To say the term “emotional eating” has a bad reputation is an understatement. Food culture has gone to great lengths to convince us that we should never turn to food in times of stress or grief. How many times have you read that if you want to eat a cookie after a bad day, taking a hot shower and taking some deep breaths is a “healthier” option? Or, if you’re stressed and snacking, how many glasses of water should you drink instead? I know I’ve seen and heard these things more times than I can count.
Of course, sometimes a candlelit bubble bath is a great way to de-stress. But as a nutritionist who specializes in eating disorders and takes a non-dietary approach to nutritional counseling, I can confidently say that relying on food for comfort is not inherently bad or wrong. Of course, eating gives us energy and nutrition, but it also plays an important role in our social and emotional lives.
I’m not saying that food should be the only thing you turn to when you’re sad, or that eating to numb your feelings is a good way to get through life – avoid emotions, Whether it’s through drugs, alcohol, excessive exercise, or, yes, food, it’s not ideal. I will say, though, that demonizing emotional eating in all its forms won’t do you any good either.
Of course food is emotional!
There are a lot of people — namely fitness influencers — trying to convince us all that food is nothing but fuel. (Soylent, Silicon Valley’s favorite “drinkable meal,” would not exist otherwise.) But for most of us, that will never be the case — and that’s a good thing.
Food doesn’t just give your body energy; it “tastes and smells so good, and even the texture is so satisfying, for pleasure and enjoyment,” Washington, D.C. Nutrition Guru Ayana Habtemariam, MSW, RDN, helps clients repair their relationship with food, tell yourself. In other words, the satisfaction you feel when you eat your favorite foods isn’t just physical, it’s also mental and emotional — if you ask me, what we do several times a day can give us It’s awesome to have a burst of happiness.
We also tend to associate food with positive emotions like connection and comfort. So many social occasions, whether it’s a traditional family gathering or a quick ice cream date with friends, involve food. This may be partly out of convenience – we all have to eat, so why not eat with others? — but the connection between food and relationships goes deeper than that.
“We know how important the feeding process is to babies, and it’s clearly not just because babies need nutrition,” says Kim Daniels, a psychologist and emotional eating coach in West Hartford, CT Tell SELF. “That’s a time of close contact, doting, bonding — all of which happens when a baby eats.” So of course, Dr. Daniels says, a sense of comfort has to do with food in our heads.