the life of a Christian has been won. Christ was victorious over the grave, and we can rest in His power. I think that this is the most nurturing truth we can massage into our souls, not only today but every day until the end of time.
Take care, Women Eat Well community.
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