Don’t judge yourself for being an emotional eater

by Annette Marsden, M.S. Nutrition Educator
Emotional eating has gotten a bad rap. The topic of emotional eating has captivated many, and there are countless books and articles on how to eat to be a healthy eater, and how not to be an emotional eater.

Can we really expect to leave our emotions behind while we eat? Should our goal really be “emotionless eating”? I don’t think so.

Babies are born knowing when they are hungry and when they are satisfied.

They also like to feed sometimes just for comfort. It is normal and human to soothe and comfort ourselves in the ways we know how. We have been using food for comfort and soothing since the day we were born!

The next time you feel guilt or self-judgment after eating comfort food, give yourself a break. Consider yourself normal. You are just dealing with life’s challenges with one of nature’s coping mechanisms. Release the guilt. As Registered Dietitian Jill Fleming says “have a treat, don’t call it a cheat.”  Then, next time, remember some of your other ways to soothe your emotions that do not involve food.

As we become adults, a problem can arise when food is the way we most often cope, or is one of our only ways to cope with stress. If you eat to soothe your emotions frequently, you may end up making poor food choices on a regular basis, or you may end up fueling your body with more calories than your body can burn, leading to weight gain.

Those who tend to turn to comfort foods too often will benefit from creating a list of alternative ways to handle their stress that do not involve food. What ways do you currently deal with stress that do not involve food? Some of the techniques that work for our clients include:  exercising, housecleaning, creating some quiet time for yourself, a bubble bath, playing some music or simply calling a friend.

This is a reminder to welcome your emotions to the table! Guilt and self-judgment will not help you have healthier eating habits. Comfort foods can absolutely have a healthy place in your life, but you should plan to have alternative coping strategies. Consider working with a dietitian or nutritionist individually if want to brainstorm additional ways to deal with excessive emotional eating to prevent weight gain.

For any additional information, call the nutrition office at Veterans Memorial Hospital in Waukon at 563-568-3411.

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