Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Emotional Eating is OK

And more than that, it's a good thing and a useful coping mechanism. I'm an unapologetic emotional eater.

The Fat Nutritionist explains:
. . . to be honest, eating is inherently emotional. First, in the sense that it provides us pleasure, otherwise we probably wouldn’t take all the time and effort to find food, prepare it, and eat it. Because it is so essential to our survival as a species, it has, of course, become embedded in our brain’s pleasure-pathways as something intensely enjoyable (much like, ahem, other species-propagating activities.)
So whether you think you’re eating for emotional reasons or not, whether you’re doing it intentionally or not, all eating is fundamentally emotional. (emphasis hers)
Depression and anxiety run rampant in my family and are things I manage well enough through exercise and creative endeavors. Denying cravings, food moralizing, and worrying about getting fat does nothing to promote health and in fact creates needless anxiety and stress. Alternatively, emotional eating both allows us to celebrate and to cope.

And this more than some feel-good personal opinion. These conclusions, I just learned, are also supported by research (link and quote from Dances With Fat):
Stress eaters should not be considered at risk to gain weight by default. Our results suggest the need for a dynamic view of food intake across multiple situations, positive and negative. Furthermore, our findings suggest rethinking the recommendation to regulate stress eating. Skipping food when being stressed may cause additional stress in munchers and could possibly disturb compensation across situations. 
Within the framework of Health at Every Size, the practice of intuitive eating allows, encourages, and accepts emotional eating. Food alone won't solve any emotional problems, but it can help us calm down enough to do the work that's needed. Mindless eating and frequent over-eating won't do, but paying attention and thoroughly enjoying every bite can soothe and take the edge off. Eating slowly and savoring also helps us calm down and breathe. Michelle offers a guide for doing emotional eating well:
Remind yourself that eating is morally neutral – you are not doing something “bad” by eating delicious food. You are simply being human.
Eat the food. Pay attention to how it looks, smells, and tastes, how it feels in your mouth and throat, and how it settles in your stomach. Give yourself the mental space to just have the physical experience of eating.
This is just an excerpt; the whole list is worth reading. Know that emotional eating is not inherently bad, nor is any kind of food. Context matters, and moderation. Moderation needn't mean restriction but can be attained through permissive eating of a wide variety of foods and paying attention to how they make you feel. It rarely comes naturally and may take months of practice before it does. Even then, we all "mess up" occasionally, but health is a journey, not a destination.
Normal eating is being able to eat when you are hungry and continue eating until you are satisfied. It is being able to choose food you like and eat it and truly get enough of it – not just stop because you think you should. Normal eating is being able to use some moderate constraint in your food selection to get the right food, but not being so restrictive that you miss out on pleasurable foods. Normal eating is giving yourself permission to eat sometimes because you are happy, sad, or bored, or just because it feels good. Normal eating is three meals a day, most of the time, but it can also be choosing to munch along. It is leaving some cookies on the plate because you know you can have some again tomorrow, or it is eating more now because they taste so wonderful when they are fresh. Normal eating is overeating at times; feeling stuffed and uncomfortable. It is also under eating at times and wishing you had more. Normal eating is trusting your body to make up for your mistakes in eating. Normal eating takes up some of your time and attention, but keeps its place as only one important area of your life. In short, normal eating is flexible. It varies in response to your emotions, your schedule, your hunger and your proximity to foodEllyn Satter

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