Intuitive Eating – Part 7: Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food

Practicing the 7th Intuitive Eating principle, “Cope With Your Emotions Without Using Food,” is the next step in guiding you towards a healthy relationship with food. Interestingly enough (or at least to me), I was discussing separating food from emotions today with my clients before even beginning this next blog post! We discussed how the eating experience is a way to cope with emotions and how this begins during infancy. We feed infants when they are crying as a way to soothe them; however, hunger may not always be the source of a crying infant. So what do most of us do? We hear a crying baby and grab the bottle. Of course, we do — it’s instincts. However, babies also yearn for nurture from attention such as touch, comfort, play, cuddles, or just attention. Being a parent or caregiver is exhausting so sometimes for sanity we may reach for the bottle to receive some peace and quiet– and that is okay too. But when you think of it, we start “feeding” our emotions at a very early age. We give suckers to a crying child at the doctor and reward children for “good” behavior with desserts. This continues throughout our life. We celebrate holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, and more with decadent foods. We mourn loved ones, breakups, and bad days with food. It is no wonder we associate and entangle food with our emotions. We all do it. It also does not mean this is “bad” parenting/caregiving. But what happens when this enmeshment of food and emotions is inseparable? We turn to food to numb emotions, fill emotional voids, and/or associate food with our negative feelings (thus, food → negative feelings than to cope, no food → no negative feelings). We learn to not share how we are feeling. We learn that our behaviors are more important than how we feel. However, using food to cope with our emotions only fills a temporary void to our much real, intense emotions and feelings.

So how do we cope with our emotions without using food? We need to become aware of our emotions and feelings. Allow ourselves to feel them. We cannot pick and choose our emotions. We cannot feel happiness and joy without allowing ourselves to feel sad, lonely, or any of the other unpreferred feelings. Food does not solve our problem. Eating, not eating, or binge eating does not solve our problem. As discussed in “Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works”, Tribole and Resch discuss four key steps in coping with your emotions without using food which includes: “Am I biologically hungry?”, “What am I feeling?”, “What do you need?”, and “Would you please …?”.

So first, am I hungry? Sometimes, we can skew physical hunger and emotional hunger. We can also feel physically full and emotionally full. Take time to describe how it feels to be physically/emotionally hungry/full. If yes, “I am physically hungry” or “emotionally full” then I would encourage you to honor your body by eating. Next, if the answer is no I am not physically hungry or yes, I am emotionally full, then what are you feeling? Take time to yourself to write out how you are feeling. Explore this feeling. Now, what do you need? Identifying how you are feeling can allow you to determine what need has not been met. Lastly, “would you please …” involves asking for support. This may mean reaching out to a friend or family member or speaking with a therapist or dietitian. There is no shame in needing help or support. We all need someone we can express ourselves too. If you find yourself struggling with food, body weight, shape, and/or size know that you are not alone. Lastly, know that YOU have the power, resilience, and strength to disconnect emotions from food. We all just need support in doing so.

Resources:
1TRIBOLE, E. V. E. L. Y. N., & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating: a revolutionary program that works. S.l.: ST MARTINS ESSENTIALS.

Series:
Introduction:  Intuitive Eating: The Anti-Diet
Part 1 – Reject the Diet Mentality
Part 2 – Honor Your Hunger
Part 3 – Make Peace with Food
Part 4 – Challenge the Food Police
Part 5 – Feel Your Fullness
Part 6 – Discover the Satisfaction Factor