Emotional Eating is Not Always a Problem: Enjoy Your Food with Less Guilt

Community, Joy, and Self Compassion

The Holidays are over and a New Year has arrived once again. You might have eaten cookies for breakfast, drank more alcohol at  various holiday parties and family gatherings  than the entire year combined, or indulged in family favorite recipes that now have you feeling like your  belly is little more bloated than usual or your face has exploded with some lovely sugar plum pimples.  While the usual diet culture says you have get your business straight and go 100% Keto, count your macros, do Whole 30 hardcore, etc, I challenge you to think about what society is saying what you SHOULD do over what you is BEST for your 2020 health and wellness goals. That might actually mean a Whole 30 to address some food intolerance or being more conscious of your portions sizes but I think it is time we all reflect on our relationship with food and why emotional eating is totally normal, does not always have to be a “bad” thing, and at what point it does start to create a negative impact

There are a lot of emotions surrounding our holiday food choices: joy, nostalgia, pleasure, happiness…the list goes on. And that is okay! These emotions are at a time where we are a part of a close community of family and/or friends that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. There are a lot of food and drinks that satiate our senses that we typically only get to enjoy during the short holiday season. All these emotions are what make social gatherings memorable and delicious. If I told you I emotionally ate my way around a Christmas cookie platter, would you think that was a good or bad thing? Probably depends on your relationship with food. Our “all or nothing” society where you must be “good or bad” would say that that if we emotionally eat, we are disordered, out of control, and bad which creates an open doorway to shame and guilt.  BUT there is a middle ground. You can eat your way around a cookie platter and feel all the joy and nostalgia of the homemade cookies of your childhood. You might have sampled the platter with just enough bites or ate one too many but in the end, you enjoyed the moment and had a great time at your party, waking up the next day not thinking about the cookies you ate but how much fun you had. Isn’t that what our holiday gatherings are all about anyway: good food, good company, good memories?

Since I just explained how emotional eating is 100% okay, normal, and healthy, I do want you to be aware of when emotional eating rears its ugly head and negative emotions surrounding your food choice starts to creep in. When your food choices are dictated or followed by feelings of loneliness, shame, guilt, unworthiness, etc, It is a good idea to dig deeper into the ‘why’ of those feelings. Pausing and reflecting on the negative emotions will eventually lead you to evaluating your relationship with food and ways it may be hurting more than helping…and not just in emotional ways. While the topic of emotional eating is, well, emotional, your mindset around food has a physical bi-directional effect: our mental state affects our physical state and vice versa. Did you know that your digestion starts in your brain? Digestion works best in a parasympathetic, relaxed state. When in a more sympathetic, stressed, state when consuming food, digestion can down-regulate. Saliva production is impacted, stomach acid needed to break down your food is decreased (and sometimes increased), proper stomach pH is thus affected which then affects the ability of valves and sphincters to open and close properly, and gut motility and peristalsis are impaired. While there are times of major stress that affect digestion pretty clearly, the sneaky and subtle stress of your mindset around food can end up creating a compound effect of blood sugar handling issues, fatty acid digestion, and vitamin/mineral absorption…all from a depleted GI tract.

At the end of the day, what you ate over the holidays was part of an experience and provided your mind and body nourishment. Emotional eating when surrounded by positive thoughts of elation, bliss, satisfaction, and comfort are healthy…and your gut loves it, too.  Emotional eating when surrounded by negative thoughts deserve some pause and reflection on why those feelings come up and how they may be affecting your health and wellness goals for 2020. And as a Functional Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in training, I want you to know that eating properly prepared, nutrient dense, whole foods can provide you with the same positive emotions as a cookie platter at Christmas 🙂 What you eat day-to-day can be both healthful and mouthwatering. Cheers to a New Year, new decade, and new ideas on your emotions surrounding your food choices.