Have you ever gone through it? Like, just had tough circumstances in your life?
I did, recently. My heart was hurting. I was anxious. A huge amount of effort went toward distracting myself so that I could deal with the thoughts and emotions in a measured, managed way, without disrupting my necessary day-to-day functioning.
You’ve probably experienced something like this; maybe you’ve gone through much worse. When there is painful stuff happening that is out of our control, sometimes our relationship with food is affected.
I’d like to preface this by saying that eating for emotional reasons is absolutely not inherently a problem. In fact, I believe it is impossible to entirely disconnect food from emotions. If we think about all the reasons we eat, many of them such as celebrating birthdays, sharing food dishes following funerals, or gathering with friends for meal to have a good time, include emotions at the forefront. That being said, it is completely okay for emotions to be part of food experiences.
When we’re going through challenging times, however, we may find that we use food to cope. This can manifest in different ways:
- Eating to overfullness: This may feel like a distraction, a way to “numb out,” or a way to feel a sensation that isn’t emotional pain.
- Ignoring hunger cues: This also may feel like a distraction, or a way to force an alternative sensation. Depending on the situation, it may be a means to punish oneself if the person feels they are at fault for the painful circumstances.
- Rigidly adhering to food rules: While this could include eating to overfullness or ignoring hunger cues, it is largely focused on eating only at certain times or only eating foods that meet specific criteria, such as “clean” or “good.” In times of emotional challenges, a perceived lack of control may nudge a person toward becoming strict about food rules as a way to seek some semblance of control.
Even these actions are not “bad” or problematic on their own. The issue is that over time, these behaviors could all contribute to strains in a person’s relationship with food, and eventually, perpetuate disordered eating habits. This is particularly likely when someone is unequipped to manage emotional strife in ways that do not warp their food relationship.
If these sound familiar to you, know that it doesn’t have to be this way. Your food life does not have to be subject to the ebb and flow of circumstances and the emotions you have about those circumstances. Learning Intuitive Eating means you can learn to approach food in a way that respects what it is actually able to do for you such as nourishment and pleasure, and in a way that respects your own needs for things food cannot give you, such as lasting comfort and companionship, or even just a break.