thanksgiving buffet

Emotional Eating: The ,Why, When and How to Stop

DT Washington Emotional Health, Holidays Leave a Comment

Don’t let food be your nemesis during the holidays. We know it’s hard — the holidays are generally stressful and with delicious comfort foods so readily available, it’s like the pumpkin pie is almost begging to calm your nerves. But when does indulging cross the line into emotional eating?


Emotional eating is eating to soothe your difficult emotions without having to ask for help. It tends to be like any other addiction. You’re relying on an inanimate object without relying on a person. It covers up neediness — and when you cover up your neediness, you imply you think neediness isn’t normal or acceptable. (Turns out, neediness is VERY normal and healthy. Burying it and then acting out — like needing resolution to an argument and eating instead — is unhealthy.)


Why do humans turn to food for comfort instead of one another?


Emotional eating often arises because confiding in people in the past was ineffective. Maybe they didn’t listen, they invalidated or ignored your feelings, or they were too overcome with emotion themselves to be supportive. This can teach you that feeling emotions can be dangerous. Similarly, having an emotionally volatile parent can teach you that emotions are dangerous.


Bottom line: food seems “safer.”


But wait … before you give up on the holiday delights, we’d like to share a path to help you indulge in an (emotionally) healthy way and solve your emotional eating:


Step 1: Are you REALLY hungry?

When you go back to the fridge, ask yourself if you have true hunger pangs. Did you eat a meal within the past two hours? Sometimes our body lies and says we’re hungry when we’re really not.


If your body doesn’t need fuel, you may be emotionally eating.


Ask yourself: you’re not hungry, so why do you want to eat now? Are you bored? Anxious? Lonely? If you can write down exactly what you’re feeling, you will be that further along in understanding your emotions instead of fleeing from them.


Step 2: Challenge yourself to deal with the emotion in a different way.

Maybe you aren’t ready to reveal your emotion to another person but ANY way (that does not involve putting something in your mouth) will be a step forward. For instance, if you’re bored, come up with something to do. Talk a walk, find some new music, read a magazine, make that phone call you’ve been needing to make for weeks (months?). If you’re feeling lonely, watch a happy movie or your favorite episode of Friends. (Come one … Joey with a turkey on his head? Classic.)


Step 3: It’s time to give people another chance.

If you’re anxious, guilt-ridden, sad — even if it feels mild — find someone to talk to. If not in the moment of “to eat or not to eat,” then later. If the person you approach is not available (physically or mentally) to listen, do not blame yourself or your emotional state. Use your empathy to understand that people have their own stuff to deal with, too. Then go to the next person. Keep trying until you find someone who can devote time and energy to hearing you out.


If you don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone in your life about your feelings, it’s time to find a counselor or coach. Likewise, if you know you’re not hungry and still cannot stop yourself from eating, it’s probably time to seek professional help.


Happy Holidays and happy eating!


To your emotional health,

Dr. Dabney

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